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Goings: In Twelve Sittings

Goings: In Twelve Sittings

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From the O/R Books blurb:
… Gordon Lish’s first completely original work in sixteen years, thirteen stories that mark the ongoing vitality of one of the era’s enduring scribes.

I have been heading to Florida since the day after last Christmas and have been gone there until just last week, just after January ended. I should have stayed put as the winter weather here in Louisville has been atrocious, to say the least. But I would have missed, wedged within the growing stack of my held mail, this nifty and pretty little book titled Goings. I am generally more than a bit amped to receive anything in my mail, and especially so when Gordon Lish's name is on it. Seems the two of us do not speak as often as we used to, whether by phone or the subsequent years of regular correspondences we shared through the postal service mail. Gordon has not a machine such as the one I have here which sends information on a super highway he has yet to personally travel on. In other words, he does not use the internet.

Some time back I read a short story of his titled Gnat that was published almost two years ago in The Antioch Review. The story is included in this collection. I remember liking the story back then when I read it and I told him so. Gordon quickly dismissed my praise and discounted the story to me, and at the time gave no indication he had been working on any others. But he was, and he did, as evidenced by this new collection. Though I love reading anything my old teacher, editor, and friend makes available I was almost wishing he hadn't gone back to the craft. He seemed to be doing so well in his other practice of which I will be remiss and not even mention. There were a couple of other stories in this new collection that met the high standards of previous Lish offerings, but this one called Gnat in my opinion beat them all.

Be it lint, or a safari-ready wash-and-wear shirt complete with ventings, Gordon Lish can talk about it as if it matters. He makes small things important. He makes change a matter of course in a fixed-world of older folks where change doesn't do so well. In other words the teacher helps a senior to see, and perhaps the young ones to listen better to their elders. And sometimes the new stuff works, even if it means we wear a newfangled shirt with gills. 

I bought a hat a few years ago from a place called The Duluth Trading Company. Wasn't even on sale. It was similar to the old canvas fishing hats with the two or three inch brim to keep the sun and rain off except this particular hat had the top cut out of it and the rest of the hat had been treated to repel mosquitoes. Basically you wore the brim, if that makes any sense. I wore the hat in the woods around my cabin once and couldn't get used to the hat lacking the top where my head and hair stuck out. I am not convinced the hat would have kept the mosquitoes away, and I wasn't convinced it was worth at all wearing it with me looking the part of a fool pictured under it. I never asked for an outside opinion, especially from my wife. I kept the hat a few more years until finally throwing it away last summer while going through my clutter of things. I still can't believe I made the purchase in the first place. What was I thinking?

But in The Gnat, our narrator thinks, because of his own advancing years, he should lessen his daily load in life which he calls his "lifely load". He is resolved to quit the high-leather-footwear for sneakers, to quit "heaving my person around in cottons and woolens" and gets himself ready to "consent to the genius of micro-fiber". The problem with this "initial gesture" toward his "long-postponed project" is he makes his purchase as he has always made his purchases in the past. By knowing his exact size, and figuring they still crafted the shirts the same way, he doesn't try the shirt on before paying for it.

He takes the newly purchased shirt home and his wife wants him to try it on, the shirt she has no doubt heard from him every nuance about and the technology applied for dissuading the pesky mosquitoes to go hither and yon, and far away from him. But after modeling it, standing before her, she does not like the look of the new shirt she exclaims has slits, or gills, these holes I imagine placed strategically under the armpits for ventilation and providing ample room to move when casting about while fishing. That would be my logical, but not ample, understanding of its ventilated, and probably roomy, design. Nonetheless, because of the gills, or holes, she believes the shirt inferior, and when one's wife finds fault with something or other not measuring up to her standards it makes all men get nervous when positioned erect and upright fitted in their sneakers. So the man returns himself and the shirt back to the store and gets his full price refunded after he explains to the salesperson serving him his "admitted enfeebled assumption" over the shirt being made the old-fashioned way. He then thinks he hears an ungentle remark some distance from himself to the effect that the elderly should not be "released into an engagement with citywide retail commerce without a guardian present". Needless to say he gets his money back and realizes a thing or two weeks later, of which, I will add, that the reader of this piece will have to find out for herself with her purchase of the book and her own personal reading of it, but certainly you will not hear the ending from me.

The language alone in a Gordon Lish story is worth the price of admission. The small jokes and serious proclivities always make for an engaging read. Hard to know what exactly might follow these thirteen pieces. In a week the man turns eighty. ( )
  MSarki | Jan 24, 2015 |
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