M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Day Dreams and the Drunkenness of a Young Lady" by Clarice Lispector(1955?)

The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lipsector, to be published August, 2015, translated by Katrina Dodson, edited and introduced by Benjamin Moser)

"Day Dreams and the Drunkenness of a Young Lady" is replete with levels of irony and perceptivity.  In time I think perhaps once her full set of short stories is published and digested those into what I guess is called "women studies" will find them a very rich fascinating resource.  In this story, narrated by a somewhat intoxicated woman I see, as I have in her prior stories, a woman looking at herself looking at her self looking at herself.  She also fixates on how she thinks others look at her.  She is competive in comparing her looks to other women, denigrating a woman for wearing a hat.  She is comfortably upper middle class, married with children and servants. She, during a business dinner with her husband and a wealthy male client, during which she is a bit drunk, she imagines the man is checking out her body.  Somehow it is, in her mind, acceptable for a married woman out with her husband to be a bit drunk, but she sees single upper class women out alone as obviously on the make.  Lispector makes us feel Braźil in the rhythm of her style.

There is a lot to ponder in thus story on narrative method.  I think it would make for good class room discussion.

Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) was Brazilian journalist, translator and author of fiction. Born in Western Ukraine into a Jewish family who suffered greatly during the pogroms of the Russian Civil War, she was still an infant when her family fled the disastrous post-World War I situation for Rio de Janiero. At twenty-three, she became famous for her novel, Near to the Wild Heart, and married a Brazilian diplomat. She spent much of the forties and fifties in Europe and the United States, helping soldiers in a military hospital in Naples during World War II and writing, before leaving her husband and returning to Rio in 1959. Back home, she completed several novels including The Passion According to G.H. and The Hour of the Star before her death in 1977 from ovarian cancer.  - from New Directions Publishing web

Mel u

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Culture of Indifference" - A Short Story by Varun Gwalani

Lately there has been much in the international news media concerning the wide spread abuse of women in Mumbai India, even gang rapes seem to be treated lightly by the police.  Harrsssement of women on public buses and trains is a commonplace experience.  Such behavior is sometimes excused with a "boys will be boys" shrug.  Today I am very honored to share with my readers a very moving short story by Varun Gwalani set on a public bus in Mumbai.  Gwalani is a rising star in the bustling Mumbai literary scene and I expect him to make his mark on the world stage.

Author Bio

Varun Gwalani is a 20-year old resident of Mumbai. His first novel, Believe, was released in November 2013 by Shyam Benegal, who praised it extensively. Varun was also featured at Mumbai’s Literature Festival, Tata Literature Live! Believe is set in alternate world which serves as allegory for our world, and explores complex social issues such as sexual violence and religion. He plans to continue placing several novels in that world, hopefully trying to innovate and experiment as he does so.

Varun Gwalani

A Short Story

"Culture of Indifference"

The woman in the pink churidar stood alone at the bus stop, looking down the street with her brown eyes, anxiously waiting for the bus to arrive. She had just retied her black hair so it wouldn’t fall over her face which was simple, yet pretty. The bus was late, as was not unusual in any part of the city of Mumbai. She wanted to catch a taxi home, but she didn’t have enough money and there weren’t any in sight. So she waited for the bus.

The bus pulled up after five minutes, and she grabbed the railing and pulled herself up, a little labouredly. Almost immediately a man appeared behind her and quickly tried to push past her, in the process rubbing against her breast. She was startled because she hadn’t seen the man anywhere. Had he been waiting till she climbed up so he could brush up against her…? It wouldn’t be the first time. She didn’t have any proof, though, so she just glared at him and told him in Hindi to watch where he was going. The young man just cracked a grin and went and took his seat near the window in the middle right row.

Laxmi surveyed the rest of the bus. The driver and conductor seemed unconcerned by this outburst. There were a few other women scattered around the bus, of different ages. None of them had looked for long once they had ascertained that it was not going to be a prolonged fight. Laxmi bought her ticket and took a window seat in the left row, towards the back.

She was staring out the window when the man sidled up next to her. She started and then gave him a hard look. “What are you doing here?” she snapped in Hindi. “There are so many seats, why must you come and sit beside me? Go sit somewhere else!”
Unperturbed, he smiled that disgusting smile and said, “I like the view from here.”
She flared up and signalled the conductor. He came near her and asked what the problem was. She told him that man was harassing her. The conductor looked at the man who said, “Women, like this only no?” and they shared a laugh. Laxmi, outraged, said, “You’re not going to do anything?”

The conductor sneered. “Why should I, madam? He is a man; he can sit wherever he wants.”

Laxmi was so furious she was rendered speechless, which the conductor took as an opportunity to move away. Laxmi snapped at the man next to her, “Get up so I can move out.”

“Why should I move?” He sneered. “Go from there,” He indicated the narrow space in front of his legs.

Laxmi in her fury didn’t realize what the man intended and as she edged out from in front of him, he spanked her bottom hard.


An instant later, Laxmi had slapped him across the face hard. There was complete silence as everyone looked at Laxmi. The man stood up and started yelling at her and she yelled back. The women just stared on, not doing anything. The conductor came there and started yelling at Laxmi as well. The driver suddenly screamed, “EH!” and the three of them shut up and looked at him. “If y’all don’t sit down now, separately, I’ll have both kicked off the bus.”

The man glared at Laxmi at sat down. Laxmi glared back and sat down on an aisle seat a few rows ahead, opposite a young, wide-eyed girl who was staring at Laxmi but didn’t say a word. Laxmi stared back for a few minutes before she turned back to see the man who was still glaring at her. They stared at each other angrily before his eyes suddenly lighted up and he looked at the young girl. Laxmi saw his intentions and as he was rising, she got up quickly and sat down next to the girl. She glanced back and saw the anger simmering in his eyes.

The girl looked startled and a little frightened to see her. “I’m doing you a favour,” Laxmi said, “That bastard was going to come sit next to you.”

The girl looked too scared to look back but she nodded a little and said, “Thank you. My name is Sati.”

“I’m Laxmi”

Sati nodded again a little and straightened herself in her seat, looking straight ahead. After a few minutes, without changing position she asked, “Haven’t you ever travelled by bus before?”

“I have. So?” Laxmi asked, raising her eyebrow.

“’So?’” Sati seemed bewildered. “What do you mean, ‘so’? You know that men will be men. They will do these things. We are women, we must let them. Don’t all these sort of things happen to you all the time?”

“They do, but that does not mean that I must tolerate them!” Laxmi snapped. “It does not mean that you have to, either!”

“Of course we do! How are we to stop them?! They’re so strong! And besides,” her voice dropped lower, “We’ve always been the lower gender. If so many things are happening to us, don’t you think we deserve it?”

Laxmi just stared at her. “Is that what you really think? That you deserve this?” She almost whispered. She had never thought that.

Sati finally turned to face her. “What else can it be?” her voice was almost nonexistent. “All the girls I know have been abused or molested or raped by men at some point in their life and they are all powerless to stop it. Even I…” she shuddered, and Laxmi understood. She squeezed her eyes shut for a minute, took a deep breath and then opened them slowly and continued, “We’re groped every we go like we’re pieces of meat walking around for their satisfaction. Where’s the decency in that, tell me? When we’re called bitches, it is a compliment, because animals are treated better than us, they’re worshipped.

“You know what will happen in the end? We’ll just get an arranged marriage with a husband who has the same chauvinistic attitude and will never understand our suffering. Do you know why? Because according to men, it ‘happens to everyone’ and everything we face is ‘no big deal’. It is better to accept our fate than fight a war we cannot win.”

Laxmi stared at her, at a loss for words. She could see the sadness etched into Sati’s face, the evidence of sleepless nights and a lot of crying. She didn’t know what to say to this girl that would erase everything that was around her, that had happened to her. Sati seemed to sense this, gave her a sad smile, looked out the window and said quietly, “My stop’s not far. Yours?”

Laxmi was startled to see how far they had travelled, luckily, though they had not crossed her stop yet. “Not far,” she murmured. She looked around the bus and saw that more people had also come onboard. There were some women and a few men. The lecher who had been harassing her was still sitting alone, though, staring at her.

They came to a stop. One or two women got off and a man climbed on. Laxmi realized that the next stop was hers, though it was a little far. She got up, without looking at Sati and moved to the front. She glanced back warily and it was good that she had. The beefy man who had just climbed onboard was deep in conversation with the lecher and he was pointing at her. They swaggered up to the front where she stood with her back to the front, watching them. The lecher said to his minion, “This is the woman who tried to defy me.”
The minion stepped close to her and looked at her, “Thought you could humiliate him for no reason, huh? Apologize now.”
The whole bus had gone dead quiet. Laxmi could feel Sati’s eyes on her, imploring her to apologize. She knew that if she did, she would probably be able to delay them long enough to get out at the next stop; that it was better not to get into this, but it didn’t matter. She stood her ground. “He should be the one apologizing to me for harassing me, the creep.”

The force of the slap threw her against the wall. A few people stood up, but nobody stepped forward, nobody said anything. The minion snarled, “Now how do you feel? Apologize and say that my friend here is a good person and that you wrongly accused him.” When he saw her looking at the people around, he laughed, “She thinks these people are going to help her!”

“That’s the problem, isn’t it?” Laxmi said softly. “Nobody helps. All of us here are seeing this happening to me, yet nobody is doing anything. All you women have had this happened to you at some point or the other, and yet nobody comes forward to stop this happening to somebody else! You men have mothers, sisters, daughters and yet you sit idly by, allowing the kind of men to exist who might very well do this to your women one day! That is why this happens to us! That is why women are treated like trash, because unless it is happening to you, it doesn’t matter!” Everyone was looking at her, even the lechers seemed suddenly wary.

“The absolutely best part is that at some point this has affected you and will, and you know that it will and yet you do nothing. The reason we’re losing this war, the reason there is such rampant disregard for women is because we let it be there! How can you win a war if all your troops are not fighting?!”

Nobody moved. The bus driver had stopped the bus and was also looking at Laxmi. Suddenly the lecher laughed and said, “A lot of drama this one does. But I didn’t hear an apology. So give it to her!”

The minion smiled and raised his hand. It was caught by a woman before he could bring it down. One by one, the others also got up out of their seats and grabbed them and started beating them. The conductor and driver didn’t do anything, just stood there, watching. The lechers were on the floor, screaming and getting kicked from all sides when Laxmi yelled, “Stop!”

All of them turned to her in surprise. “Violence isn’t the answer. We should take them to the police and act as witness against them,” She said. “The police will also have to take us seriously when we are united against them.” She paused.
“If we as a people inflict more violence in response to violence, the situation will only get worse. We need to need to change our minds, not stain our hands as well. When the culture of indifference ends, that’s when the culture can truly make a difference.” They all nodded and cheered. When Laxmi looked at Sati, Sati was smiling.

Every individual forms a part of a culture, every individual change is bigger.


I offer my great thanks to Varun Gwalani for allowing me to share this wonderful story with my readers.  It is protected under international copyright law and cannot be published in any format without the permission of the author.

His exciting debut novel, Believe, will soon be featured on The Reading Life.  I also hope to do a Q and A Session with him. 

His novel can be purchased on Amazon and in India on Flipkart..

Mel u

"Cats and Dogs" by Joy Williams (2015)

Yesterday I was very kindly given a large forthcoming collection of short stories by Joy Williams.  It has been about 2.5 years since I read her story "Dimmer", the story of a very dysfunctional man.  There is interest in this story world wide as almost everyday someone looks at my post on it.

If you are a cat lover, as I am, you will totally hate the central character in "Cats and Dogs", an old woman in assisted living facility, by the end of the first paragraph.  I mean total you can't believe how strong you feel hate.  Her son is visiting her, she is reminiscing on one of the happiest periods of her life, back in the days when she used to kill cats.  She would put some sardines inside a cage designed to close shut when a cat stepped inside, humane society approved.  She would then drop the cage into her pool.  

There is an equally dreadful vignette involving a dog, a homeless man and a human torch.  

The story is told in such a calm fashion that I was at first surprised by the horror of the people in the story, the casual cruelty and absurdity.  

This story will appear for the first time in the collection below, due out September, 2015.

About the Author JOY WILLIAMS is the author of four novels—the most recent, The Quick and the Dead, was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 2001—and three earlier collections of stories, as well as Ill Nature, a book of essays that was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Among her many honors are the Rea Award for the Short Story and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, and Laramie, Wyoming.

Ambrosia Bousweau 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Obsession" by Clarice Lispector - Her First Truly Great Story plus "Gertrudes Asks for Advice" and "Another Couple of Drinks"

The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lipsector, to be published August, 2015, translated by Katrina Dodson, edited and introduced by Benjamin Moser

"Obsession", the third story in the collection convinced me of the oft proclaimed genius of Clarice Lispector.  We have to guess the date of publication of the stories as they are not to be found in the collection.   It is about a woman's multi-layered passage of self discovery.  I will just quote a few passages as I am disinclined right now to say more.  A short blog post done for those who have not read the story would not be useful right now.  

"And the greatest harm Daniel did me was awaken within me that desire that lies latent inside us all. For some people it awakens and merely poisons them, as for me and Daniel. For others it leads to laboratories, journeys, absurd experiences, to adventure. To madness."

One of the tensions I find animating the short stories of Lispector is the bipolar desires to rise above what she sees as a world in a stupor to a quietitude from thought.

Almost all the stories I gave so far read center on a woman with problematic relationships with a man, a man perhaps or probably her intellectual inferior but who she nevertheless anchors her world upon.

"Perhaps Daniel had acted merely as an instrument, perhaps my destiny really was the one I pursued, the destiny of those set loose upon the earth, of those who don’t measure their actions according to Good and Evil, perhaps I, even without him, would have discovered myself some day, perhaps, even without him, I would have fled Jaime and his land. How can I know?"

I think this story would be very good for class discussions.

The other two stories are very interesting. 

Mel u

Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) was Brazilian journalist, translator and author of fiction. Born in Western Ukraine into a Jewish family who suffered greatly during the pogroms of the Russian Civil War, she was still an infant when her family fled the disastrous post-World War I situation for Rio de Janiero. At twenty-three, she became famous for her novel, Near to the Wild Heart, and married a Brazilian diplomat. She spent much of the forties and fifties in Europe and the United States, helping soldiers in a military hospital in Naples during World War II and writing, before leaving her husband and returning to Rio in 1959. Back home, she completed several novels including The Passion According to G.H. and The Hour of the Star before her death in 1977 from ovarian cancer.  - from New Directions Publishing web

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"The Diggings" by Claire Vaye Watkins (2012)

From Battleborn by Claire Vayne Watkins, short listed for The 2013 Frank O'Connor international Award

If you ever want to read a new to you short story writer but don't quite know what you feel like reading, a not bad idea is to search out short stories by authors short listed for the Frank O'Connor International Award for best short story collection of the year.  Claire Vaye Watkins' debut collection Battleborn was short listed in 2013.

"The Diggings" is set in California during the California Gold Rush, circa 1849.  Two brothers from Ohio, meant to signify settled America, inherit enough money from their father to head out for the California Gold Fields in search of instant wealth on finding a nugget as big as your fist.  One of the brothers is in love with a local woman and hopes to win her family's approval once he strikes it big.  The trip out west is an archetype of American horror and perseverance.  The time in the gold fields is part of the legends of the old west genre but Watkins depicts it so magnificently that we transcend this.  The two brothers are very different.  There is madness, murder, greed, bear baiting, and xenophobia enough to fire up a much longer dark dream of America.  This is not the vision of American exceptionalism touted by political candidates.  It is part of America's vision of the heart of darkness, of cultures unknown to fools destroyed, of an enviorment ruined, of lives ruled by greed, of profound loneliness at the bottom of a pit.  "The Diggings" is a great short story.  I hope to read her full collection soon.  

I read this work in New American Short Stories, edited by Ben Marcus, forthcoming 2015.  The bio below comes from there.

Claire Vaye Watkins is the author of Battleborn, winner of the Story Prize, the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. Her stories and essays have appeared in Granta, One Story, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Best of the West 2011, Best of the Southwest 2013, and elsewhere. A graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno and the Ohio State University, Claire teaches at Bucknell University.

Mel u

Monday, April 13, 2015

Günter Grass - 1927 to 2015

"Letters to Hermengardo" by Clarice Lispector (1941)

The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lipsector, to be published August, 2015, translated by Katrina Dodson, edited and introduced by Benjamin Moser)

"This preamble also serves as an apology. It is because I realize, even through the sweetest words that the miracle of your breathing inspires in me, my destiny is to throw stones. Never get angry with me for that. Some are born to cast stones. And after all, (here is where my task begins) why would it be wrong to cast stones, unless because they will hit things that belong to you or to those who know how to laugh and adore and eat? Once this point has been clarified and you allow me to throw stones, I shall speak to you of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony."

As I read and post on the short stories of Clarice Lispector I feel a bit bad as right now only those who can read Portugese or have an advance review copy of her collected stories can read her them.  I hope to read and post individually on each of her 86 stories prior to the scheduled August 2015 publication date.  

In "Letters to Hermengardo" the very high intelligence of the woman narrator 
 begins to show itself, not hiding in the shadows.  She wrote this story in an era when high intelligence was not a greatly characteristic of women.  Lispector knows high intelligence can harm those who have it in ways most cannot fathom.  In this story I think we see a woman trying to unravel her thoughts, find her anchor.  In just a few pages Lispector takes us deeply into the narrator's very complex psyche.  

I will note I am guessing  based on a Google search that this story was first published in 1941, when the author was 21.  I really wish this collection included date and place of first publication information.  

Mel u