Category Archives: Short Stories

58th Discussion: Annie Proulx’s Close Range

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Moderator: Aaron
Attendees: Alexius, Hayden, Jiaqi, Raj, Timmy

Thank you Raj for being the awesome host that you are as well as the food spread. (T: You stop traversing the world can?!)

OPENINGproulx, annie - Close-Range

Timmy made a sweeping statement in kicking off the discussion, proclaiming that Proulx should not be allowed to write. Raj thought the deaths were too gory (“everyone died horribly!”) and that Wyomingans were described like animals (“dangerous, horrible, uncultured”), which resonated with Alexius’ opinion that the characters were “dirty and unhygienic.”

THEMES

(Since most of us only read the minimum requirement (i.e. Brokeback Mountain), we focused our discussion on that short story.)

Is the book homophobic? From Raj’s POV, it was another stereotypical portrayal of homosexuals and how they do not end up together (like, ever), and how unsympathetic Jack’s death was…

…which led us to the question whether Jack’s cause of death was really as per what Lureen claimed, or was he (gay) bashed to death. Jiaqi didn’t think it was the latter, though he noted of the irony of his death involving a tire iron.

We talked about the Jack and Ennis brawl before their final parting, and inferred that that was their way of expressing their feelings since they did not know how to. Aaron viewed it as them loving each other, thus them fighting.

The inclusion of their confrontation scene was to depict conflict (Timmy) while, at the same time, showcase how homosexuality was seen during that time period (a “challenging environment,” according to Jiaqi).

In contrast with the abovementioned, we all agreed that the back hug displayed a tender emotion between Jack and Ennis, perhaps the only emotive act. To Aaron, the act itself was not based in sex and was the most normal, natural illustration of a relationship throughout the entire book.

The most crucial question was posed by Aaron: “why was the sex scene important?” Raj commented that it was a consummation of love, which was “hot, consensual and clearly not homophobic,” according to Aaron. Jiaqi saw it as a realistic portrayal of sex between two males.

We discussed about Brokeback Mountain itself, which the two did not revisit so that – according to Timmy – they could “shroud it in a happy memory”, and Mexico, which we deduced got Ennis jealous when he found out that Jack has been there multiple times to “sample other goods.”

Is Joe Aguirre gay? We pondered briefly on this, before Aaron finally said no. Timmy quipped that he may be voyeuristic though, with Raj following suit by pointing out the binoculars that he has on him.

Timmy went at length explaining his “closet theory”, in reference to Jack hanging Ennis’ shirt inside his shirt, sharing one hanger, in the closet, as a reaffirmation of his love for Ennis. Everyone agreed that this scene ended the book on a positive note.

CHARACTERS

Jiaqi picked both Jack and Ennis as his favourites, specifically the former for being ahead of his time (going to Mexico and subsequently wanting to move in with a new cowboy) and both overall because of their touching love story.

Inez from the Pair a Spurs short is Raj’s favourite, because she was daring, had wonderful spurs and beautiful shoes… basically full of attitude.

Aaron’s pick was the nameless narrator from the short story A Lonely Coast, describing her as contemplative.

Timmy jokingly cited Alma as his favourite, because of her ability to multitask (doing the dishes while questioning Ennis).

CONCLUSION

Ending the discussion on a positive note, Raj thought the Brokeback Mountain short was nice, just like its scenery, and that the portrayal of love in the story is poignant. He even declared that Proulx redeemed herself with that short story.

Jiaqi agreed with Raj, as well as thought that the story was vividly realistic.

Aaron enjoyed the beautiful prose Proulx employed as well as how she truly “trusts her readers” by allowing them to make connections throughout the entire book. He truly believes that the characters are alive to the author and that’s what made it all the more enjoyable for him.

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Filed under Annie Proulx, Class, Ecology, Family, Gay, Love, Politics, Race, Short Stories, USA

19th Discussion: Colm Toibin’s Mothers and Sons (20 Apr 2011)

Book club started off with three members having lukewarm responses to the book (Raj: “no new material and no excitement in the stories”; Timmy: “repressed emotions not expressed, painful”; and Nicole: “repeated themes”). On the other hand, Alex liked the 2.5 stories he read and Aaron claimed it is the best book the book club has done. They adored the style, a “surface” writing that brings out the depth of emotions; and the complexity of characters, neither condemning nor apotheosizing them.

1. “A Song”: Alex’s fav. Alex reasoned that the lack of climax in the story mirrors real life. He also found the relationship of the mother and son heartbreaking: they probably think of each other over the years yet they do not want to break the silence.

2. “Use of Reason”: Raj’s fav. because of the realism. Nicole noted the theme of violence that adds to the realism. Timmy noted the lack of father figure in the book, except for the nameless narrator in this story. (We didn’t talk about the significance of the anonymity.) Nicole brought out how emotionally detached the character is and Aaron linked the points together: the character is stoic because of the death of his brother, Billy, which his mother points out in one of the rare moments of her sobriety. That’s why only after what the mother says does he have an epiphany, to burn the stolen paintings. Burning, Timmy suggested, is a way of letting go.

3. “A Journey”: Nicole’s fav. Nicole pointed out how empowered the mothers in the stories are. She also notes the helplessness of the son, incapacitated by his depression.

4. Timmy and Raj, on hearing about power women, talked about “A Summer Job.” They had an impression of the mother pushing her son to her mother although, Raj pointed out, the ending is ambiguous. Do we truly understand the son?

5. Another powerful mother figure is “Name of the Game,” Timmy’s favorite. He enjoyed how a strong, independent single mother rises against all odds to provide for her family. Alex kept having an impression that the single mother has to fend off advances from men; at any moment, Alex expected the mother to “suck dick,” which she doesn’t. Aaron didn’t like how the daughters aren’t developed properly as characters. Raj stood up for the son in the story: how could the mother sell away the family business? While agreeing with Raj, Nicole and Aaron batted for the other team: Nicole said perhaps the mother doesn’t want her son to follow in his father’s footsteps while Aaron commented that the mother has her own life to lead, a life without prejudice from the town people, and besides the son is too young to know any better. We all agreed it is a nasty business altogether.

6. “A Long Winter”: Aaron’s fav. He liked the sexy scene of the policeman and Miquel, a scene which Timmy calls “eye-fucking.” Aaron argued that there is an incestuous element in Miquel’s love for his mother, evident in how he smells her underwear. The rest of the members disagreed. Aaron then went on to strengthen his incest point, by pointing out Manolo, the manservant, is a stand-in for Miquel’s mother, and Miquel has desires for Manolo, although the manservant is asexual. When talking about the ending, Aaron couldn’t fathom why the father-son duo hates the vultures so much and Nicole elucidated that the vultures are metaphors of the town people, feeding on gossip. Small-town gossip seems to be the running theme in the book, besides mother-son relationships and Catholicism.

7. “Three Friends.” This will probably be Alex’s favorite had he read this. Nicole points out that the rave party is cathartic for Fergus, for him to lose himself in spite of his grief. Aaron wondered aloud if it is because of the mother’s death that allows Fergus to enter a relationship or if it is because Mick sees Fergus’s in a different light at the funeral? Either answer seems probable.

8. “A Priest in the Family” is a crowdpleaser, we all loved it. Timmy thought that the initial suspense is that the priest wants to propose to the mother. Raj suggested that the mother keeps delaying the meeting with the priest because she already knows; mothers always know. Aaron pointed out how complex this mother is: she dislikes her son’s behavior yet she stands by him. Timmy continued that in these 9 stories, no matter if you despise or dislike the mothers, they are always there, and always true, and they are neither good nor bad, just making the best out of a bad situation. Raj noted that in all the stories, even though mothers may not be prominently featured, their presence is always felt and is pivotal.

We didn’t booze because Isaac wasn’t around. Special thanks to Raj for his cocktail and tea!

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Filed under Class, Colm Toibin, Family, Gay, Ireland, Love, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Religion, Short Stories

16th Discussion: Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy (20 Jan 2011)

In general, we all like this book but sometimes we pretended to hate it. It is a very Asian book, which all of us can identify with.

1. Sexuality/family/ riots – Raj argues that because of the riots, Arjie’s sexuality is ignored and given space to grow. Aaron disagrees because the family doesn’t really know about Arjie’s queerness, and Arjie chooses to keep his sexuality a secret: “I now inhabited a world,” Arjie narrates, “my family don’t understand into which they couldn’t follow me.” Raj suggests that the family’s acknowledgment is tacit.

2. Role Models – Raj thinks that Arjie learns from the women while Timmy reminds us not to forget Jegan, a virile young man, whom Isaac adores. Besides Jegan’s hotness, Isaac likes Jegan because he is the only one who sticks to his principles in the novel.

3. Lesbianism – Raj implies that, through the female tomboyish cousin, people are kinder to lesbian. However Aaron points out that that’s because the cousin hasn’t exhibited any outward signs–unlike Arjie who dons on dresses and puts on makeup–and girls can be sporty too.

4. Family – Aaron thinks that the Appa is the villain, breaking up the love-relationship between his wife and Daryl and ignoring the family’s welfare, although both Timmy and Raj point out that it is an Asian family where the man works and the wife takes care of family affairs.

5. Gender – Timmy admires Radha Aunty because she has all the positive traits of a woman, strong and independent like Destiny’s Child. Yes, Aaron agrees, but for all those traits, she doesn’t change things and acquiesces to an arranged marriage, instead of marrying the man she loves. This non-change is important to Aaron and Isaac because it implies that nothing changes… which will have repercussions on Arjie’s sexuality.

6. Love/Marriage: (1) Aaron thinks it is strange to fall in love with someone without even talking much to him (Rahda-Anil) while Raj says that it is a step-up from arranged marriages. (2) Aaron notes there are no happy marriages in this novel (3) One character in the book reminds Radha that marrying the man she loves would be estrangement from her family, and between family and love, Radha chooses family, depicting love doesn’t conquer all. To Aaron, this would mean that Arjie could not use love to justify his sexuality; family is more important and that means having children.

8. Determinism/ Powerless: Isaac brings up an A+ point, that is, the book is very deterministic, that nothing changes in the end, people are powerless against society and culture and norms, everyone lets Arjie down.

7. “Best School of All”: is Raj’s favorite story because it shows the empowerment of Arjie but Timmy thinks that Arjie abuses this power and is highly irresponsible for this is an issue that concerns many people, but Arjie is just selfishly thinking for himself and his beau. There is a great postcolonial possibility in this story that we forgot to discuss.

8. Style: Aaron thinks that the novel is a good cultural document and not a good literary novel while Isaac argues it is both. Aaron supports his statement by invoking the Chekhov’s gun rule, saying it is a series of short stories (and shouldn’t be marketed as a novel), with no development of many of its characters; while Isaac argues that it is just a postmodern style. Isaac thinks that the making sense of the world and the themes make it a novel, while Aaron says it’s more autobiographical as it doesn’t depict well-rounded characters.

It was a good discussion.

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Filed under Canada, Class, Coming of Age, Family, Gay, Love, Politics, Post-Colonialism, Race, Religion, Short Stories, Shyam Selvadurai, Sri Lanka, War