Black Maps, a collection of stories by David Jauss, won the Associated Writing Programs Award for Short Fiction in 1995 (Lorrie Moore/judge). These nine stories–with only one in present tense and the rest in past, and four in third person and five in first–all deal with the crossing of borders. In addition to each story, the book as a whole has a story to tell.
As Robert Frost said, “If you have a book of twenty-four poems, the book itself should be the twenty-fifth poem.”
David Jauss writes of his collection, “The book, then, moves thematically from negation to affirmation, from the blackest of maps to one that shows the possibility of light.” After understanding this, it was no surprise that I preferred the stories toward the end of the book.
Each story is extremely well written. The first story, “Torque,” takes a limo and turns it into an intrinsic symbol, one that acquires its meaning from the story.
If he had a limo, everyone would see that he wasn’t who they’d always thought he was…
And then later in the story,
He wanted to prove to her that he was the kind of man who made his dreams come true, the kind of man who deserved a limo.
The fifth story,“Firelight,” starts with a moment and then takes us back in time and leads us up to it. In the story are 3 repetitions of the word “firelight,” and then the words “fire” and “light” separate in the last paragraph.
“Brutality” includes this metaphor: “thinking thoughts she didn’t dare let bleed into words.” It deals with the idea of a continuous life:
And who you were is a part of who you are, isn’t it?
In “The Late Man,” allowing the character to imagine what he could have done adds depth to the story.
“Glossolalia,” the last story in the collection, was chosen by Alice Adams for the Best American Short Stories in 1991. It also won a Pushcart Prize. In it, a son tells the story of his father’s breakdown. The first words of the story “That winter” prepare the reader for the very effective jump in distance later in the story in a paragraph that includes the phrase “…our life together after that winter…” Then there’s another jump in perspective and distance on the last page: “Perhaps if I had said yes, we might have talked about….” Then what did happen in such a beautiful sentence using an echo:
But I didn’t say yes, and in the seven years that remained of his life, we never came as close to ending the winter that was always, for us, an unspoken but living part of our present.
Then a return to a specific moment as well as a narrowing of time from a season to a night, from that winter to that night, echoing the opening. And a last paragraph again with repetition of that night. Wow.
Wow is right. And beautiful. Must order now. Also, love the Robert Frost quote. And you too, Cynthia. Your blog is always such a joy to read.
Thanks, Darrelyn. And thank you for reading the posts. I always look forward to your comments. I heard that Robert Frost quote this summer and was delighted to find it written down somewhere.
I like how you compared a short story collection to poetry and analyzed the structure. I wonder how much of that was the writer vs. the editor. The writing does sound impressive. I love how you introduce me to new authors, or rather, new to me.
Thanks, Sarah. I don’t think it’s writing versus editing so much as the two abilities working together in some fashion. Black Maps seems to be a wonderful example of how important both skills are, how editing can make writing shine.
You give so much to think about in this post. I’m going to read it again as a writing warm up this afternoon. I love the Frost quote!
Thanks for reading, Erika. I love the Frost quote too.
I like the way your comments about this book focus on themes and character wisdom. I am so overwhelmed by issues of craft I sometimes forget to pay attention to content and the character’s understanding of the world he or she lives in. Yet, that’s why I have had a passion to read all of the years since Nancy Drew taught me to love reading books. Thanks for bringing it back to me.
Thanks, Jodi. Usually I don’t set out to write about one particular aspect of a work or another. I just look at what I’ve underlined and go from there. The downside of this approach is that I don’t often present a well-rounded view.
And I was a Bobbsey Twin reader and skipped over Nancy Drew : )