365 Days of Women Writers

Women writers only – no boys allowed

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Day 48: You Leave Them by Mona Simpson

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I first enjoyed the uncomfortable pleasure of watching fame seeking when watching Star Search (you go Ed McMahon!) though the real winner of this category is clearly American Idol.

You Leave Them is all about the stage mother and her daughter who travel across the country in search of fame and fortune.

“My name is Heather,” I said. While we were driving she told me I could pick a new name for myself in California. It would be my television name.

“Heather, then. You know who I mean.” She sniffed me, “You smell,” she said, and handed me a towel. “Let’s have some scrubbing action. Get undressed and hurry up.”

I washed standing on one leg, the other foot on my knee, swishing the towel around lightly. Other women’s faces sealed the mirror. My mother didn’t notice women leaving the restroom but she saw that I was embarrassed. All of the sudden she saw that. And it must have seemed like a defeat. She’d driven all that way and now we were here and I was ashamed of her.

Written by Chance

November 4, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Day 47: The Famous Torn and Restored Lit Cigarette Trick by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Sometimes with a story you want to start a generation back. Two generations. Three. Seventeen generations back, and start with the pig who slept on the lawn.

There’s not actually a pig in this story, but there is a bunny.

“If you do the tricks for the children, you should have a rabbit,” he told her.

Esther hugged him. She said, “I never had a rabbit.”

Hoffman lifted the rabbit from the cage. It was an unnaturally enormous rabbit.

“Is it pregnant?” Esther asked.

“No, she is not. She is only large.”

“That’s an extremely large rabbit for any magic trick,” Ace observed.

Esther said, “They haven’t invented the hat big enough to pull that rabbit out of.”

“She actually folds up to a small size,” Hoffman said. He held the rabbit between his hands like it was an accordion and squeezed it into a great white ball.

I don’t know why, but I laughed really hard at “She is only large.”

This story sprawls. It’s a skinny teenage boy who sits with his legs and arms spread so wide it takes up the entire couch. It starts with a Rose Water mogul and his widow who squanders her fortune on séances. It quickly moves to a old fashioned comedy club, then a brutal murder, and then the bunny. And then bunny-napping:

“Is Bonnie in your house, Mr. Wilson?”

“Is Bonnie the rabbit’s name?”

“Yes.”

“How would Bonnie get in out house?”

“Perhaps you have some broken window in the basement?”

“You think she’s in our basement?”

“Have you looked for her in your basement?”

“No.”

“Can I look for her?”

“You want to look for a rabbit in our basement?”

The two men stared at each other for some time. Ronald Wilson was wearing a baseball cap, and he took it off and rubbed the top of his head, which was balding. He put the baseball cap back on.

“Your rabbit is not in our house, Mr. Hoffman,” Wilson said.

“Okay,” Hoffman said. “Okay. Sure.”

Hoffman walked back home. He sat at the kitchen table and waited until Ace and Esther were both in the room to make his announcement.

“They took her,” he said. “The Wilsons took Bonnie.”

Hoffman’s crazy is funny and then sad, and when it does turn out that the bunny was in fact -napped by the Wilsons, I thought I’d be annoyed, by Gilbert sticks the ending.

Written by Chance

November 3, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Day 26: At the Zoo by Caitlin Horrocks

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Family is a tough thing. I think most people, even those with quite good relationships with most family members, have those spaces where things rub, the sore spots that your family knows like no one else ever could.

Nominally, this is a story about a visit to a zoo between a slightly estranged mother, son, and grandfather. The grandfather likes to tell tall tales to his grandson:

“Elephant weasels love roast beef,” the grandfather says. “And key lime pie. And kid stew.”

His daughter takes a curiously vehement stance on this:

She grinds her teeth when her father speaks. Her whole life he has been telling these stories, and there was once a time she believed them. As a child she gave show-and-tell presentations on birds that turned out not to exist, on fictive countries whose names were sexual innuendo she was too young to understand. She was marked down, taken aside by concerned teachers. She still winces at those old humiliations, her own credulity. She has promised herself that her son will grow up on firmer footing.

And if Horrocks wanted to sew up that the narrator was a bit of a wet blanket, we learn she is a patent attorney (sorry patent attorneys, but that sounds so fiddly dull.)

But before we attach our affections on the Grandfather, Horrocks pulls us back:

It has occurred to his parents that the boy might turn out to be gay and that these are the early signs. He is who he is, they tell themselves, whoever that turns out to be. The boy’s grandfather finds this repellent.

Because we shouldn’t be picking sides–These are humans, good and bad, and there is so much family history that it’s nearly impossible to separate the present from the past and the grace of forgiveness comes around rarely:

Her father takes a tissue from a box in the backseat and hands it to the boy. The boy pushes the tissue against his face, gluing it to his mucus-covered lip in an effort to please. The grandfather touches his cratered cheek, checking the square white bandage. He looks up and meets his daughter’s eyes in the mirror. He is without a ready word, and his silence she is happy to interpret as love.

ps, there’s a time traveler.

pps, no, really!

Written by Chance

October 13, 2010 at 7:51 pm