Summer humidity finally arrived yesterday in all of its noxious glory. This morning, there is rain in the forecast for most of the day and my windows are covered on condensation. I slept very well last night, and also got most of my weekend chores done yesterday so today I can devote myself to writing, revising, and editing. It’s very lovely, you know, to wake up feeling rested. I think there’s another load of dishes that need to be run through the dishwasher, but other than that (and straightening up) I have my entire day free. I am trying to decide what novel to read next, and am leaning towards Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, but there are also some other books in the running. I’ll make up my mind at some point later today when I need to take a break from writing/revising/editing.
Last night, I did read Megan Abbott’s brilliant short story, “Girlie Show,” from Lawrence Block’s In Light or In Shadow. As always with Abbott, I was immediately drawn into the story; her remarkable gift for choosing just the right words, and for coming up with new, extraordinary word choices to describe something that create the picture in your head perfectly. She is also a very spare writer, able to do things with a five or six word sentence that other writers would need a lengthy paragraph to get across. The book itself is gorgeous, with reproductions of the Hopper paintings that inspired the writers. It’s also an incredibly impressive list of name authors–everyone from Block himself to Stephen King to Lee Child to Joyce Carol Oates to Jeffrey Deaver to Abbott herself; it is actually an incredible honor to be nominated in the same Anthony category as this book, frankly.
But back to Abbott’s story.
“She went udders out.”
“No pasties even?”
“Like a pair of traffic lights.”
Pauline hears them on the porch. Bud is telling her husband about a trip to New York City a few years ago. Going to the Casino de Paree.
Her husband says almost nothing, smoking cigarette after cigarette and making sure always has a Blatz in hand from the metal cooler beside him.
“Nipples like strawberries,” Bud is saying. “But she never took off her G-string. And she never spread her legs.”
The story is a return to period pieces, stories set in our more societally repressed past, like her early novels The Song Is You, Bury Me Deep, and Queenpin. I love her more recent novels, that are set in the present day, but no one writes period pieces quite as beautifully as she does. I’ve tried writing period stories, but am incredibly terrible at them, and I envy the ease with which Abbott spins her tales. She gets to the heart of her characters is such minimal yet insightful and clever ways; almost like she is tossing off a sentence so casually that at first it seems to just be another sentence, but there is so much truth and meaning contained within those few words that the reader gets an almost complete picture of who that character is…kind of like the story of Bette Davis, trying to understand her character Margo in All About Eve, and asking writer/director Joseph Mankieowicz for some insight. Davis later recalled, “He just shrugged and said ‘Margo is the kind of woman who treats a mink coat like a poncho,’ and I immediately knew exactly who she was.”
Abbott has that ability, and it’s always a pleasure to get lost in the richness of her words, the textures and layers of her stories.
And isn’t it way past time for a collection of her short stories? Just sayin’.
As I head back into the spice mines, I shall leave you with a Sunday hunk.