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A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer Paperback – Bargain Price, June 5, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
National Book Award nominee Schutt (Florida; Nightwork) writes with startling beauty and frustrating restraint in 11 searing stories that reveal less than they artfully decline to reveal. A young American couple living in England find themselves pulled apart by desire for others (she for an unnamed "girl"; he for no one identified) in "Young"; in "Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful," four college students experiment with drugs and grapple with messy relationships ("[I]n this way it started. She and George. Alice and George. She and Alice and George. She and Alice and George and Sam"). In "Darkest of All," a mother with a carefully maintained over-the-counter drug habit visits her troubled son in rehab; later, getting her back rubbed by her younger, less screwed-up son, she longs for the idyllic days of their youth: "Jean had lifted the wisps of hair from off their baby scalps, marked as the moon, with their stitched plates of bone yet visible, the boys; how often she had thought to break them." In "They Turn Their Bodies Into Spears," a rich octogenarian welcomes his anorexic granddaughter to his island home, witnessing in her the same sadness he saw in her absent mother. Schutt's plots can be thin, but her prose is extraordinary. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Schutt, a 2004 National Book Award finalist for her novel, Florida, traces the tracks of time in her second story collection, tracks leading to loneliness, illness, or simply memories of a happier past. A mother whose sons are pulling away from her, one in a rehab facility, remembers them as little boys at the beach, their hair warm and "fragrant of weeds and sea." A college student coming down from a high experiences photolike glimpses of her Mexican abortion. A woman visits her mother--"belted in her chair and slumped"--in a nursing home and struggles to conjure up some happy family memories, while her mother's memories of her own sixteenth year are surprisingly vivid. The narrator of "Winterreise" quotes Thoreau to herself as she tries to come to grips with the impending death of a lifelong friend, 56 now and alone, who has already chosen a dress and pearls for "the viewing." These 11 stories are the perfect vehicles for Schutt's blunt and unadorned style, her perceptive illumination of crystallized moments. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
But I believe, after reading some of her wonderful stories, that she is not ungenerous, just crafty. She knows, like Browning's Andrea Del Sarto, that often "less is more." That sometimes the best way to hook a reader's attention is to tease and provoke. And also that this minimal approach is actually a form of mimesis, that it mirrors the frustrating way we learn and apprehend things in real life, and so if it seems fanciful, it is actually a kind of social realism for our sad age.
It seems that "approach" in the last sentence is a misnomer, and I should have used whatever word is the opposite of "approach." In "Do You Think I Am Who I Will Be?" for example, I still haven't figured out why our sad sack narrator can't get any water in his apartment. Even at the end, when finally he gets enough water to fill up the rest of his glass of Scotch, I never managed to find out what had happened. Was he living in a dry state? Was he being punished in some future world in which water is rationed the way sugar used to be during World War II?
I find Schutt very moving, like Virginia Woolf, in her treatment of the women in her stories. I will never forget the young mother in "Darkest of All" who can't keep her hands off her kids, or the young wife in, well, "Young," who realizes she has made a mistake early on in her marriage, and finds a novel way to work out her misgivings.
I don't think she's so great at men. They seem (I mean, "we" seem) like a species mysterious to her, like the elephant in the old fable of the blind men and the elephant. But I'm sure that it's hardly noticeable because the mood of her stories is always both luscious and spare, and because we feel confident in her trajectory as a whole. She is one author I would love to meet one day, so I could thank her for opening up a new world for me, a world of intrigue, made of ordinary things, like Ann Hamilton's vast sculptures created of discarded index cards from card catalogues.
"Darkest of All" considers the ambivalence of motherhood, small, fragrant boys grown to unpredictable young men; the mother hides her fears behind walls of her own invention; another reminds of the careless intimacies of college life ("Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful"), the focus on pleasures of the moment, knowing it is only a fragment of the rest of a person's life. Yet another meditation on the intransigence of youth and the passage of time is found in "Do You Think I Am Who I Will Be?"
Life is viewed through the prism of age. In "The Human Season", a mother yearns for a visit from her son, who is a great comfort, but he will not come, refusing to bring his new girlfriend to the place where his mother resides with an abusive man, a cad who is bitter and jealous of the mother-son relationship; "The Life of the Palm and the Breast" addresses the sweet pleasures of love and family, so intensely vital that caution lingers in the air, whispering "what if"; a young woman's visit to her grandparents awakens long-forgotten memories in "They Turn Their Bodies into Spears", the quietude and adaptation of old age interrupted by the energy she brings to their home, stimulating recollections of her mother. These thoughts stir the air, unsettling.
Schutt examines emotions in each small gem, always with an eye on the passage of time, when the past is all there is because the future disappears, eaten by each new day. There are moments of youth and joy; there are moments of grief and despair. In another tale, "Unrediscovered, Unrenamable", a young son's innocent awakening on a summer island is silenced by his mother's cruel and crude response, when he asks, "But what is my purpose?" And in "Winterreise", we learn the pain of watching a friend suffer, sharing the present and avoiding the past, "whatever came before and marked her has been sanded away". In all of these stories, shards of lives are cast on the ground, where the light touches each briefly, illuminating, then moving on to the next.
The collection is written from the perspective of a certain age, the smoldering wisdom that informs the very things that once were puzzling, now ring clear. Schutt possesses a unique gift, a poetic voice that surfaces in the structure and sound of her language. Her voice is individual, recognizable from one tale to the next, as she bites off pieces of lives, each new taste revealing human nature and the consequences of choice. Schutt hops from person to person, moment to moment, reminding us that this is exactly how life occurs, that "it is hard to live above time". Luan Gaines/2005.