Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tomales Bay Workshops Faculty Readings (Part 2)

Friday night's readings were phenomenal. We heard work from Dana Levin's forthcoming Sky Burial, portions of the title story of Mary Gaitskill's Don't Cry, and finished with the hilarious Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter.

The highlight of Levin's reading, for me, was the poem that considers, through images and questions, the title of her book, which is a Bhuddist practice: the sky burial. The function of the sky burial is simply the disposal of the remains. In much of Tibet the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and with fuel and timber scarce, a sky burial is often more practical than cremation. In a sky burial, the dead body is ritually dismembered, beaten to a pulp, mixed with grains and formed into small cakes, which are then fed to the elements and the birds (often vultures). Levin's poem considers this practice in light of the deaths of three of her family members in close succession. Levin's poetry is generous and evocative and she gives a great reading. Catch her, if you can!

In Don't Cry, we found ourselves with two women in Ethiopia. One of the women, single, is in the process of adopting an Ethiopian boy, and the other woman--the main character, Janic--has gone on the trip for moral support. They arrive in Addis Ababa during an election, and the political situation becomes instantly unstable; all the shops close down and violence breaks out. In additiona, Janice has recently lost her beloved husband to Alzheimer's. There is a moment in the story in which Janice comes unglued: she wears their wedding rings around her neck, and there are suddenly stolen from her. She is bereft; yet, through the unexplanable kindness of an old man, she is forced (or given the opportunity?) to move out of her personal greif and to see the world beyond. "Don't cry," the old man tells her.

The night concluded with Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of the Poets, which is deadly funny. The passage Walter read chronicles protagonist Matt Prior on an night of intentional milk-buying and accidental (?) pot-smoking. The novel is set now, in the United States, and Matt Prior is jobless and about to lose everything else: upside down in his mortgage, with his wife chatting some guy up online, Matt Prior is looking for a way out of ruin. Walter crafts that pathway out with vivid dialogue and deatils that create a searing hilarity. This book is a heartfelt look at our current national (and international) situation that will make you ache less from looking at your bank account and instead from laughing so hard!

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