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I wasn’t lying in my last post when I said that, after reading Mary-Beth Hughes’s story “Pelican Song,” I was going to buy her book. I bought it that day and dove in.
Sadly, while I liked the book enough, I didn’t think any of the other stories came close to matching “Pelican Song.” That story is immediate, peculiar, honest, funny and absorbing. While some of the other stories in the collection exhibited some of those qualities, none had them in combination or in measure equal to that first one.
“Double Happiness,” the title story, came closest for me. About a mother of five who lost her husband when her children were small, then her favorite son to the attacks on September 11th, there are quiet and lovely moments in the story. It is devoid of the glamour a story like this might have–the protagonist is no beautiful, tragic heroine but instead an aging, boring woman that is only barely tolerated in the school she volunteers in as a librarian. I loved the last moments of the story.
Even that story, though, was fraught with some of the same issues I found were barriers to enjoying fully many of the stories in the book. Read the rest of this entry »
I came across “Pelican Song” by Mary-Beth Hughes within the collection Object Lessons, the recent Paris Review anthology. In the book, it is introduced by Mary Gaitskill who writes, “‘Pelican Song’ is one of the most convincing depictions of the horrors that only the wealthy can inflict upon their own…” I was certainly not surprised that Mary Gaitskill would select a story that involve an extreme account of horrors, but I was very surprised by the story. I read it twice in two days and will soon be buying everything Mary-Beth Hughes has ever written.
“Pelican Song” starts out: “I was the kind of thirty year old who had only recently left adolescence behind.” There is so much packed into that simple sentence. First, the reader learns that the narrator is both immature and self-aware about her immaturity, which paints a very particular character. She’s also witty–we can tell from her voice. But we also learn a bit about the vantage point from which the story is told. The point of view is retrospective; we aren’t in the moment even though the actions of the story are unveiled with immediacy and without much interpretation through the lens of the future. But, it isn’t until the last paragraph of the story that the reader understands the distance between the action and the present; it isn’t until the last paragraph that the story really becomes a story. Read the rest of this entry »