Sunday, February 8, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 6: "Star Food" by Ethan Canin

For some reason I cannot get out of the clubs. The suit of clubs in my deck of cards for Deal Me In, that is. This week I drew the 10 of clubs, which took me back to The Best American Short Stories 1986 for an intriguing story by Ethan Canin.

This very cool image of a 10 of clubs comes from where they have many more interesting cards!

This is the first of Ethan Canin's writing that I have read. I knew of him, however, due to a book called The Writer's Notebook, a fascinating little book that consists of reproduced pages from -- you guessed it -- writers' notebooks. It provides an intriguing look into the creative process as illustrated (literally, in some cases) by the notebooks that writers keep.

Canin has a chapter in this book, and some of his notebook pages turned out to be hospital note pages. Turns out that he pursued medicine as a career for a number of years. But his was not a direct path to medicine -- he first received an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and then a few years after that he went to Harvard Medical School and got his M.D. He practiced as a physician for seven years while still writing (as evidenced by his notebook) before leaving medicine to join the writing faculty back at Iowa. An interesting journey indeed! If you've read any of his books or other short stories, please tell me more about them in the comments.

Now to this week's story, "Star Food." To be honest, this was one of those stories that limped along for a little while, one word plodding after another, until suddenly it caught fire with me and I raced to finish it. Weird, huh? And I'm not sure I got everything out of the story that is there for the getting, but it's certainly a rich story that would be worth the rereading just to gain new insights on it.

The story is told from the point of view of Dade, an 18-year-old boy who works in his parents' grocery store, Star Food. From the first sentence of the story -- "The summer I turned eighteen I disappointed both my parents for the first time" -- it's clear that this story is going to be complex. Up until this time, Dade has either disappointed his father, who thinks he is lazy and aimless, or his mother, who thinks Dade should spend more time up on the roof of the store (which he does anyway), looking into the clouds and waiting for inspiration so he can do something great with his life.

One day Dade notices a woman who comes into the store and casually steals a loaf of rye bread. He can't believe what he's seeing, and doesn't say anything to his parents until she's long gone. She steals twice more from the store before Dade decides he's going to finally apprehend her, making his father happy and his mother not so happy (since she has previously been guilty of letting other shoplifters, usually children, get away out the back door of the store).  When Dade does catch the woman, he suddenly wonders if it was such a good idea, and you can probably figure out what happens next.

Plot-wise, this was not a terribly exciting story, but it was incredibly atmospheric and the characters were compelling. I enjoyed reading it, and will be looking for more by Mr. Canin.

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

No comments:

Post a Comment