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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

Widow: Stories - Michelle Latiolais Rating: 4.5* of fiveThe Book Description: BELIEVER BOOK AWARD FINALIST�In prose shimmering with intelligence and compassion, Michelle Latiolais dissects the essentials of everyday life to find the heartbeat within.—Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones�Widow is a hymn to reverence, simultaneously heartbroken and celebratory. Michelle Latiolais has given us the rarest item, a splendidly articulated masterpiece. —William Kittredge�In this luminous collection of stories, the gifted Michelle Latiolais writes of loss in all its surprising manifestations. Widow is a devastation and a wonder.—Christine Schutt�There is something mysterious about this book, as there always is in the writing that matters most. It eludes explanation. It illumines terrifying realities. Only because these pages seem nakedly willing to take the imprint of every emotion, no matter how ugly, do they possess this great beauty. —Elizabeth TallentThe stories of Widow conjure the nuances of inner sensations as if hitting the notes of a song, deftly played across human memory. These meditations bravely explore the physiology of grief through a masterful interweaving of tender insight and unflinching detail—reminding us that the inner life is best understood through the medium of storytelling. Among these stories of loss are interwoven other tales, creating a bridge to the ineffable pleasures and follies of life before the catastrophe. Throughout this collection, Latiolais captures the longing, humor, and strange grace that accompany life’s most transformative chapters.Michelle Latiolais is the author of Widow: Stories, a New York Times Editor's Choice selection, and two previous novels, including [A Proper Knowledge], also published by Bellevue Literary Press. She is the recipient of the Gold Medal for Fiction from the Commonwealth Club of California and an English professor and co-director of the Programs in Writing at the University of California at Irvine.My Review: “The Bryce Method” is named in honor of an online friend who introduced me to the technique, is a summary opinion, plus a short line or a quote from each story, together with a rating for the story. It's a hard thing to write about grief and the grieving process. It's not a blank, featureless, trackless waste as is depression; grief is a living thing, a changing thing, as the death-in-life of depression is not. Latiolais observes the grief of her characters as they cannot: from the end, the outside, the culmination of a process. Nothing is the same, no one gets better, and no punches are pulled; but the blank and purposeless state of living through grief is, indirectly, shown from its end and thus from a place of hope. No. You will never be the same person. Yes, you will (after the pointless suffering of grieving) have to work hard to invent a new self. But you can, you can indeed...and that's the best message to give someone in this heap of pain and pile of misery."Widow" is first up, the title story, and a beautiful expression of the utterly disorienting loss of a mate:Wandering is better than place sometimes, than home, than destination. Sometimes she can eke out the idea that wandering is possibility, chance, serendipity--he might be there, that place she didn't think to look, hadn't worked hard enough to find....p10, paper editionShe has been surprised by grief, its constancy, its immediacy, its unrelenting physical pain.p13, paper editionMarianne Wiggins says it best in a novel of hers: To love someone is to agree to die twice in a lifetime, to outlive nothing. What happens when one outlives a spouse is a shelf-life, gourd-like existence, dumb fleshy pumps...p19, paper editionBeautiful. True, speaking from my own experience as an AIDS widower of some 21 years. And yet marvelously unassuming and unshrill. I love it more for that. 5 stars"The Long Table" examines the wreckage that an unhappy life flounders through to get to the simplest and most ordinary pleasures. 3.5 stars"Boys" takes a grown-up couple to a male strip club, the man's idea of a treat for his lady-love; she experiences the last thing she expected, a meditative trip over the territory of motherhood. 3.5 stars"Tattoo" packs a lot into a page and a half. A daughter remembers cruel words, a woman examines a man while he's unaware, two people communicate from glass-divided spaces. Gulfs that engulf...3 stars"Pink" takes a woman who has lost a man into the strange world of a teacup and saucer exhibit, where she meditates on vaginas, labia, churches, and death. Very odd, and oddly affecting. 4 stars"Place" accompanies a middle-aged widow early in her grieving to a church service for and by revolting little rich dweebs, a place she has come to feel something, anything, a mite of a bit of a corner of connection to people....she imagines her body curled in the narrow monk's bed, knees to chin, her own irrefutable geography, but she sees the blood of her futile heart seeping out over her chest and arms and legs, flooding across the rough wooden floor, down the narrow wooden stairs and out into the old soil of the garden. No roses, no, she does not even ask to make roses, just dissolution; most any night she asks just for that.pp47-48, paper editionFor all her culture's attention to the physical, it seemingly has little to salve the creatural anguish of losing someone else's body, their touch, their heat, their oceanic heart...she doesn't want another body, she wants the body she loved, the forceps scar across his cheek that she traced with her hand, his penis, its elegant sweep to the side, the preternaturally soft skin. One wants what one has loved, not the idea of love.pp53-54, paper editionAfter contemplating the "moral" lesson of the story of Job, she leaves the church without speaking to or connecting with anyone save a fellow lost soul who looks longingly on her departure from the company of fools. 4.5 stars "The Moon" is a strobe-lit vision of the solitary future of a young woman in a featureless present. 3.5 stars"Crazy" limns the searing moment when one knows that one's dear and beloved spouse is being unfaithful. 4 stars"Involution" accompanies a young woman to the chocolatier where she buys marzipan angels. Why, I don't know, and what's more I don't care. 2.5 stars"Caduceus" is best summed up in this quote: "She wished it were evening now, wished for the great relief of the calendar inking itself out, of day done and night coming, of ice cubes knocking about in a glass beneath the whisky spilling in, that fine brown affirmation of need."Yuh-huh. 3.5 stars"Thorns" takes an awkward, intelligent woman on a coffee date with a very average man, and leaves her there. Nucelar waste is vitrified, and Dale Chihuly invoked. In most collections this would be a stand-out; here, 3 stars"Gut" made me laugh out loud several times. It's the only self-narrated story, and it's not about grief or loss but rather about the odd and chancy ways life offers us bliss. A biological anthropologist marries an artist and printmaker, develops some daring ideas about how the human brain evolved after we learned to cook our food, and whisks her--despite her deep misgivings and repeated attempts to foist the gift onto someone else--to the jungles of Uganda to eat a chimpanzee diet for 8 hours a day. Straight. No breaks. Let me put it this way: Constipation was not a problem, but pooping while you ate was just not the kind of multitasking I was up to.p104, paper editionAfter an attack of wind at being overfed on fruit leads to an amorous escapade and a subsequent request from her husband that she eat living termites off a stick he fetches from under their cot:...I looked into his blue eyes and they seemed as kind and loving and serious as ever. The acid came into my throat and I started to cry, deep throbs coming up out of my chest--the thought of divorce was so painful.p 107, paper editionFortunately for their marriage, it's a gag, and this marriage is saved. A lark, a pleasure, a light and airy trip into Before instead of a voyage into After as the others are. 4 stars"Hoarding" plumbs the depths of frustration at being the unfunny partner of the dead life of the party. Bargaining with the gods to bring people to her door, preparing for ungiven parties and unreceived invitations with cupboards and pantries stuffed with goodies, falling flat in pursuit of connections outside her reach, she knows how much was taken from her but can't stop grabbing something, anything, the next thing, to fill the hole. 4.5 stars"The Legal Case" brings a horrible, horrifying truth about law into sharp focus: You can't legislate decency or goodness, and human depravity finds a way to escape boundaries every time. 3.5 stars"Breathe" is a riff on "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen, a young woman ironing the table linens and doing the laundry and thinking of the man sleeping in her bed, the grandmother burned in a forest fire, the revolting source of nylon, and then going to a bed she's too tired to care about. 3.5 stars"Burqa" thinks of invisibility, of being just that bit too old and too over it to be relevant, even to one's child; a divorced woman living in a one-bedroom California apartment, how grisly a thought is that. Slight, in the end. 3 stars'Damned Spot" doesn't feel like a story, so I don't class it as such. The author tells of her dear Bull Terrier named Damned Spot (she and her husband are bookish people, the joke appealed), and his journey through her marriage to its end, and his own death shortly afterwards. It's a moving story to a dog-lover, and a very sad end-of-life tale; but more than any other thing, it's a simple and direct and very clear statement of life's greatest need: To give and receive love. Absent that, there is no life, merely existence, and that is not and will never be enough. 5 starsHunt it up. Spend the fifteen bucks, less on Amazon. This is some excellent story-telling.