Book review, books, fables, Fiction, L. Annette Binder, Laura Kasischke, Literary Fiction, Michelle Latiolais, mythology, Pushcart Prize, Rise, Sarabande Books, Short fiction, Short Stories, Storytelling, University of California Writing Program
L. Annette Binder, the author of a notable first collection of short stories, took a detour in her life. Born in Germany, she grew up in Colorado Springs. Western locales are the setting for some of her stories. A Classics major at Harvard, she did graduate work at Berkeley, before becoming a Harvard law grad. References to Internal Revenue Revenue Rulings do not often appear in short stories. Given her background in Classics a few of these stories are myths drawn from the Greeks, the Bible and German folk tales. Her writing developed at the University of California, Irvine’s Programs in Writing where she was mentored by Michelle Latiolais, Ron Carlson and Jayne Lewis. Like Laura Kasischke’s collection of short stories which I previously reviewed, “Rise” is published by Sarabande Books. This collection was received their Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. A number of her stories were Pushcart prize winners. The Foreward to “Rise” was written by Laura Kasischke, who recognized the wonder in these tales. “Rise”is a superb debut collection of stories.
The first three stories borrow from myths: “Nephilim”, “Galetea” and “Nod”. The first is a love tale between Freda, a giantess and a young boy who does chores for her. In “Galetea” a woman cosmetically sculptures her body, transferring her grief from the loss of her daughter, as if, like Pygmalion, she could bring a sculpture to life. “Nod” ironically is a story about a man who is sleep deprived.
My favorite story is “Dead Languages”. Ms. Binder is presently expanding it to novel length. A baby does not speak and the parents are concerned. When the child speaks they don’t understand what he is saying. They go to specialists to decipher the language. The answer lies in Ms. Binder’s background. “Sea of Tranquility” is a fabulist extrapolation. A man is farsighted; very farsighted. Even as Ms. Binder stretches your imagination she creates characters you know and feel. The ending of “Sea of Tranquility” is unexpected and lovely.
There are stories steeped in the reality of human frailties. “Tremble” is a story about a heavy and shy young man’s infatuation and lack of love. In “Shelter” a neighbor border dispute is taken to an extreme. “Sidewinder” leads you along a number of paths. It educates you about snakes and minerals, but is metaphorical for abusive relationship witnessed by a child. In “Rise” the dead retrieving the living through inconsolable guilt. A daughter expires from the same disease that took her Dad in “Lay My Head”. In the story, Ms. Binder conveys a folk tale, whose moral reflects the simplicity and beauty of her writing.
“Once there was a boy who wanted only to go home. His boss wished him well and gave him a lump of gold as big as his head to thank him for his service. But the gold was heavy and when a rider came along the road, the boy gladly traded it for a horse. But the horse galloped and threw the boy and when a man came by with a cow, the boy traded in his horse because walking was better than riding. And the cow became a piglet because beef was stringy but the piglet had sweet juices. And the piglet became a goose because there was nothing better than crackling goose skin and the fat beneath. The boy was happy with all his trades until he saw a scissor-sharpener working by the road. “How lucky you are”, the boy said, “to know a fine craft.” The kind man looked around for a good sharpening stone and found one in the field. “Here you are”, he said, and the boy took the stone in exchange for his goose, and he was happy again because fate provided. But the stone was heavy and he wasn’t careful and it fell into a stream. And the boy thought how lucky he was, how truly lucky, to be free of this heavy stone, and he walked the rest of the way home.”