GRYPHON – “Carver Worthy”November 7, 2011
Gryphon by Charles Baxter
Pantheon Books, 2011
404 pages, $27.95 (hardcover)
Are you like me when you have a new anthology or collection of short stories in hand, you read the first and the last thinking they are probably the best? I loved Baxter’s Believers, and was disappointed by his lose-structured novel, Feast of Love, so I thought, on which side of the approval meter will Gryphon register. The needle is off the dial to the right. This is like discovering Raymond Carver you haven’t read. It is, literally, life changing. Some of the stories have appeared before, but this collection begins gradually and hits its stride with “Harmony of the World.” From then on we are in the writer’s hands.
There are three things I have to say about these stories. First, and least, is their Midwestern settings. There always seems to be a subtle metaphoric meaning to them that complements the theme. Second, Baxter takes on subjects that satisfy our curiosity: what would it be like to suddenly have a handgun or have a crazy grade-school substitute teacher or be a foreigner who finds himself in a large American city picking up a woman. Third, the endings seem anti-climactic, but right. And some of them, such as the ones for “Kiss Away” and “Shelter” are haunting in a way that stays with you long after the details of the story are forgotten. In fact: Warning, these stories will be remembered by the reader, not as stories, but as his or her own life experiences.
When they say the short story is dead, people are thinking of the Hemingway or the Faulkner they read in college. Life and literature has moved on. The Midwest has nothing, nothing, to be ashamed of when compared to the East and West Coasts. In fact, isn’t that part of our charm. We sneak up on you with our lack of pretension. And then…short stories (Baxter’s in particular) jolt life into sharp focus. Read Gryphon. It is today’s masterpiece.
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