April 01, 2009

Tobias and T Coraghessan

This is so great: Rose Hoare, with whom I often have pleasurable encounters en déshabillé late on Sunday mornings, (well, okay, not really her, her Sunday Star Times articles), contributed a comment to last week’s post about “Bullet in the brain” with a link to a New Yorker online podcast with the novelist T. Coraghessan Boyle. When they asked him to choose a favourite story from the New Yorker archives to discuss and read aloud, he said, it took him all of 30 seconds to pick “Bullet in the Brain” -- about the same amount of time it took me to get the podcast going.

These things were fun: finding out what people call T. Coraghessan in person (“Hi, Tom”, “Hi, Deborah”); the moment when “Tom” declared “Bullet in the Brain” to be a perfect story; hearing him call Tobias Wolff and Raymond Carver “Toby” and “Ray”; imagining them with this skinny frizzy-haired non-hunting guy who had changed his name to Coraghessan when he was 17 (at which age Tobias Wolff would have been in the Army, or just about to join, and Raymond Carver married with a kid, or about to be); listening to his reading, which was very very good, including the New York accent, which I realized three lines into the story was overwhelmingly right. And for free! Consider that where he lives, in Santa Barbara, people recently paid anywhere from 100 to 2500 US dollars to hear him read at a party.

And this thing was fantastic: getting then to the archive of past New Yorker monthly fiction podcasts, all with this same format of authors reading their picks from New Yorker fiction. They go back about two years and the names are all over the place, Mary Gaitskill reading Nabokov, Jonathan Lethem reading James Thurber, someone reading “The Lottery”, that monument to the “perfect short story” which I forgot to include in my list, and, at the bottom, from Christmas Day, 2006, Richard Ford reading John Cheever’s heart-breaking story “Reunion”, the one which starts “The last time I saw my father was in Grand Central Station.” Heart-breaking, that is to say, as John Cheever does heart-breaking: the father is a mean drunk. Lots of us have known one of these; John Cheever did, right side-out and inside-out, for it was he.


Tobias Wolff’s childhood memoir This boy’s life was something I’ve been meaning to read forever, since I saw the film version with Leonardo di Caprio as Toby and Robert de Niro as the mean stepfather. You could tell from the movie that the book would be really good. Last week, I finally got around to taking it home from the library to read, and it is.

It’s not just about the boxing match with his stepfather, in which they were always locked in one of those clutches the referee has to pry you out of, but there was no referee. That was the part the movie dealt with, but in the book there was also growing up in the 1950s in towns called things like Chinook, wanting to be called Jack instead of Toby, wearing white Ts, smoking, screwing up, and telling lies.

Consider the final lines of the dedication:

My first stepfather used to say that what I didn’t know would fill a book.
Well, here it is.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 04:30


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