Sharon Olds

Last week was a rollercoaster, for many of us, I’m sure. The bombings in Boston, where I grew up, were a scary and melancholy backdrop to a host of personal stresses: taxes, two last-minute freelance jobs, papers to grade, and our car starting to overheat on the Bay Bridge at midnight (not to mention the next day’s $500 repair). Needless to say, I just didn’t find the time or the energy to sit down and write.

And so it’s a little late that I address the recent Pulitzer Prize winners. The only one whose work I’m familiar with at all is poet Sharon Olds, who took away the poetry prize. I haven’t read fiction writer Adam Johnson or non-fiction writer Gilbert King, though both men’s books look really fascinating. (Is it just me–random question–or is a lot of the fiction that’s popular these days historical fiction?)

Anyway, Sharon Olds. Her work is what we poets call “confessional,” meaning no subject is off the table. Olds writes exuberantly about sex and her husband’s body and her children’s bodies and her own breasts and all kinds of other subjects many of us find taboo; she writes about her daughter losing her virginity and her abuse as a child and a miscarriage in the toilet. She can be, I think, for many people, a little cringe-worthy.

But she’s an incredibly accomplished poet (after all, she just won the Pulitzer), prolific and unflinching. I don’t yet have her prize winner, Stag’s Leap, but on my shelf, conveniently, sits her 1983 book The Dead and the Living. Here is a beautiful poem from that collection called “Grandmother Love Poem.” Just in time for the last week of National Poetry Month.

Grandmother Love Poem

Late in her life, when we fell in love,

I’d take her out from the nursing home

for a chaser and two bourbons. She’d crack

a joke sharp as a tin lid

hot from the teeth of the can-opener,

and cackle her crack-corn laugh. Next to her

wit, she prided herself on her hair,

snowy and abundant. She would lift it up

at the nape of the neck, there in the bar,

and under the white, under the salt-and-

pepper, she’d show me her true color,

the color it was when she was a bride:

like her sex in the smoky light she would show me

the pure black.

? Sharon Olds

Books You Can Lose Yourself In

I thought it was really interesting that two blog posts today were about the immersive (I think I just made up a word) world of fiction. The Living Notebook writes about Absorption today, about fiction that “brings us further into [a] dream, overwhelming our senses until the dream seems real.”

And over on popcorn, Karen McHegg discusses books that “create a world different from the one [she] lives in.” You can read about those books here.

It made me think: which books have most absorbed me in recent years? My first thought was Emma Donoghue’s brilliant novel Room. I also felt immersed in the strange world of Karen Russel’s Swamplandia and the more-real-yet-also-quite-strange one of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.

Which books have absorbed you lately? Head on over to popcorn and tell Karen McHegg.

And me? Today I’m immersed in three-year-old land. L. had a touch of pinkeye, and I knew I’d get the stink eye if I sent him to school.

Onward,

Susie

Identity Politics

As I mentioned last week, a short story of mine is in this fiction contest and I’d be so pleased if you’d read it. If you like it, you can click “recommend.”

Interestingly, several people have commented to me on the fact that the narrator of the story is a guy. My father in law, for example, told me I had guys all wrong.

“How so?” I asked.

“You know that part where he does all that stuff he doesn’t want to do, all so he can get the girl?”

“Yesss,” I said, hesitant (I don’t entirely see Steve’s motives that way).

“Well, we don’t really act like that.”

(Later he told me he was just giving me a hard time.)

And my friend An Honest Mom told me she thought it was very “brave” to write in a guy’s voice, that it surprised her.

Is it naive that the identity of my narrator?him being a man, me being a woman?never even occurred to me? This has really gotten me thinking.

That story was an example of one that just kind of happened. It was based on a few real-life events; my husband’s stepmom had just died of cancer more quickly than any of us expected her to. I am from Boston, and a few of the Boston references were real. And I was reading Buddhism at the time. And I just love any story, song, or poem about a breakup, because it may be the one human experience we can all relate to: being dumped, or dumping, and the grief and conflict that go with it.

So yeah, I wrote from a guy’s perspective. Who knew?

I have only had three takers for Faith. Come on, people! Free book!

Happy Monday,

Susie

Vote for Me! (Or, the Shameless Self-Promotion Plug)

Well. Last week as I was frantically packing for a loooong Thanksgiving drive to Southern California I also managed to submit a short story to Medium’s Fiction Writing Contest. The story is called Shunyata. And I really hope you’ll read it. Then, if you like it, I hope you’ll vote for it. The system is a little tricky, but basically, you read; then you click “recommend.” Here is where it gets tricky. Once you hit recommend, you’re then asked to sign in to your Twitter account. I know–I didn’t have a Twitter account either. As far as I can tell, there’s no way around this but to get one. And then you can vote! (And if you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @SusieMeserve.)

Here’s a teaser.

On the first Monday of last June my girlfriend Carrie?s mom got diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer and was dead the following Tuesday. It was one of those reverse miracles, an absolute mind-fuck. Me and Carrie flew to her parents? house in Cleveland for the funeral. It was the first time I?d met her dad. I never met her mom. We didn?t really do parents so much.

?Steven,? Mr. Weathers said to me. ?It?s good you?ve come.? I towered over him. Carrie said, ?Oh, Dad,? and embraced him. I stood there patting the back of her leather jacket like an idiot, because I didn?t know what else to do.

I had known Carrie for what seemed like forever?two years, by then?but, it turned out, wasn?t, because you don?t really know someone until you?ve seen the photos their parents keep of them around the house. There was Carrie, on the piano, on the mantelpiece, in her dad?s study: blonde, blue-eyed, full-lipped, high cheekboned, a little pudgy. There she was in her band uniform. There she was in fake pearls and a pink taffeta dress at junior prom, smiling behind unfamiliar lipstick, like a little girl playing dress-up. There she was in her parents? bedroom in a crackled photo with Tommy, her brother who died in a car accident when she was a senior in high school. When pressed, Carrie would say his death was probably what made her stop being a good girl, start smoking, start doing drugs, start wearing leather and motorcycle boots to class. The house in Cleveland suggested wealth and togetherness and wholesome family values, not my Carrie: cocktail waitress, smoker, heavy drinker?into taking long drives and suggesting we stop and fuck on the hood of my car.

Which, as far as I could remember, I had never refused.

And here is a photo of a Thanksgiving table, Southern California style. I hope everyone had a lovely day–I am grateful for many things, and for you, readers.