Despite this fresh catastrophe, I may yet turn up to hear Charles Baxter read from his new novel Saul and Patsy next week, and if you’re in my neck of the woods you should consider attending too. I met Baxter half a lifetime ago when he graciously came to speak to the staff of my high school’s literary magazine. Harmony of the World and Through the Safety Net provided some of the first contemporary short stories that I really loved. The lead story in Harmony of the World has a delicious first paragraph that should give all of Terry’s music-loving readers (are you still out there?) a good bracing shudder:
While Kate practiced the piano in the tiny third-floor apartment, Wiley cooked dinner, jogging in place in front of the stove. His feet made the pans clatter, and, after twenty minutes of exercise, he began to hyperventilate. He stopped, took his pulse, then continued, jogging to the spice rack, to the refrigerator’s butter shelf, then back to the stove. The air smelled of cumin, chicken stock, and tomatoes–something Mexican. The noise was terrible. He knocked over a spatula. A bottle of soda fell into the catfood dish. Worse yet, he hummed tunes from his high school prom days, melodies like “Call Me Mister Blue” and “Dream Lover,” in a nasal, plaintive whine. The noise diverted Kate’s attention and broke her Schubert sonatas into small pieces of musical trash.
I’m eager to return to Baxter after a long time away. He is part of the reason I still keep up with short story collections despite a growing preference for novels. I just wait for the paperbacks and hope for something as startling and transcendent as, say, Adam Johnson’s Emporium.