Books: The Man from Kinvara by Tess Gallagher

28 Jun

Genre: short stories 

Basics: Pacific Northwest, working class

Tess Gallagher is primarily known as a poet. But I haven’t read much of her poetry. I have read this book, cover to cover. 

I like reading short stories because I usually manage one (or two or three) before bed. If I’m reading a novel, I have to drag myself away to turn off the light, and if I come to a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter, I usually curse the author. 

There’s something, too, about the elegance of short stories. A well-structured novel is like a well-designed city. As much as you may enjoy being in it, you don’t really ever map it in your head. A well-structured short story is like being in a really well-designed house. It might be cozy or cold, crammed or spare, but you can hold the whole thing in your mind at one time. You can feel it as you move through it. 

Tess Gallagher’s from the Northwest. She lives in Port Angeles. It’s nice for me to read stories set in my neck of the woods because– are you with me on this?– when you’re writing, it can start to feel like it’s hard to see your own place. You know? You stop looking after a while. You don’t see the dirt, and you also don’t see the fantastic light. 

But when you read a story set in an author’s hometown…smack! Delicious. 

Tess Gallagher was married to Raymond Carver (while he was alive)(and maybe still now in some sense?). It’s quite possible you’re more familiar with his name, or his work. He wrote the short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” If you haven’t read the story, you’ve definitely read some sort of internet article ripping that title, right?

Anyway. Carver has a story titled “Cathedral” that you probably read in your English 201 class in college. It’s told from the point of view of a man, who has a wife. This wife used to work for a blind man, and this blind man comes to visit. The husband gets a little jealous, and then he and the blind man drink and watch tv and talk while the wife goes to bed. 

Tess Gallagher has a story that’s a version of “Cathedral” from the wife’s POV. Called “Rain Flooding Your Campfire.” Except, in her story, the author of the story is a man she works with. She calls the author Mr. G. (Mr. Gallagher?) Mr. G, the author, works with Gallagher’s (female) narrator. He isn’t her husband. In Gallagher’s story, actually, her couple isn’t married. They’re live-in partners. But when Mr. G writes his story, he writes himself as the wife’s husband and cuts himself out, for the sake of the story. It’s all very confusing and charming.

I like to think of Tess and Ray sitting on either side of the house, writing stories in rebuttal or jest. It feels like it doesn’t matter which story became famous, it feels like they were together for so many years it couldn’t have mattered. It feels like she was teasing him and maybe also arguing a little bit. It feels like, at least once in all those years, you wouldn’t be able to help putting a lovers’ quarrel into print, and that as you were writing, you’d be able to hear his pen also scratching, his foot tapping, and then you would go to bed together turning the same characters over and over in your minds. That’s nice, isn’t it?

MM

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