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Mary Gaitskill

An editor of an anthology must not only pick the stories to be included but he or she must do the crucial placement. Thus, the editor's favorites will appear towards the front and the lesser ones will appear at the end, for, according to surveys, most people pick up books and start reading at the beginning. (My technique of plunging in at the middle ... or in some cases, reading, as I do The New Yorker, the last article first, working forwards, is a minority position. I must explain that I do it because I am trying to get past all those dumbfounding neo-ecological ads posted by Exxon, GM, Monsanto and Dow Chemical.)

If my placement theory is correct, Ms. Gaitskill and I are in fairly close agreement, for the best of the bunch here --- there are fourteen in all --- are all right there up front, and the best of them all, "Yellowstone," starts on page one. It's about a funny old guy named Hurst, and a too-fat girl named Monica he meets at a motel, and her creepy mother. And you think, given current American clichés about older men hanging out with younger girls, that he's dirty old man, up to no good.

He takes her to the funeral for his old girlfriend, but no one comes to lower the casket: "They stood and waited, watching the sun suck the moisture off the fields of the dead."

    After more time had passed, he said, "I don't suppose anyone's coming to do it."

    "Maybe," said Monica, "if we walk backward really slowly, it'll be the same."

    It was a odd idea, but without thinking Hurst began inching backward towards the Buick. This is absurd, he told himself, but as he watched the casket shrinking away, he felt as if he were moving for the first time in a month, as though the gears of the world had started again. ... he felt himself floating away from her.

§     §     §

The less deft stories turn up when we get far past page 214 and "Statehood" --- another of my favorites. It's a story of Puerto Ricans, drinking rum in the morning, families mixed up and divorced or half-married, fathers living with girlfriends, mothers going bonkers, young Tito in the middle, trying to figure out why adults do what they do: Linda getting pregnant, so Tito's father takes her to the hospital, "Johnny Cash on the deck. 'I fell in,' he sang, 'to a burning ring of fire.'"

    You were there when the nurse brought the baby by mistake and Linda put her hands over her eyes. "Take it away," she cried. "I don't want to fucking see it!" A local celebrity couple with connections got the baby. "Blond, blue-eyed," the doctor told your father, smiling. "You sure you don't want it. Those are very, very hard to come by."

You might also like, as I did, "The Monkey King" ... about the Khmer Rouge and its violent effect on the normally pacific country folk. You might not be too impressed, as I wasn't, by "The Still Point" (p. 307), boring life in a boring carnival --- or "The Fantôme of Fatma" (p. 280), a too-neat tale of getting into trouble climbing one of the holy rocks in Mali, or "Welcome Home," (p. 299): the new young wife and an Army psychologist tells her just before her husband returns from Iraq, "If he wakes you up in the middle of the night with a knife to your throat, call us." Do Army psychologists say things like that?

And right in the middle, you might like some of the ideas if not the plot of a noisy jumbled rock and roll story, "Little Stones, Little Pistols, Little Clash," with some great lines, like, he "moved in so close to my face I could smell his forehead;" or, after one riotous concert, "they found tooth marks on his ankle;" or, drummer Phil, "with his orange hair and orange freckles" who " had that gentle, stilted nature common to drug people;" or a magic word in a new song, after a previous magic word had made the band famous:

    He promised it would make fandelfilly look like kiddie porn, that it would reduce our fans to a state of weeping monkeydom.

"It didn't. Crowds stared at us like parents when we played it."

--- Bruce Miles Cleveland
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