by Rio Liang
Five interesting stories in the Spring 2011 issue of “The Gettysburg Review.” Check them out and let me know what you think.
Geoffrey Lee’s “Niramiai.” The title of the story comes from the world of sumo wrestling, the Japanese word for “face-off.” Our narrator, an unemployed man of heft, has started a sumo tournament with friends after watching a documentary on the sport, and his latest niramiai is with John, a smug personal trainer (read “employed”) who does not take sumo as seriously as our narrator. The narrator bests him by resorting to an illegal move, but John is unfazed; to him, “losing means nothing because the competition meant nothing.” The narrator then tells us, “He is wrong–should be wrong.” An interesting and funny first publication for Mr. Lee. I like the contrasts between the narrator’s unemployed status and his Polish girlfriend with chest hair (who keeps patting his belly), with John’s more cushy placement in life and his girlfriend, whom the narrator might prefer over his own.
Tim Fitts’s “No Rabio.” Really funny story. Playwright Lee is in on vacation in Mexico, where his wife Chloe gets bitten by a dog whom they suspect of having rabies. Everyone–the bellboy, store clerks familiar with the dog, its frightened old woman of an owner, even the local dentist–insists the dog (named Coco of all things) has no rabies. “No rabio,” they say. All this parallels indirectly a play by Lee to be performed back home in D.C. about, debatably, the main character’s renunciation of Jesus Christ (I love the premise of the play, which involves a root in the image of the Christ child, ha!). The play questions the concept of faith, echoing all the locals back in Mexico City who have faith the dog does not have rabies. The story ends with a funny dinner scene with Lee’s parents, in which Lee zones out, thinking of a premise for a new play, one involving the colorful characters in Mexico City he’d come across. In it, a dentist instructs him on tooth extraction, and asks him, “Do you believe me?” …Nicely threaded story, with some great lines (“One man’s prepared mind is another man’s Asperger’s.” Also: “Sex cures hangovers,” Chloe says at one point. “But it only cures hangovers while you’re having sex… So you have to…keep doing it”). It’s funny how Lee would do anything for Chloe at her behest: Badgered by her, he’d renounce his so-called faith; he’d also have the dog put to sleep for her, regardless of anyone’s belief that the dog is safe. I also liked the play, as it were, on ownership of the play. Lee micromanages the director, while Chloe comments bluntly on the play as if it were hers; in fact, she says, “It belongs to me now, and anyone else who sees it or reads it.”
Rachel Weaver’s “What Remains.” Dying of cancer, Eloise decides what she will leave behind for her daughters Sarah and Amy. What she can leave behind is comprised mostly of her late husband Richard’s wealth, and a secret about their marriage kept from their girls ultimately affects her decision: Richard had forced an open relationship upon Eloise, in which he led another life with a mistress and a son by her. As a sort of delayed rejection of their sham marriage (“While he had erased most of her love, somehow, he never erased all of it”), Eloise’s will specifies the donation of all material possessions she’d shared with Richard, and orders that their house be burned down, along with his and her ashes. Sarah, the more foolhardy of the two daughters, catches on to the secret in the end: “The lines of her mother’s instructions seemed to be pulling the edges of that thought toward each other, completing it.” Watching the fire, she thinks, “What does fire do to ash that it hasn’t already done?” …A sad story with a beautiful ending. Eloise’s relationship with Richard is particularly heartbreaking; “Eloise began to think of herself and Richard as two metals brought together by force,” we are told, “each producing unexpected patterns on the surface of the other.” Also devastating is the scene in which see Eloise, inadvertently disguised while collecting for the Salvation Army, encounter the mistress’s son.
Kate Blakinger’s “Ice House.” A bed-and-breakfast owner’s husband changes into a different man after recovering from a car accident head injury. The husband, Mark, no longer views our narrator with familiar desire. He’s effectively become a stranger to her, a far cry from their days as high school sweethearts. To make matters worse, Catherine, the woman who ran her car into him, seems to be catching Mark’s attention. An interesting, often funny, and heartbreaking story.
Mary Taugher’s “Quake, Memory.” A story that begins with a physical awakening and ends with a figurative one. On the eve of Annie Sawyer’s 44th birthday, the nearby hills of Marin are on fire. Fire is central to this story; when Annie was four, she witnessed her mother cut off her own hair and set it on fire (for which she was subsequently sent away for electroshock therapy). The wildfire, taking with it the livelihoods of people, also reflects the concomitant loss she feels upon learning that her husband is cheating on her. She feels she has lost everything, much like those who had made their homes in the fire-ravaged hills nearby. But in the process of losing, she also regains: She realizes this is what she’d waiting for, an out, a chance to start anew. “I’m feeling again,” she says by story’s end. An interesting story of renewal.