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October 05, 1989 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-10-05

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Page 8 - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, October 5, 1989

'Failed poet'


Prize Stories 1989: The
0. Henry Awards
Edited by William Abrahams
Anchor/Doubleday paperback $8.95
Let me say before we begin any-
thing that reviewing an anthology of
stories like this one - especially
one that I like so much - in a
framework like we have here at the
Daily is impossible. With 20 stories
by 20 authors with nothing in
common other than the fact that they
all wrote a story last year, Prize Sto-
ries 1989 is guaranteed to have its
high and low points. Should I judge
it with a simple tally, and say that I
made an exclamation point beside 15
of the stories in the table of con-
tents, and a question mark beside the
other five? Should I take a deeper
look into the first, second, and third
place winners and say that Ernest J.
Finney is a name you should be
hearing a lot soon, that Harriet Doerr
is a treasure, and that Joyce Carol
Oates is overrated (maybe thir-
tysomething could use an extra script
writer)? Or should I go ahead and
make inflated claims about the state
of the short story in American litera-
ture today, announcing the arrival of
the new trends and their implications
for how we read fiction?

In the editor's introduction to the
collection, Abrahams warns against
such sweeping statements. "What is
even more deplorable," he states, "is
the notion that each seasonl repre-
sents a a fashion in stories - the
year of the Minimum alternating
with the year of the Maximum, as it
were - and only those need to be
written (or read) to be in vogue.
Nothing could be further from the
Closer to the truth, I believe, is
that all kinds of stories need to get
read and written, and the selections
in here reflect that attitude. General-
izations are quickly and easily
dodged. There are some truly beauti-
ful and ingenious stories in here.
Finney's first place winner,
"Peacocks," admirably evokes a time
when they showed cartoons before
the movie started, when grandpas
wore fedoras. Young Elmo, who's a
good boxer but hates it, grows dp a
lot in 35 pages, in a way that's
never spelled out for us. His rela-
tionships with his girlfriend and his
grandpa evolve simply as we get
pleasant and meaningful glimpses
into this life.
Millicent Dillon's "Wrong Sto-
ries" is a sharp piece of fiction about
fiction which opens brilliantly with,

Michael Penn
There are certain foods one eats
when one is depressed, especially de-
pressed about love, just to feel full.
Usually the day is depressing and
rainy and you are alone. Sitting at
the table, you eat a homey comfort-
able food like a bowl of cornflakes,
wondering if the crunchy noises can
only be heard in your head. As you
chomp heartily, releasing some frus-
tration on your food, your mind
starts to wander to your problems,
forgetting everything else. When
you return to the exciting task of
stuffing your face, you realize those
great flakes have gotten soggy,
adding to the sadness of the day.
Michael Penn's debut album

Costello and his main influence, the
Beatles, Penn delivers a respectable
first effort. The well-crafted merge of
jangly guitars and head swaying
melodies make a straightforward, in-
telligent pop sound. He also at-
tempts to vary tempos and move the
songs along in an effort not to bore
the listener.
The record starts off promisingly.
The first four cuts are an excellent
mix of fairly upbeat tunes. The first,
"No Myth," stuck in my head for
days afterwards as a harmless, sing-
songy lost love song. "Half Harvest"
follows, imitating Mr. Costello
well, but the very imitation makes
Penn look inferior. The greatness
ends after "Brave New World" which
has the best line from the album:
"They all have dusty noses 'cause
they sniff shellac."
Unfortunately, the rest of the al-
bum is made up of slower songs that
do not stand out individually and are,
quite frankly, boring. These offend-
ing cuts all sound basically the same
and are all depressed love songs. The
fact that they are all lumped together
might be part of the problem, but
filler will still sound like filler no
matter where it's placed sequentially.
The mostly slower-paced pieces also
sag in the lyrics department: "When
you realize/ You've been shot down/
Wounded unto death by something
called love."
There are two semi-high points
hiding among the mediocre blah.
"Big House," a faster-paced song that
is only one of two cuts on the al-
bum that does not talk directly about

"There was an incident; I have told it
but I have not told it right. The core
of it is what eludes me, and yet the
core of it is what stayed with me
these ten years." The story isn't
much on plot, purposely so. What's
going on is the narrator being very
frank that she can't remember the
right details in the right sequence and
she isn't certain how to tell it to get
across the point, whatever that may
be. And still she insists, "I am
obliged to tell this incident. I do not
believe that I believe that anyone is
obliged to listen to it." It would
probably get to be a drag if Dillon
aways wrote like this, because her
narrative insecurity is just another
ploy to get us to pay attention. But
it's a good one.
Alice Adams' uncomfortably in-
timate "After You've Gone" and T.
Coraghessan Boyle's patiently un-
nerving "Sinking House" confirm
the authors' already secure reputa-
tions as masters. Prize Stories is as
good a way as any to get a taste of
their work, to see if going back for
more is a good idea. The book works
best as an admittedly incomplete
smorgasbord of the kind of quality
fiction that is getting written in
America today.
-Mark Swartz
beat and the pseudo-symbolic lyrics.
The last cut, "Evenfall," sounds
'50s-influenced and is once again
upbeat. Its loss-of-love lyrics detract
but its pace and abrupt false ending
make it at least different.
Michael Penn needs to stop
thinking about love and stop letting
his influences overwhelm his own
direction. He has workable talent (he
played a lot of the instruments for
this album and wrote all of the
songs). Although his sound cuts no
new ground, the best songs work
well enough that Penn should get
some radio attention. This generally
bland pop should really only be lis-
tened to by those who regard soggy
food as a point worth mentioning
about their day. By the way, he is
Sean's brother.
-Annette Petrusso
The Freed Man
Post-modernism has finally
showed its complete dominance as a
cultural phenomenon. As if sam-
pling wasn't enough, the new trend
seems to be stealing entire concepts,
not just licks. Tears for Fears re-
cently ripped off every post-Re-
volver Beatles idea in Sowing the
Seeds of Love, and now Sebadoh,
the latest in the long line of adoles-
cent angst posers, have defamed Cap-
tain Beefheart's landmark Trout
Mask Replica.
Whereas Beefheart combined his
sense of alienation with a com-
pletely original fusion of blues,
early Zappa-esque freeform improvi-
sation, and incredibly strange im-

"ALL these years a million times I must have
heard the words. But a woman doesn't say. I run my
fingers around the jagged outline of this shattered
star. On my lips, water. Ashes on my tongue. In my
nostrils flecks of incense. In my ears, the tinkling of
bells, the rustling of cloth. Could it be saffron? I
see nothing dark or light so cannot say."
These lyrical lines are from "Prayer for The Liv-
ing," the conclusion to Alan Cheuse's latest novel
The Grandmothers' Club. Cheuse intensifies the
senses with imagery that illuminates an expression-
istic psychic landscape. We imagine a poet lurking
behind this and his other works: The Bohemians,
Candace and Other Stories, Fall Out of Heaven (a
non-fiction work which shadows the footsteps of
Cheuse's father into his service with the Red
Army). The author compares writing poetry to play-
ing shotput, while fiction writing is equated to cross
country. With this metaphor, Cheuse breaks any il-
lusions of himself as a novelist by day, poet by
night. Yet the smooth imagery abbreviated above is
essential to his work, coming through in the lucid,
at times suspenseful dialogue in the first seven
pages of The Grandmothers' Club, as it flirts with
the reader, revealing mysterious pieces of the charac-
ters' lives through grandmotherly gossip.
"All novelists are failed poets," says Cheuse,
who taught graduate fiction writing workshops for
the University's MFA program in 1984 and 1985.

The author "kept secret" his wish to be an author
until 1978, when, after working as a social worker,
a schoolteacher in Mexico, and a speech writer for a
city planner, he finally vowed to get published. A
year later his first story appeared in The New
Yorker. Now that he has exceeded his goal, also
having become weekly book commentator for "All
Things Considered" on National Public Radio, fac-
ulty member at Virginia's George Mason University
("the university of the future") and reading his work
at universities across the nation, is Alan Cheuse
bored with his writing?
"I'm still writing as a child... all writers arc chil-
dren," says the author, reminding aspiring writers,
and all human beings, of the indispensable gift of
wonder that is ours to share and recreate in our
unique, individual work. Cheuse feels that those of
us who prefer the literary muse are fortunate to live
in such a fertile and diverse time for writers. Pro-
grams like the University's, carefully sculpted to the
needs of the blossoming creative writer and taught
by experienced writers knowledgeable and skilled in
both technique and critique, were rare before World
War II. Yet current writers, though strong in tech-
nique, comments Cheuse, can tend towards stoic in-
expressiveness in the essential (to writing) realm of
experience and emotion.
"We live in a time when there are more terrifi-
cally talented writers than ever before," states
ALAN CHEUSE will read from his work at 5
p.m. in the Michigan Union's Kuenzel Room.



Continued from page 7
business - not just liking it, if
that's such an insane goal - I
mean, Hitler used to work up a
crowd very well. But people sit
around, y'know, and they say,
"These guys who are women-bash-
ing or gay-bashing, they don't be-
lieve it." Well that's even worse, I
think, 'cause not everyone in the au-
dience thinks it's a joke. And when-
ever you make light of these issues
then you're just breeding it, you're
making more room for it to grow.

The state of
wait's chest

and other

chests in comedy
BG: I make mistakes in my show,
but I didn't get into this business
'cause I wanted to be liked, I just had
things I wanted to get off my chest.
I was popular, y'know... If you ever
read most heavy metal bands' record
covers, they always write a little
note that says something like, "This
is dedicated to all the preachers and
teachers and cops who never thought
we could be anything." And in real-
ity, if I was with a cop or preacher
or teacher and pointed over at Axl
Rose and said, "Hey, do you think

Novelist Alan Cheuse believes in wonder


agery, Sebadoh's songs are nothing
but cacophonous, sophomoric drivel
("I fuckin' hate this confusing shit"
they repeat over and over again in
one song). They are essentially a
hardcore band trapped inside a Cam-
per Van Beethoven wannabe body.
At best, on songs like "Soul Mate,"
Sebadoh sounds like amateurish
They Might Be Giants (pre-critical
darling phase) imitators with a very
bad sense of humor.
Beefheart punctuated Trout Mask
with odd spoken interjections like
"Fast and bulbous" which defined a
musical style that informed every
underground record to come after it,
but Sebadoh's constant repetition of
lines like "one plus one equals three"
does nothing but be bizarre just to

be bizarre, and even fails at doing
The only thing that Sebadoh is
successful at doing on this album is
paying lip service to the concept of
late-night TV hipness. The last song
on the album, "Mothra," seems like
it should be a paean to Godzilla's
nemesis, but it's nothing but mum-
bling and gargling set to the Casio
VL Tone Rhumba rhythm. Perhaps
they were trying to recreate the sci-fi
insect's drone? But if that's their idea
of documentary realism, then the
Velvet Underground has just eclipsed
Led Zeppelin and Van Halen as the
bands with the worst sphere of influ-
ence in rock 'n' roll history.
-Peter Shapiro

that that guy over there could be the
lead singer of an irresponsible, dirt-
bag, racist band," they'd go, "Oh
yeah, I think he could do that."
D: Have you gotten everything off
of your chest?
BG: No - innuendo bothers me
more than words do. I find that ex-
tremely offensive. If you want to say
a word, say the word. There's no
guesswork. I find it much more ob-
scene when Johnny Carson leers at a
woman with large breasts than if
somebody said the word "breast" out
loud. And it's more offensive that
it's swallowed by everybody.
D: Regarded as normal?
BG: Yeah. And it's offensive -no,
startling - that so many years after
Lenny Bruce and all that stuff that
(there's) flack for using just words:
That seems so old and so boring.
One thing, though, I always head
people being compared to Lenny
Bruce: he was about tearing down
hypocrisy, not adding to hate. He didy
not go up onstage and chant "Eat
pussy." That's not taking a risk,
anyway. When you have a room full
of young men going through pu-
berty, you think you're going to get
form tonight at the Michigan The-
ater at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are

f" ,

Does Michael.Penn live up to his
illustrious brother's legacy? It's a
case of sogginess vs. snoginess.
would be a suitable companion on
such a day. He sings almost exclu-
sively of love and the loss of love,
usually bitterly. With a tone and
sound similar at times to Elvis

love (the

other being "Brave New
half works because of its

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