My friend Andrew linked me to the video for this song (after I showed him the video for “Lucas with the Lid Off.” I’d heard of The Real Tuesday Weld, but never heard them, and I hope this is indicative of the rest of their (his?) stuff.
The video (which is hilarious and weird) supplies a wonderful videotrack to the music, but, unlike some other recent videos that I have watched, it doesn’t make a lame song seem interesting.
I likened this song to what I wanted the Squirrel Nut Zippers to sound like: playing old-timey music but with a real sense of silliness. (The Zippers are great but are often too straight for me). Rather than vocals, there’s a sort of nonsensical sound-making. And there’s some even some human beatbox in the track.
And it’s all over a very bouncy soundtrack that fits well with the black and white “movie” of the video.
It’s very cool. Check it out here.
[READ: August 27, 2010] The Shell Collector
I have really enjoyed the two short stories that Doerr has written for McSweeney’s. So much so that I decided to track down this collection of short stories. And I’m delighted that I did.
Doerr’s stories are set all over the world (he himself has lived in Africa and New Zealand, although he is now from Idaho and grew up in Ohio) and there is so much diversity in this collection that I couldn’t believe he had this much information at his disposal.
One of the interesting things is that quite often the main character is named “The Shell Collector” of “The Hunter” while everyone else in the story has a name. It’s an interesting conceit which brings at once a distance to the person and yet an immediacy to what he “is.”
“The Shell Collector” features a man who works with shells, specifically with the creatures that live in them (most of which are poisonous). One day, a reporter is stung by a cone shell (that crawled from the ocean into his house) and goes into deathly coma. The cone shell is a predatory sea snail called a geography cone has twelve kinds of venom in its teeth. The woman was pronounced incurable, and yet twelve hours of catatonia later she emerged claiming to have had a religious experience. From then on, the shell collector’s life is turned upside down.
“The Hunter’s Wife” was a great story of otherworldliness. The Hunter sees a woman working as a magician’s assistant (she is sawn in half). He falls in love with her and pursues her. Eventually they get married. But the woman has a gift that no one, not even the hunter, believes. She can feel the spirit of dead animals (stronger if it is recently dead). She first learns this with a hibernating bear (which the hunter practically has to pull her away from). And she is transformed. This is especially true in the winter, when death and hibernation are all around.
She finds herself growing more and more discontented with life as a hunter’s wife. Especially when she learns that her gift can be applied to people as well. She finds herself assisting with grieving people, despite her husband’s disapproval.
What I especially liked about the story was that the way he laid out the story, you had no idea that the opening takes place many many years after the couple’s lives have diverged.
“So Many Chances” is a fishing story (“The Hunter” also had fishing too). In it, a young girl moves with her family to Maine so her father can work as a shipbuilder. Dorotea is fourteen and she meets a young boy who tells her all about fishing with lures (and how using bait is cheating). Dorotea’s mother disapproves of the boy and forbids her from having contact with him. So Dorotea immerses herself in fishing: blisters, frustration and days and days of catching nothing.
What I loved about the title is that although as written it means one thing, by putting “there are only” in front of it (as happens in the story), it completely alters the meaning.
“For a Long Time This was Griselda’s Story.” This is one of my favorite pieces in the book. From the peculiar title to the fascinating content, it was compelling from start to finish.
The opening line of this story is just one reason why I think Doerr is a great writer:
In 1979, Griselda Drown was a senior volleyballer at Boise High, a terrificall tall girl with trunky thighs, slender arms and a vlleyball serve that won an Idaho State Championship despite T-shirts claiming it was a team effort (96).
Griselda, upon going to the circus with her younger sister, falls for the man who eats metal. And she leaves with him that very night. Despite the fact that her sister is waiting for him, despite that the fact that her mother doesn’t know she’s left. She is just gone. And it is really her sister who becomes the main focus of the story. Until the circus come back into town many years later.
“July Fourth” was a strange story, very different from all the rest. In it, a group of English fisherman challenge a group of American fisherman to see who can catch the biggest fish both in the US and in Europe. We follow the travails of the American team in Europe, as more and more bad luck besets them. I didn’t love the story and yet I couldn’t wait to find out how he would end it!
“The Caretaker” This is one of my favorite short stories in a long time. It travels so far, goes through so many permutations and offers us hope, unless we know reality, in which case it offers sadness.
The story opens with Joseph Saleeby, a young man living in Liberia who steals from his job while his mother works hard in the market. Things proceed in Liberia until civil war breaks out. Horrible horrible horrible things happen to him and to others and Joseph is forced to flee. (The details were quite gruesome but have a big impact on the story).
The story then moves to America. Joseph gets a job as a Caretaker in Oregon. There is a beached whale (which tied nicely to our recent watching of Eveyrthing’s Gone Green) and Joseph deals with it in an utterly fascinating way. (The science behind the inside of the whale was also fascinating). Even more things happen to him from there, most of them very bad. It’s only when he meets a young deaf girl that hope blooms.
I know…how many things can he squeeze into a 44 page story? But it never feels rushed. It never feels forced.
When the story reaches the end, and we learn about what is happening in Liberia, the circle is complete. And if you know your history, the ending is much darker than it seems.
“A Tangle by the Rapid River” is a short story about fishing. It has a simple set up with just a few characters. I don’t care much about fishing and yet I was engrossed by the details of the piece (I’m also thinking to myself just how many short stories (or even novels) about fishing I have read by now). There is such a wonderfully unexpected surprise at the end, where the story takes on a totally different meaning. I really enjoyed it.
“Mkondo” is the final story. It has many similarities to “The Hunter’s Wife,” in fact it almost feels like a response to it in some way. In this story, a man falls for an African woman. But she is fast. Literally. So fast, she seems magical. And she can traverse the jungle like nobody’s business. She asks him to follow her deeper in the jungle but he continues to get lost.
Eventually he builds up endurance and is able to catches her. And she agrees to move back to the States with him. But this destroys her free spirit. She wilts in captivity, she needs to be free. And in this respect it is comparable to “The Hunter’s Wife,” in which a woman needs to flee the captivity of suffocating surroundings.
Finally, she finds an outlet in photography. And the spirits that she encounters take her far away from the world she lives in. far away from the Idaho eyes. Far away from her husband. But as with many of the other stories, redemption may be at hand. If they can work for it. It was a powerful story about captivity and discovery.
The whole collection was great. Doerr’s writing is economical and effective. It’s also very faced paced. So even if nothing “happens” in some of the stories, the ride to get there is never dull.
I’m looking forward to reading his second story collection soon.