Adventures in Reading

“Mama Loved Patsy Cline” by Laura Bork

“I’m crazy for tryin’ and crazy for cryin’ and I’m crazy for loving you.” – Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”

I am a little behind in posting, but July’s short story for A Curious Singularity [1] was Laura Bork’s short work “Mama Loved Patsy Cline.” While slowly digging through some rather demanding tomes I decided to take a pleasant afternoon break and peruse Bork’s story.

Set in Texas, Margaret travels to her mother’s home along with her ex-girlfriend Rhoda. The reader learns that Margaret’s father has past and the two women are taking this trip to obtain his cello that Margaret has inherited.

Bork is slow to reveal her story. It’s roughly the second page before the narrator’s name is revealed, it’s nearly the middle of the story when we learn why the trip has been made or of the artistic talents of the father, and it’s the last page of the novel before the title’s importance solidifies. While this slow to reveal method helps obscure aspects of the story from immediate notice, I admit I was quick to decide that the story was transparent and single faceted.

In thirteen pages, Bork creates five interestingly complex characters through this pattern of revelation. Margaret, the first character to speak, returns home but what feels like for the final time. She is still in love with Rhoda and the reader can never be entirely positive why Rhoda has participated in this journey: out of guilt or because, as she says, she sincerely wants to remain friends? Both women are living in Dallas working on a radio talk show that at least discusses classical music.

Margaret’s mother appears as perhaps the most transparent character. The reader meets her smoking and stinking of “whiskey sour breakfast.” DebbieSue, Margaret’s younger sister, hovers on the edge of the story like a Kleenex filling in holes. Both immediately appear as backward bumpkins, without a car, and living in a decrepit home full of cats. But the discussion of Debussy and DebbieSue’s passion, if not talent, for the cello begin to unveil a more complicated situation.

The final character, the father, is an absent character and the reader develops awareness of him through the verbal and unsaid statements of the other characters. A photographer and passionate musician, it’s clear that he and his wife were at odds. Patsy Cline’s appearance in the novel is a result of the mother’s adoration of country music versus her husband’s affection for classical. She would play Patsy Cline to drive him crazy and he’d say “it made his cello sound like it was crying.” At the end of the story when the mother gives the Patsy Cline records to Rhoda in a moment that begs questions of the future but provides no answers.

Bork’s story is good though I wish there had been further development in some of the plot areas.

I found the story to be reminiscent of Dorothy Allison’s Cavedweller.

[1] A Curious Singularity is a group blog that invites its participants and readers to explore and discuss a new short story every month.

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Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison

“Death changes everything.”

Dorothy Allison’s Cavedweller completely blew my mind. Attempting to continue my challenge of reading books I already own, I asked my partner to pick out a book for me. With completely different literary tastes and his partiality for non-fiction and poetry, I knew he would approach the selection with a different criterion than I would. I devoured Cavedweller in great heaping bites and with my eyes glittery and exhausted by the time I finished the novel.

Delia is an ex-rock-n-roller that escaped a small southern town and an abusive relationship. When her lover and lead singer of Mud Dog Randall dies, Delia has the urge to return to her childhood home with her youngest daughter Cissy. Part of Delia’s attraction to return home is her craving and the haunting of the two “babies” she left behind to escape her marriage. The novel stretches over years as Delia struggles to reacquaint her family.

Some of the themes coursing through Cavedweller are entirely predictable if not clichéd. The maternal and female struggles, the idea of the earth as mother, Cissy’s “rebirth” as she leaves the cave are a few examples. However, Allison deals with them with extraordinary grace and the greatest of poise – despite the regularity of these themes Allison gives them freshness.

Allison does write in dialect at times and overall the book requires some very close reading. Each word in the book seems of great importance and I must admit it’s the first novel I have read in quite some time where I did not scan at all. I did, however, have to reread the first chapter before I became accustomed to Allison’s style.

After finishing Cavedweller I mooched Bastard out of Carolina – perhaps the best known of Allison’s book from Bookmooch. She is definitely an author I want to spend more time with.

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