introducing readers to writers since 1995

February 21, 2005

Sunday Night Stories

by Ron Hogan

Last night I went to KGB to hear Daphne Kalotay read from Calamity and Other Stories, which had just received a review of sorts as part of a "chronicle" round-up of short story collections in the current issue of NYTBR (about which I actually had something to say at Beatrix). The story she read, "A Brand New You," was an amusing vignette tracing a brief fling between a 40-year-old graduate student and her ex-husband, set in New York City at the beginning of the 1980s; it's not online as far as I can tell, but some of the other stories in this impressive collection are, including the title story, "Calamity," and "The Man from Allston Electric."

Kalotay was followed by Jess Row, whom I had seen a few weeks ago at a free writers' workshop conducted at Coliseum Books under the auspices of Gotham Writers' Workshop. Row talked about the importance of setting in story, an apt subject given that the stories in his collection, The Train to Lo Wu, are all set at least in part in Hong Kong--although the story he read to us, "Heaven Lake," is primarily set in New York City... coincidentally around the same time as Kalotay's tale, though the two couldn't be further apart in other ways. (You can hear a reading from "Heaven Lake" and follow along with the opening section.) One of the most important things I got out of Row's lecture to the dozen or so of us gathered in the bookstore's café section was about the willingness you must have to "get things wrong," to concentrate first on your character's experience of being in a certain place and time and later give some consideration as to whether you've got all the landmarks in the right place or enough colorful local details. In fact, he pointed out, the fewer such details, perhaps the better; after all, for somebody who has lived in an area long enough, those "exotic" details may well have blended into the background...

At any rate, two great collections, one linked by characters, the other by setting, both of them worthy of your attention.

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