Wednesday, June 26, 2013

McSweeney's #43

Written by Charles Baxter, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, TC Boyle, Noor Elashi, Catherine Lacey, and William Wheeler

Since I began subscribing to McSweeney's, Dave Eggers's wonderful literary quarterly, I don't think I've received such a slim volume before, but when it's packed with this much quality writing, it's all good.

This issue (which was packaged with a collection of writing from the new nation of South Sudan that I haven't read yet) contains four short stories, and two pieces of non-fiction.

Charles Baxter starts things off with an excellent and touching story about a young man whose life basically falls apart after he returns to the United States from a stint volunteering in Ethiopia.  He ends up being dependent on a boyfriend he met while there, and Baxter does a great job of showing how their love fails.

In Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's story, a young woman and her mother end up having to care for the mother's first husband's mother, as economic inequality becomes entrenched in modern-day Russia.  There are interesting parallels to the first story.

TC Boyle's story 'Burning Bright' is the best part of this collection.  He uses multiple narrative streams to tell the story of a tiger in a zoo in San Francisco, and how it impacts on the lives of others.  Boyle is such a terrific writer, but I realize it's been years since I've read one of his novels.  I should probably do something about that.

Catherine Lacey's story 'Moment Stay' didn't really do a whole lot for me, but I'm willing to admit that that may be my fault and not her's, as her writing is superb in places.

Noor Elashi (who helped compile a section on the Egyptian Revolution a few issues back) writes with great honesty about visiting her father, who is currently serving a sixty-five year sentence for funding a terror organization, in his federal prison, which is known as 'Guantanamo North'.  Elashi travels with her mother, grandmother, and two younger brothers, and she shares all the intimate details of their visit. It's a moving piece; at their first visit, the father tries to show off his yoga skills, but the second becomes very strained under family dynamics and the sense that a year's worth of meaningful interactions have to be condensed into a short visit.  That Elashi pere's guilt is not certain makes it all the more poignant.  This could not have been easy to write or share.

This volume ends in a long non-fiction piece by William Wheeler about the rebel activities in Libya that led to the over-throwing of Mouammar Khadafi.  He writes about the ways in which the rebels and their collaborators planned to take Tripoli, and then sticks around for a while after that.  It's very good reporting, and he gives space for the major players, and some of the more colourful minor ones, to develop as people.  Good stuff.

On to the South Sudan book.

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