Sunday, January 10, 2010

Unripe grapes and Old Crow

They sat in silence for a while, then he put his hand on hers. Their table was in the farthest corner of the garden. At the opposite end, some kids from the college program were having beers. She thought there was probably some obvious course of action she was supposed to take here, some profoundly adult way of defusing the situation.

“I’ve had a big crush on you since I was five.”

“That’s ridiculous. You know that, right?”

“I used to look through my mom’s photo albums with her. I thought you were what a Beatles song would look like if it could walk around.”

“And that doesn’t even make sense.”

He stroked her arm and she closed her eyes.

The “she” in this case, is a 40-year-old on vacation with her best friend in Greece, recreating a visit they’d taken decades ago. But this time, Laura is full of "a sense of squandered time" because she’s just learned that her longtime boyfriend still loves his ex-wife. The “he” is her best friend’s son who is old enough to have great pecs though not yet in college. They live in a short story called “Santorini” from a book called Black Elvis, written by a friend and colleague, Geoffrey Becker. It’s a moving story in a funny-sad book, which was published this fall after winning the Flannery O’Connor Award.

Most characters in Black Elvis are living in between. In between jobs, love affairs, permanent addresses. Two of the twelve stories feature affairs between younger men and older women. “Black Days” involves a 30-year-old blues-guitar playing adjunct college professor and a singer named Desire. She’s in her fifties.

Becker ramps up the drama inherent in a younger man/older woman affair. Laura’s friend, Flo, has no idea what’s transpiring between her best friend and son. In “Black Days,” the couple’s bickering is less about age than education: he’s got a Phd., she makes up words. “You think I’m stupid,” she accuses.

It’s fun to unravel the stories, to notice how Becker makes every detail work. When Laura and the boy are getting tipsy in the garden on Santorini, they’re surrounded by “unripe grapes.” The bourbon he pours for her is “Old Crow.” Days later, after Laura orders drinks for Flo and Harrison, Flo complains, “You’re going to corrupt him … Imagine if either of our parents had come along with us last time.” Answers Laura: “Let’s not.”

1 comment:

  1. Although I'd determined earlier last year after discovering Alice Munro that I didn't need to read anybody but Alice Munro for the rest of my life, I'll have to check this one out. If nothing else, it has the coolest cover and title and the most arresting design of any book I've seen in awhile.

    I love the way you guys continue to find fresh ways to investigate the world through the him + 17 angle. From personal essay to cultural commentary to book reviews, it continues to be interesting and to show the interconnectedness of the whole human experience.