The Heaven of Animals: A Coin in the Mouth

Guest Post

By Jen Hinst-White

“I have this mystical-schmystical idea,” one of my writing teachers once said, “that stories exist outside of us somewhere, and it’s our job to get them down properly.”

He was a hard-nosed editor and a robust skeptic, and he confessed this notion five minutes before workshop’s end, as if not to give his own idea too much credence. I suspect, though, that most of us knew what he meant.

And if we can be mystical-schmystical for a moment and imagine this is so: Well, what does it mean to get a story down “properly”? Skillfully, yes; honestly, one hopes; but do we employ the storyteller’s guile, or the sage’s compassion, or the filleting knife of the satirist? What do we do with the stories we catch?

I recently happened on The Heaven of Animals, the debut short story collection by David James Poissant, and it brought this question to mind. In it, Poissant casts his storyteller’s net and catches sixteen kinds of suffering. Here, a grief to ring the bell of every reader’s memory: deaths of friendships, parents, children. In several stories, it’s a marriage that dies, or else hovers in death’s doorway, waiting to tumble in or out.

[Read more...]

The Grace of the Unexpected, Part 2

In the first part of my post yesterday, I lamented our contemporary lack of risk, our incuriosity, our resistance to extend ourselves outside the ideological boundaries we have constructed for ourselves. And at the bottom of all our own self-congratulatory opinions and social purity tests (Obama, the Koch Brothers, Pop Tarts) is our own fear.

That’s bad for everyone all around, I think—and I wish my secular-minded friends, who are worried only about justice here on earth, not the beyond, could realize that by demonizing the Other (thank you, Dr. Rebecca Mark, my American Life in American Literature professor, Spring 1990) they are not living up to their own values.

Such deliberate blindness is especially bad for Christians, because we are to be about the business of witnessing Christ throughout the world. And the best way that is done is not by talking, talking, talking, but simply by being a closer and closer reflection of the divine image, and doing the work a suffering world needs.

“They’ll know that we are Christians by our love,” goes the verse of the hymn—well, fat chance these days, in my experience. We are in need not of evangelists but a generation of servants and saints.

[Read more...]

Making It New: The Image Fall Appeal

Consider the coffee table. It’s a venerable and eminently practical piece of furniture. Most of us have at least one. It’s a great place to put centerpieces, books, even literary journals. Some of us may put our coffee mugs on it from time to time.

But have you ever noticed how often these days that coffee tables aren’t coffee tables? Walker Percy did. In Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Guide, Percy noted that a home and garden magazine had listed fifty ways to make coffee tables…out of something else. The examples cited included: a polished Cypress stump, a lobster trap, a large spool for telephone cable, and a stone morgue table, with the runnel for blood used as an ash tray.

[Read more...]

Art Is Long, Life Is Short

My wife and I were in Chicago over the summer, and as part of our tourist rounds, we of course visited the Art Institute, which is far too large to take in in a single day. As happens every time I go to a large museum, by the time we walked out I was in a state of melancholy existential astonishment.

One installation was a meticulous recreation of the cave paintings in Lascaux, France, some of them estimated to be as much as 20,000 years old.

Until we reached the modern art, all the millennia of individual creators represented in the gallery were long dead, many not just dead but anonymous.

In the American galleries, I viewed the famous American Gothic which I first encountered in a board game in childhood called Masterpiece. The game was ostensibly about art collecting, which doesn’t sound like much fun for kids. You gather cards with famous paintings on them attach cards with a monetary value by the luck of the draw. Players buy, sell, and trade art. Several fraud cards float around, so you never know if someone is trying to pass off a forgery on you. The goal of the game is amassing the most expensive collection without regard for aesthetics. [Read more...]

The Image Top 50 Contemporary Writers of Faith

By Gregory Wolfe

Last week we posted a list of The Top 25 Contemporary Writers of Faith. We did so for several reasons, perhaps the most important being that there continue to be articles and essays proclaiming a dearth of contemporary literature that grapples with the age-old religious questions of our Western tradition.

We begged to differ, and we put out what we believed to be a pretty outstanding group of writers to furnish irrefutable evidence.

The response was electric. That web page was shared nearly 6,000 times and several dozen comments were received, including suggestions of a slew of writers people thought should have been included.

So we decided to post a new list—of 50 writers. Most of those we’ve added came from your suggestions, a few from the original survey we took, and a couple sprinkled in from our own editorial list of favorites. [Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X