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Showing posts from February, 2014

Inaugural Playboy Fiction Review: "Tea Ceremony" by Stuart Dybek

After nearly 20 years of reading Playboy Magazine, I finally started READING Playboy Magazine. In the process I discovered there's all sorts of neat stuff in there...like fiction! Read on...

What better way to kick-off my Playboy fiction reviewing than with a story by the great short fiction writer Stuart Dybek. In terms of his popularity and where he's had the most success, Dybek resides on the academic end of the spectrum of contemporary fiction. In fact, I'd wager that only those well-steeped in the world of academic "program" fiction are likely to have heard of him at all. And if you've never studied writing at the university (grad or post-grad) level and you've still heard of Dybek, then you can consider yourself a Grand Champion contemporary lit fan. Myself, I was exposed to him through my good old friend and resident-expert-on-everything, Andrew Soliday, an alumnus of Western Michigan University, where Dybek taught. All that aside, if you're lo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Moonlit Landscape With Bridge" by Zadie Smith

I'm used to hearing about Zadie Smith as London's resident archivist of middle- to upper-middle-class life and the racial tensions that take place in that stratum of society. However, I really like the Zadie Smith who writes these post-apocalyptic/speculative stories like "Meet the President!" (GCB 8/27/13) and now "Moonlit Landscape With Bridge."

It's important to note early that "Moonlit Landscape with Bridge" is a painting from 1650 by Dutch painter Aert van der Neer [shown here, at left]. As you can see, the painting depicts a nighttime scene or nocturne. Apparently van der Neer went through quite a large "nocturne phase." I don't have time to delve too deeply into van der Neer's biography and the critical reception of this painting, and to draw symbolic links. I wish I did, but I have a life and a day job and all that other good stuff. Although, it's pretty clear to see the dark, shady tones of this painting are echoe…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "The Emerald Light in the Air" by Donald Antrim

Here we have a short story by literary fiction writer Donald Antrim. The list of Antrim's accolades reads like a wish-list for any literary fiction writer: at the age of 54 he's had four novels published, a dozen stories in the New Yorker; Guggenheim, MacArthur, and NEA fellowships, among others I'm sure, and a teaching position at the University of Columbia MFA program. Is this guy the real deal? Yeah, he's the real deal.

I found his story "The Emerald Light in the Air" a little less than compelling at first; however, given the layers of flashback, symbolism, and texture available in this story, I'm inclined to look a little deeper.... 
Basically, it's a story about Billy French, an urbane junior high-school teacher in his early 40s who lives in rural Virginia. Over the past year, Billy has lost his mother and father to a joint suicide and lost his wife to another man. The main action takes place as Billy drives home to prepare for date with a woman…