Good stories, he writes, are ultimately about life, and the meaning of life, and finally — of death.
And I pause in my reading and lower the book and wonder.
I find stories everywhere, in the forced chattiness of the salesman offering estimates for for new windows; in the quiet withdrawal in the old woman’s face when I start writing down her answers; in the destroyed teeth and white-stubbled face of the man pointing out my way in front of the century-old grocery store.
But what is it that makes them good stories? Mostly I let the words out here, letting you see what I’ve seen and hear what I’ve heard and draw your own conclusions.
But mostly they’re flat and two-dimensional, I think now.
Faintly I hear my literature professor in college: good literature is about the human experience.
I’ve picked up the book again and it’s a short story remembering when the author was a boy, listening to Roger Maris hit his 61st home run. And the old men in the barber shop insulted as Babe Ruth’s record fell — I would have left them there, grumbling behind newspapers.
But he, from the vantage point now of years and living, makes the story something greater. He understands, now, those old men, “crowded” by time, were mourning not a record so much as the escape of their lives, disappearing along with the record.
And now he has made the story poignant, and it stays with me, moving through my day of pressing deadlines and not enough sleep.
Crowded by time, I think. Mourning the years.
And like he said he’s made a simple baseball record story into a really good one, about living, and dying, and time.
I read his stories and think I’ll give up writing for a while. I’ll live a while first, so that I’ll have something to fall back on, something concrete on which to build my stories.
And even as I write that sirens whine up the street and I gather purse and press pass to see why, though I’m home and off the clock.
And another story slowly percolates, and I know I’ll have to let the words out again.
But I think I’ll have to look a little closer, find out what the story really is.