Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"Funny Once," by Antonya Nelson

I have written here about how, although the novel is my most-loved literary form, I also very much enjoy and appreciate short stories. But I seem not to have read many short story collections in recent months, until the past three weeks or so, when I (without planning or intending to in any conscious way) read, and posted about here, two such collections -- Hester Kaplan’s “Unravished” and Francesca Marciano’s “The Other Language” -- and now have read and am posting about Antonya Nelson’s “Funny Once” (Bloomsbury, 2014). I also re-read (actually listenied to on CD) Alice Munro’s collection, “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.” “Funny Once” is both funny and sad. This is something I would say about other books I have read by Nelson, including the two I have read since I started this blog: “Bound” (which I posted about on 10/28/10) and “Living to Tell” (posted about on 12/12/13). Many of her characters meander through life, either directionless or powerless or alienated or drinking too much or some combination of the above. This is especially true in the last and longest story in this collection, “Three Wishes,” which is also perhaps the most wrenching one. It starts with three loving but stumbling-through-life adult siblings taking their father to a “home” because of his dementia. (As an aside, I notice that several books I have read just lately happen to include a focus on characters with dementia.) Son Hugh, in his late thirties, still lives in the house where he grew up; daughter Hannah is very competent but feels something is missing, and splits up with her perfectly good husband; youngest daughter Holly lacks confidence about how to live an adult life and raise her young son, who is preternaturally mature and appears to mostly raise himself. They all still feel the long shadow of their oldest brother Hamish’s somewhat mysterious death some twenty years ago. Hugh and Hannah both depend far too much on alcohol to get them through life. Despite all the depressing aspects of this story, we see the characters draw love and strength from each other.

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