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Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History. Last reply by Sheilah Jastrzebski May 16.

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Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Award-winning novelist captures fleeting youthby Rob NeufeldAnother Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Amistad: HarperCollins, Aug. 9, 2016)            The amazing, unusual thing about Jacqueline Woodson’s new novel, “Another Brooklyn,” I realize as it sinks in, is that the initial mystery—that is, why the narrator can’t…See More
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A rare interview, a story about an acid plant

A worker’s view of tannery work in Rosmanby Rob Neufeld             Haskell Luker was 11 when the Flood of 1916 caused his dad, Americus Alfred Luker, to leave the farm where he worked and take a job with an acid (tannin) plant in Pisgah Forest.             “Daddy was going down there to make big…See More
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Interview with Chitra Divakaruni about Before We Visit the Goddess

A talk with Chitra about her benediction of a novelby Rob Neufeld             Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, one of our country’s most engaging and inventive novelists, first came to this region six years ago for Western Carolina University’s Spring Literary Festival.  That’s when I got to know her and began…See More
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Gary Carden's Outlander--about Kephart--at UNCA July 31--with author

Is Carden's Kephart play controversial?Gary Carden's play, "Outlander," receives a "staged reading" in the Reuter Center, UNC Asheville, 2 p.m., Sun., July 31.  Carden will be on hand to discuss the play with the audience.  It is a controversial play in that it has been criticized by the descendants of Horace Kephart who felt that the play "demeaned" Kephart.  "Ironically," Carden says, "my original purpose in writing the play was to 'redeem' Kephart. who has often been denounced by the…See More
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Bring Back the Game

BRING BACK THE GAME     Anna and I basically spent a month in Asheville, NC this summer. We returned to Georgia a few days ago, and while we were glad to get home, as we got out of the car, we were met with the suffocating heat that I still have not become acclimated to even though we have lived in Middle Georgia for over 30 years. Every plant in our backyard had dried up and only the belligerent squirrels had survived the summer’s inferno.      We had a great time in Asheville. We visited our…See More
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Amy Ammons Garza to Present Her Memoir at City Lights Bookstore

August 6, 2016 from 3pm to 4:30pm
Amy Garza will be presenting her new memoir, Appalachian Storyteller in a Feed Sack Dress, at City Lights Bookstore onSaturday, August 6th at 3 p.m. Follow Amy as she tells the story of her life as she lived it, each chapter being a story in itself. These are the compelling stories of a mountain girl who found the courage she needed in her life to listen and retell the stories of her family and heritage.  Amy Garza was born and raised in Western North Carolina, which leads her into her many…See More
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New collection by Nobel Prize favorite generates talk

by Rob Neufeld

 

            Shortly before Chinese dissident novelist Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for literature on Oct. 11, bookies had been laying odds on other front-runners.

            Ladbrokes, a world leader in online betting, had had Mo Yan at 8:1 on Oct. 4.  Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami, a perennial favorite, had been a 3:1 pick.  And Irish writer William Trevor, widely recognized as the greatest living short story writer, had posted a phenomenal rise from 100:1 to 8:1 odds, based on a rush of bets.

            Trevor is the author of 18 novels and 19 volumes of short stories, many of which have been winners of or finalists in the running for Great Britain’s two top awards, the Man Booker Prize and the Whitbread (now called the Costa) Book Award.

            His latest volume, “Selected Stories,” just out in paperback, brings together stories from his last four collections.  It is the subject of a Book Discussion X discussion, Nov. 15 at Accent on Books.

 

A pro con

 

            Betting—in a manner of speaking—is the subject of Trevor’s story, “Against the Odds”—about a confidence woman, going by the name of Mabel Kincaid, who ducks into a town south of Belfast and hooks a widowed turkey farmer.

            When the farmer, named Blakely, shows up for their having-given-things-time appointment two months after he’s written her a check in trust, he waits an hour, “believing that against the odds there might somehow be an explanation.”

            That sad event occurs two paragraphs from the end of Trevor’s O. Henry-type story, which differs from the old master’s tales in that it applies shadowy transitions rather than bold highlights.

            In the next paragraph, we learn that Blakely still harbors a spark of optimism about his belle, and it is not unlike the optimism that the Irish hold onto in the wake of the short-lived cease-fire with which the story had started.

            The last paragraph features another twist—not a dropped shoe, but something hanging in the air.

            All this talk about the ending leaves out the pleasure of the previous 15 pages: the very believable progress of the courtship/con; the roots of Mrs. Kincaid’s compulsive behavior; and dour Blakely’s transformation.

            To read a Trevor story is to identify with people in whom wavering morality, experience of hurt, and flickering grace mix. 

            As a man whose youth had been shaped by his father’s frequent change of hometown, Trevor has observed many types.  Like O. Henry, his notables are the non-notable.

 

Enslaved parent

 

            Reading today’s news while reading Trevor’s story, “Gilbert’s Mother” has me thinking about the mother, Rosalie Manion.

            Her story begins, “On November 20th 1989, a Monday, in an area of South London not previously notable for acts of violence, Carol Dickson, a nineteen-year-old shop assistant, was bludgeoned to death between the hours of ten-fifteen and midnight.”

            Though Rosalie had heard her grown, loner son come in from his wanderings earlier than that that night, she worries, as she always worries when a crime is reported, that he might be the culprit.  She knows, more than anyone else, that he’s odd.

            As a child, he’d refused to do school work.  Psychiatric hospitals and social workers had simply noted that he was boring.  “Talks excessively about photocopying,” one reported.

            His father couldn’t and didn’t love him, and Gilbert’s unnerving detachment and intensity of observation caused his parents’ divorce, Rosalie feels.

            In essence, Rosalie is enslaved to her dread and to her need for constant vigilance of Gilbert.  “Her role was only to accept,” the story concludes.  “No one would ever understand the mystery of his existence, or the unshed tears they shared.”

            What brand of story is this?  It’s not a story of a parent who protects a criminal son.  Odds are Gilbert is not a criminal.  It’s not a story about a struggle to understand an illness; or about the grace note of loyalty and love.

            It’s a story about the fixed place that mystery inhabits in our lives.

 

Port in a storm 

           

            Different scenes—from multiple views and characters’ memories—overlap in Trevor’s fiction; and plots shift perversely.  Sometimes the action can be as plain as peeling a potato; and, at other times, as seismic as a treachery; or a vow of love.

            Such is life.  And such is fiction, unless you want to represent it as sitcom shtick or comic book heroism.

            Loyalty is, in fact, the compass point in many of Trevor’s stories, despite the problematic impression “Gilbert’s Mother” leaves; and loyalty often equates to love.

            In “Death of a Professor,” an old professor’s beautiful younger wife hides from him the newspaper obit that a spiteful prankster had written about him.  The professor goes to a party where all of the other professors—a satirized, poisonous bunch—do know, and it’s a blow.

            The old professor’s figuring out of the misdeed—and his adoration of his wife—reminds her how much she loves him for his wisdom, a quality separate from competitive excellence.  “It is the wedding of their differences that protects them, steadfast in the debris of the storm.”

            Yes, society can be quite a hunger game in Trevorland, but his stories often enough shift tone to make you feel as if you’re in different universes.

            Sometimes, they are as hilarious as a Roald Dahl tale; or as tough as a Sean O’Casey play.

            In “The Mourning,” a simple lad wanting a bigger life in London, gets caught up first in the prejudice against low-wage Irishmen, and then in a terrorist plot.  The turning point in his fate as bomb-carrying hero versus hometown clod turns on words he remembers his da saying.

            “A Friendship” begins with ten- and eight-year old brothers pouring concrete into their father’s golf bag.  The father is a tyrant to his wife, whose life is made sweet by her best friend Margy, an instigator.  There’s going to be a clash.

            Loyalty cleaves in both meanings of the word here.  It clings on one hand, and severs on the other.  No wonder forgiveness is such a virtue; everyone’s got blood on their hands, and sometimes they don’t mean to have caused it.

 

THE BOOK

Selected Stories by William Trevor (Penguin trade paper, Sept. 27, 2011, 576 pages, $18)

 

EVENT

Book Discussion X meets to discuss “Selected Stories” by William Trevor at Accent on Books, Accent on Books, 854 Merrimon Ave., 7 p.m., Thurs., Nov. 15.   Call 252-6255.

STORIES TO BE DISCUSSED

Against the Odds

A Bit on the Side

Cheating at Canasta

The Children

Child’s Play

A Day

Death of a Professor

The Dressmaker’s Child

Gilbert’s Mother

The Hill Bachelors

Men of Ireland

The Piano Tuner’s Wife

The Room

Traditions

Widows

A Friendship

The Mourning

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