Last week's short story by Jane Gardam was excellent and this week's is just as good. If you think you don't like short stories, you should give a few by Jane Gardam a go. The quote on the cover of the book reads "Pure delight . . . One perfect story after another" and so far at least, I have to agree. She immediately pulls you in and then keeps you interested. The stories are such perfect snapshots of life, such careful and interesting observations of the inner lives of her characters--she conveys emotions and sensibilities with a real deftness, and then at the end there is just the right twist that makes you appreciate her mastery.
Here's a curious title for you and I have to say it wasn't all that appealing initially really, "The Pig Boy". Any ideas of what the story would be like? I thought it might be an interesting character sketch, and in a way it is but not exactly of the person you think.
"Veronica smelled the pig boy before she saw him and the smell was the essence of her loathing and hatred of Hong Kong."
From what I can tell, and maybe someone can correct me, it seems as though Jane Gardam did not live in Hong Kong (though her husband is a QC just as Old Filth was)? She certainly writes with confidence and very convincingly of place--not just descriptions but of presence--that of British expats living in other parts of the Empire.
In the story Veronica is a "brought-out wife" and loathes Hong Kong. She's a full time painter and lives in England but twice a year travels over to be with her husband as a sort of "safety valve" to keep him from experiencing executive breakdown. The odd thing for the other wives is that there are no children at home in England or a proper job (well, a job that must keep her at home, whereas surely you can paint anywhere, right?). What's to stop her from living in Hong Kong permanently. Everyone assumes there must be a little extracurricular hanky panky going on with one or maybe both spouses and it's just more convenient to lead separate lives, but one look at her husband's tired face and his slide into paunchiness and it's obvious it's only and all business and nothing else.
He works long hours with one goal in mind--to bring it home to England. He can make in Hong Kong far more money than he could at home and in much less time. So the idea is to work like a dog for a while and then return home with a nice financial reward. But for Veronica life in Hong Kong is a bore. She must entertain herself all day and then it's socializing all evening--cocktail parties and dinners and walking in the neighborhood. The thing is, it's all just the same as any other place.
"After a week or so she grew used to it--used to the pace and the impersonality. It was just a richer, madder Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon."
Even the conversation with the other wives is all the same. And it doesn't matter if they are Chinese, French, American or English. She goes the rounds and does what a proper wife does, but it's all just routine. "This place isn't any more foreign than London. None of it."
Or so she thinks. It's when the unexpected happens, when she is lost in a part of Hong Kong not meant for tourists. The dirty, dingy part where she's been warned not to go, where life is a little scary that her eyes are really opened and everything is new and fresh and even a little exciting.
So, yes, you do get to meet the Pig Boy, and see and smell him in your mind. He's the impetus for the change, but the story is all about Veronica.
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If you had asked me a week ago if I liked César Aira's work I would have looked at you blankly. César Aira? I always think I know a lot about books, not necessarily a lot about style or content exactly, but what's out there--names and places. But it's impossible to know really, and time and again when I read each new New Yorker story I discover yet another new to me writer. Aira is published by New Directions here in the US--about a dozen or so books, and in his native Argentina he published something like a hundred books. Granted his books tend to be on the short side--more closer to novellas perhaps, but how does someone like this fail to cross my path?
This week's story (August 11 & 18 issue) is called "Picasso" and was a delight to read (and you can read it, too).
"It all began when the genie came out of the Magic Milk bottle and as me what I would prefer: to have a Picasso or be Picasso."
Apparently his playful inventiveness is quite common. In the This Week Q&A feature (with his New Directions publisher Barbara Epler says about his writing:
". . . his delight in leaping into triple-back-flip dives from the very highest platform, even as the pool vanishes, to land neatly on his toes on a little patch of daisies. It is a very particular kind of joy. Key to his work is that it never feels like work—that’s part of the joy. Aira possesses a sans souci quality I have never encountered with such purity."
I like that carefree writing style, his ability to just go with the flow. He inserts himself in the story--at least it feels like it is himself then muses over the question at hand, the implications of each choice and even contemplates the issues of identity and fame. And an absolutely perfect ending sentence.
Unfortunately the library where I work has none of his books, but the public library has The Hare which Epler upon first reading it said it "knocked her socks off". Maybe I'll start there. Somehow he seems an author to read and talk about, so if anyone has an inkling to read any of his books do let me know and we can give him a go together. I should start a shelf of books bought as inspired by my New Yorker reading. I wonder how many names long that list is now . . .
The next New Yorker story (I am running behind but hope to catch up when I am on vacation next week) is by Tessa Hadley, whose stories I have read before and know I like. So am in for another treat. I plan on continuing on with the Jane Gardam collection, but as September and October are RIP reading months I will turn my attention to ghost stories or something similar. My next Short Story Sunday will likely be sometime later in the week as I will just be getting back from vacation, but I am sure I'll squeeze on in sometime soon after I get back.