A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
I liken Cortese’s short shorts to prose poems, narratives that are super compressed, requiring standard elements of a story to unfold quickly. You must pay attention to the cues and clues because they come up fast, like road signs on a ninety MPH romp through the countryside. At the same time, such clues are, at times, embedded a bit deeper, so you must, simultaneously, slow down. Cortese has created forty-four stories, which encompass great wit, pathos, and metaphoric imagery. She divides her collection into three parts: Maidenhood, Motherhood, and Matronhood.
In Maidenhood Cortese has no problem portraying the subjects of abuse or death: a girl drowns in the first sentence of “The Junior Superheroes Club of Tallahassee, Florida”; in “Best Laid Plans,” a baby boy strangles on a piece of hotdog; a PE teacher is shot, “not quite killing him” (16), in “Food, Shelter, Water.” Beginning in this section you notice a smooth linkage between the stories, shifting with the ease of an automatic transmission. For example, from the first story to the second, there exists a similar female voice of a certain age, coping with loss; later in the collection, an image in one story may be referenced in an adjacent or later story. Throughout most of these narratives lingers a menace: something bad is about to happen, and yet we’re pleased when it doesn’t. Biting satire, as well, becomes one of the author’s greatest tools: in “The Sum of Her Parts,” a younger sister copes with her eating disorder by storing her various body parts in jars in her room, while continuing to carry on a normal life; and “letluvintrin®” lampoons a drug that treats “Singlitis.”
One of the most memorable stories in Motherhood may be “Insatiable,” in which a woman, who’s lived through seventeen infertile years, finally gives birth to a child—offering up the experience by way of hyperbole. “Now I was poisoned by love, heavy without daughter, beaten and weak, drowning, insensible to everyone else . . . .” (98). Cortese does not let up in the closing section, where the mother portrays her new infant’s lust for life: “She claimed his nose, which she loved to pull, then the rest of him. The cat, then the collie. She ate the front porch, then the neighbor’s split-level ranch. She swallows bathrobes off my back as soon as I can buy them” (98). What a wonderful way to express joy!
In Matronhood, Cortese pens “Gliese 581g,” a delightfully fanciful story in which she draws certain parallels between the celestial model that Harmony, an astronaut, designs on her laptop of 581g, with an affair she’s had with her married scientist partner. By way of the model planet, Harmony is indicating that the heat and cold of her affair are similar to the heat and cold of 581g, the galactic distance Harmony must now feel, as her partner leaves the lab to return to his wife.
Cortese has taken a literary form fairly recent in its development and pushed its boundaries in gentle, yet startlingly ways. As a reader I hunger to see more from this exciting writer and scholar in her third year of teaching creative writing at Texas Tech University, and I believe I won’t have to wait long.
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2015
Date of Original Post:
11/13/14 — Introduction to My Long-Playing Records
11/20/14 — "My Long-Playing Records" — The Story
11/27/14 — "A Certain Kind of Mischief"
12/04/14 — "Ghost Riders"
12/11/14 — "The Best Mud"
12/18/14 — "Handy to Some"
12/25/14 — "Blight"
01/01/15 — "A Gambler's Debt"
01/09/15 — "Tales of the Millerettes"
01/15/15 — "Men at Sea"
01/22/15 — "Basketball Is Not a Drug"
01/29/15 — "Engineer"
02/05/15 — "Snarked"
02/12/15 — "Killing Lorenzo"
02/19/15 — "The Age I Am Now"
02/26/15 — "Bathed in Pink"
Listen to My Long-Playing Records Podcasts:
03/12/15 — "A Certain Kind of Mischief"
03/26/15 — "The Best Mud"
04/02/15 — "Handy to Some"
04/09/15 — "Tales of the Millerettes"
04/16/15 — "Men at Sea"
04/23/15 — "My Long-Playing Records"
04/30/15 — "Basketball Is Not a Drug"
05/07/15 — "Snarked"
05/21/15 — "Killing Lorenzo"
05/28/15 — "Bathed in Pink"
Also available on iTunes. Watch for more podcasts!