Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sue and Margie Get "This Close"

Sue and Margie recently read This Close, a new collection of short stories by Jessica Francis Kane (Graywolf Press 2013) and we found that we couldn't stop thinking about them. 

We'd shoot off tweets and emails back and forth as we read along, marveling at the impact the stories were having on us. So we thought we'd share an extended conversation about this book that we love so much.

Sue: Let me start out by saying that this is one of my favorite collections of short stories EVER. The fact that we can get into a long conversation about each of these stories is amazing.

Margie: I agree. These stories remind me of some of my favorite short stories by Lorrie Moore or Laurie Colwin. There's so much between the lines that you have to stop and let it all sink in before you move on to the next story. 

In order to do them justice, we're going to talk about one story at a time. Today it's Lucky Boy. Join us again later this week when we talk about two more stories in the collection.

Margie: I remember we had our first conversation about this collection after I had just finished Lucky Boy, the first story in the book. It's about a young New Yorker's relationship with his neighborhood dry cleaner. The story hit a nerve because I absolutely love going to my dry cleaner. (Don't you go to the same one on Park Boulevard?) My dry cleaner is so nice. She knows that my daughter used to ride horses, that my husband's shirts are always same-day-rush-rush, and that my mother-in-law lives across the street, but I'm ashamed to say I don't even know her name. I think she's Korean.

Sue: We do both go to the same dry cleaner (whose name is Rosa) and although I don't stop there more than once a week, she does know everything about my family, including my mother who lives across the street, as well. She even went so far as to give me a gift for my first grandchild. The difference between our dry cleaner and the one in Lucky Boy is that I can't imagine our dry cleaner asking us for anything. That is when it kind of seems to cross some line.

Margie: Okay, now I feel really bad. You knew Rosa's name and I didn't. But I love what you say about crossing the line. That's exactly what happened in Lucky Boy, isn't it? The dry cleaner asked Henry to play baseball with her son, and he agreed. That's when everything got weird. Henry started to feel "entangled." He took Owen out to museums and out for hot chocolate, waiting for the outings to make some kind of sense. As if there are unwritten rules to these relationships that we can't breach without losing our way.

Sue: That's a perfect way of putting it. When a cashier at Dominick's with whom I was always friendly asked me if my husband could possibly give her well educated son (whom I've never met) a job, I felt very uncomfortable, and kind of felt like avoiding her after that.

Margie: That's exactly what Henry felt, isn't it? The need to step away. I thought it was interesting that Henry's girlfriend Christina, who was a native New Yorker, seemed perfectly comfortable keeping these types of relationships at arm's-length. But Henry (a fellow midwesterner maybe?) wanted to be a good person, to treat these people like his friends, but yet they weren't. Don't we feel exactly that about our "help" - an uncomfortable mix of friendship, commerce, loyalty, intimacy, power? It's confusing.

Sue: And to think Jessica Kane fit all that into this one small story and called it Lucky Boy. Who was the lucky boy? Owen or Henry? And were either of them really lucky? I'm not so sure.

Margie: Before we finish up with Lucky Boy, I just have to quote the last few lines, because they really hit me when I first read them. It's Henry talking a few years later, after he has lived in New York much longer and has lost his (midwestern?) innocence:

But frankly, what else could have happened? Was I going to put Owen through college? Attend his wedding? Tell people he was the son of my dry cleaner - he's been waiting to dry clean my daughter's wedding dress for years? I can't tell those stories and I don't know any others. 
Henry doesn't know the story that would have made sense out of his relationship with Owen, so he just let it go. Geez, that almost makes me want to cry. Just think of all the stories we don't know. 


Next: Sue and Margie will be talking about Sue's favorite story in the collection, The Essentials of Acceleration.

THIS CLOSE by Jessica Francis Kane: Highly Recommended

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