Monday, July 30, 2007

Reader's Diary #273- Rob Hardy: Kumquat

Anyone following my Wednesday Compares over the past few weeks has been treated to the humorous rhymes of the mysterious Rob Hardy (as well as others, but he's the one who got the ball rolling). Who is this guy?

Using my handy-dandy internet skills, I found out a little. (Rob, if you're reading, don't worry. This will not be a "This Is Your Life" moment!)

As it happens, Book Mine Set visitors aren't the only fans of Rob's work. It turns out that he's a published author. Having poems, essays, and short stories published in loads of journals and anthologies, I had to check out some of his work.

As exciting as all this was for me, I had prepared myself not to bring it up if I didn't like his writing. He's been cordial enough here, why post a nasty review of his work?

Fortunately, I can honestly say I'm a fan and I needn't worry about treading carefully. Except that perhaps I should apologize for the unsolicited exposure!

As part of my weekly effort to write one short story post, I thought I'd call everyone's attention to Rob Hardy's terrific short story, "Kumquat", published by Plum Ruby Review in 2004 and available for your reading pleasure here.

On the surface, "Kumquat" is a simple enough story told as a letter to Carol Shields from one of her fans Meredith Frazier. Written "in memory of Carol Shields," it's a great homage to her. Not only is it stylistically similar to her writing, it can also be taken as commentary of what made her writing so appealing to so many people.

Meredith's favourite Carol Shields piece was the short story "Mrs. Turner Cutting The Grass." I haven't read that (I've only ever read her Stone Diaries and Unless), and most likely it would give me a greater appreciation for Rob's story, but I still don't feel it's necessary in order to enjoy it. Like a Carol Shield's novel, the plot isn't exactly overflowing with a lot of twists and turns. About herself, Meredith claims she is "just an ordinary person, like the people in [Carol Shields's] books."

While that particular sentence may not be exactly subtle, it makes a good point. Carol Shields's characters did come across as ordinary, but through her skill- and Rob's- it's clear that ordinary does not equate to boring.

Meredith who had aspirations of becoming a writer herself, now works as a cashier at a grocery store and takes care of her ailing mother on evenings and weekends. Sounds average enough, right? But Rob takes the time to show that just as ordinary does not equal boring, average does not equal simple. In just two short pages, he is able to give Meredith complexity and depth that some authors are not able to accomplish in an entire novel. In other words, he brings her to life.

Plus, there's a wonderfully clever little plot about a man and a tabloid, but I'll let you discover that on your own.

You might be wondering about the title as well. In Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach, he writes that the Zen attitude is that "no words can capture truth."In Glennon's Dodecahedron, he recounts the old myths about words having the ability to capture genies. It doesn't bode well with me that people look at words this way. I'm trying hard not to sound trite, but I'd rather think of words (in the right hands) as letting the truth free rather than capturing anything. I felt like Rob's story was somehow more in sync with my impressions. While it may or may not have been his intention (Rob, you needn't clarify!) I think the kumquats in this story could be used as a metaphor for life. With that in mind, read Meredith's final paragraph.

(Just a reminder that if anyone else out there should write a post about a short story, please feel free to submit the link to me at jmutford [at] hotmail [dot] com to use in my short story themed Bookworms Carnival coming up in the fall.)


Chris said...

Mrs Turner Mowing the Grass is so good! It made me look at my neighbours differently- lol! I really love Shields's writing. I must check this out.

Chris said...

Oops, 'Cutting' the Grass.

Rob's story was really good and very much like Shields. I really enjoyed it. Thanks!

Dewey said...

I've enjoyed Rob's rhymes, too, and I'm sure I'll enjoy this story as well.

John Mutford said...

Chris: Glad you enjoyed it. Where can I find "Mrs. Turner Cutting The Grass" btw?

Dewey: Hope you enjoyed it!

Rob Hardy said...

I'm speechless... Thanks, John, for all the attention and the kind words!

"Mrs. Turner Cutting the Grass" is in the collection "Various Miracles," which is full of wonderful stories. There is also, recently, a volume of her complete stories available. I also highly recommend her novels "Swann" and "Unless," and her lovely little biography of "Jane Austen."

Chris said...

Ditto, what Rob said, plus in The Collected Stories of Carol Shields.

I can't find the Jane Austen bio, it not in my library, but I would love to read it.

John Mutford said...

Rob: You're welcome and thanks for the recommendations- I've read Unless but I'll keep the others in mind.

Chris (and/or Rob): If you'd like to write about that Carol Shields collection or any individual short story, it would make a great addition to the Bookworms Carnival- hint, hint.

Chris said...

John, I was actually thinking abou it.

Rob Hardy said...

I hope Chris will write something about Carol Shields for the Carnival. I'm thinking about tackling one of my favorite Flannery O'Connor stories, or else (at the risk of being boring) a Nathaniel Hawthorne story (since I've been thinking a lot about Hawthorne for the past couple of years). I'll definitely write something, and pray that you'll like it!