Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Keef told me

I'm on a committee of librarians selecting books to be given our state library association literary awards. One of the books that's made it to our medium list is Jesse Lee Kercheval's The Alice Stories, a nice collection of short stories, probably semi-autobiographical, about a woman, who grew up in the South, but is living her adult life in Madison WI. She is a creative writing teacher at the local technical college and her husband is a professor of photography at the University (in real life, Kercheval is on the faculty of the UW-Madison English department, and has been involved in developing an MFA program in creative writing; her husband is film maker Dan Fuller).

Anyway, after I read the collection, I told the committee that they were very good stories, but I didn't think they should get an award. The main character's life is just too damn meaningful. This overcharging might be because you read this set of short stories collected in one volume, so it's like the chapters in a novel instead of separate stories. But she goes from a confrontation with a pistol waving room mate to her mother's death, her best friend's breast cancer, the breaking up and selling off of her husband's family farm, to miscarriage, conception, and birth of her 2nd child as her husband is dying of brain cancer.

The Madison in the book is the one I know, beloved by me and all its other residents, but I still hated the main character for never having a dull moment - when was she just a boring, overworked, working mom, like me and all the other middle-aged women I know? On the committee, I was very much in the minority in this opinion - one woman said she wept at the end ... So I had to dismiss my criticisms as sheer curmudgeonly-ness.

Until this morning when I happened on this Washington Post interview, with Keith Richards, where he, quoting Chekhov - possibly not quite correctly - put his finger right on my reason for not liking the book:

(interviewer) Are there things you do that would surprise people?


(KR) Well, I don't know. I mean, I got me dogs, me kids. I go out and garden occasionally, depending on the time of year. Everybody lives, man. It's the same old life however you look at it. As Chekhov said: Any idiot will face a crisis, it's this day-to-day grind that'll get you down.

Thanks, Keef. Now if there were just a few books on our list that I could like or dislike for the quality of the food writing in them, I'd be much happier to serve.

3 comments:

dashap said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dashap said...

I deleted my post because I thought the book was supposed to be non-fiction and was capping on it for being phony non-fiction; now that I see that it IS fiction, I don't mind that she made it up, but I do mind that she made it so maudlin.

Deb's Lunch said...

Whew, I'm so glad it was you - thought it was the authoress herself, who's office is just upstairs from mine ...