Happy: Short Story and Meg Wolitzer Essays

Submitted By knicole23
Words: 517
Pages: 3

ike Alice Munro and her small towns of Ontario, Stuart Dybek is a short story writer whose work is often closely associated with a specific place: the working-class neighborhoods of Chicago. But in both cases, referring to the geographical connection doesn't begin to get at the expansiveness of the work. I'd hardly read much Dybek before, and so my understanding of the kind of writing that interests him was limited. I imagined stories that were beautifully written, but beyond that, I didn't know about the strangeness, beauty and engagement with memory that are central to his work. Chicago often does figure in his stories, but here, instead of being the windy city, it's a slippery one. Everything changes, becomes something else, or at least refers to something else, usually something from the past.

Take the title story, in which a group of scientists are in a laboratory creating a time machine. They go out to a Chinese restaurant, which serves pine-nut porridge, cassia-blossom buns, fish-fragrance-sauced pigeon, and nest of predigested seaweed from the beaks of swifts, among many other dishes. At the end of the meal, a fortune cookie is cracked open, revealing the words, "Fuel alone will not light a fire," and someone asks, "Say, did anyone turn off the Bunsen burner when we left?" When they head back to the lab, they see that the place has gone up in flames.

The fire itself serves as a memory accelerant, dredging up all kinds of thoughts and images, including, for the narrator, those from previous fires: "I remember how, in what now seems another life, I watched fires as a kid — sometimes fires that a gang of us, calling ourselves the Matchheads, had set."

He continues, "I remember how, later, in another time, if not another life, I once snapped a photograph of a woman I was with as she watched a fire blaze out of control along a river in Chicago. She was still married then."

Meg Wolitzer's novel Belzhar is scheduled for release on Sept. 30.
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