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10th Grade202432 Stories4th of July99 DaysA Change in AltitudeA Demon in My ViewA Dream of WolvesA Falling KnifeA Finely Tuned Apathy MachineA Heart of StoneA Life Lived RidiculouslyA Multitude of SinsA Parting GiftA Question of BloodA Quiet PlaceA Red Heart of MemoriesA River SutraA Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Slight Trick of the MindA Stir of BonesA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December About a BoyAbraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesActs of GodAfrican PsychoAfter DarkAfter YouAfter You'd GoneAfterwardsAgenda for MurderAliens in the Prime of Their LivesAll Alone in the UniverseAll Families Are PsychoticAll in the MindAll the Way HomeAltered LandAlternatives to SexAmanda's WeddingAmelia RulesAmericaAmerica AmericaAmnesiaAmong the DepartedAn Object of BeautyAngelsAngry Youth Comix #2AnimosityAnne SextonAre You Experienced?Aristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle DetectiveArlington ParkArtemis FowlAs Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank MeAsking For MurderAtonementAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBabylon and Other StoriesBad BoyBad SeedBag Of BonesBalancing ActsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeautiful GirlsBed of RosesBefore I Go to SleepBefore the FrostBeg the QuestionBeginner's GreekBellyBeneath the SkinBenedictionBest New American VoicesBig BrotherBilly and GirlBiteBlack & WhiteBlack HelicoptersBlack Market TruthBlameBlanketsBleed for MeBlind SightBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBlueprints for Building Better GirlsBody SurfingBoneMan's DaughtersBoneyardBoneyardBoomsdayBorder CrossingBoth Ways Is the Only Way I Want ItBoysBracketBrain TrustBrava, ValentineBreaking Out of BedlamBreathing UnderwaterBrick LaneBridge of SighsBridget JonesBridget Jones's DiaryBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBruisesBrŁselBullyBurn, Bitchy, BurnButterflyBy BloodBy The Sea ShoreCalled to KillCanadaCanvasCaricatureCase HistoriesCellCemetery DanceChange of HeartChangesChasing the DimeChild 44Cinema PanopticumCinnamon KissCircle NineCity of the LostClay's WayClose toYouClose Your EyesCloud 9 AffairCoincidenceCold CaseCold HitCold in HandCollected StoriesCome Up and See Me SometimeComfort and JoyCompulsionConfessions of a ShopaholicConfessions of an Ex-GirlfriendConsider LoveCouch FictionCrispinCross CountryCruddyCrumpleCutCypherDaddy's GirlsDakotaDamageDancing After HoursDanger in High PlacesDanger! Cross CurrentsDante's PoisonDante's WoodDarkest FearDating Without NovocaineDead BoysDead Canaries Don't SingDead EndDead EvenDeadly AdviceDeadly ButterflyDeadly GambleDeaf SentenceDear American AirlinesDear Zoe,Death of a Department ChairDeath of an AddictDeath with InterruptionsDeath Without TenureDeceitDecemberDeceptionDefending JacobDeliverance From EvilDemonologyDepraved HeartDisobedienceDisturbing GroundDivine JusticeDivisaderoDixie RoadDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDriftlessDuplicityEcstasyEmerald City BluesEmpire FallsEmpress of the WorldEnd over EndEven DeadlierEven Dogs in the WildEvenings at FiveEvery Visible ThingEye ContactFaking ItFalling ManFamily HistoryFascinationFat Angie Fear of the DarkFeeling Sorry for CeliaFellsideFeminist Philosophy And Science FictionFever 1793Field of BloodFinal JeopardyFlashpointFlorid StatesForgive the MoonFortunate SonFortune's RocksFour Blind MiceFour CornersFred the ClownFrom Girls to GrrlzGallatin CanyonGaudi AfternoonGenerosityGeorgia Under WaterGhost at the WindowGiftedGiganticGirl in TranslationGirl Walking BackwardsGirls Closed InGirls Like UsGod HeadGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoldengroveGone GirlGood GriefGrace, Tamar and Laszlo the BeautifulGuises of DesireHalf In Love With DeathHappiness Sold SeparatelyHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHappy Now?HarleyHarry Potter and the Sorcererís StoneHeartbeatHeftHell's IslandHey, Wait...High HeatHolidays On IceHope in a JarHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHouse of JavaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow People ChangeHow to Be GoodHow to Set a Fire and WhyHug MeI Can See YouI Don't Know How She Does ItI'd Know You AnywhereIf I Fall, If I DieIf You StayImagine Me GoneImposter for HireIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestIngloriousInnocentInnocent WorldInnocentsInspired SleepInvisibleIronshoreIs This What Other Women Feel Too?It Takes OneIt's Love We Don't UnderstandIt's Not Me, It's YouJacob Have I LovedJimmy CorriganJohn Dies at the EndJournal d'une femme adultŤreJust LifeKhalifahKick the Animal OutKicking the SkyKim: Empty InsideKisscutKissing DoorknobsKissing in AmericaKnockout MouseLambLast Chance SaloonLast NightLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLawnboyLayoverLeft NeglectedLeisureLeo the Lightning BugLeslie's JournalLet Me Be Frank With YouLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife ClassLife Is a Strange PlaceLife of PiLike the Red PandaLike You'd Understand, AnywayLikely to DieLisa, Bright and DarkLisey's StoryListen to the SilenceLithium for MedeaLittle Black LiesLittle ChildrenLittle LitLittle ScarletLiíl SantaLonerLord of the FliesLosing JuliaLostLost GirlLost in the ForestLost Memory of SkinLove and Shame and LoveLove in the AsylumLove Songs for the Shy and CynicalLovely Green EyesLowboyLucy Sullivan Is Getting MarriedMagnificenceMaking ScenesMaliceMan and BoyMan in the WoodsManstealing for Fat GirlsMary, MaryMercy StreetMerry Christmas, Alex CrossMiddlesexMischlingMisfortuneMissing PresumedMoby DickMomma and the Meaning of LifeMonsterMonths and SeasonsMr. CommitmentMrs. DallowayMunich AirportMurder BookMurder in ByzantiumMurder in the InnMusic for TorchingMy AbandonmentMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy Life with CorpsesMy Name Is RedMy Sister's KeeperMystery Time StoriesNasty, Short and BrutalNecessary NoiseNelson Mandela's Favorite African FolktalesNemesisNeuroticaNever Fade AwayNever Let Me GoNew Australian StoriesNight FilmNina: AdolescenceNo One Can Pronounce My NameNo Place to HideNone of the AboveNorth of BeautifulNothing RightNovel About My WifeObjects of My AffectionObservatory MansionsOdd HoursOddsOld SchoolOn Chesil BeachOn the CouchOnce You Go BackOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOne Good TurnOne More WednesdayOne Pill Makes You SmallerOptic Nerve #11Our Souls at NightOver Tumbled GravesPaint It BlackPanicParadiseParadise LodgeParanoiaParty GirlPeculiaPerfect LivesPharmakonPhobicPianoPictures of 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the MissingSongs Without WordsSounds from the Bell JarSourlandSpeakSpeaking With the AngelSpeed ShrinkingSquirrel Seeks ChipmunkSshhhh!Stealing TimeSteel BreezeStill AliceStill MissingStir-FryStoner & SpazStop PretendingStraight ManStrange FleshStrange Stories for Strange Kids Summer BlondeSunstrokeSupreme CourtshipSwimmerSwimming Sweet ArrowSwimming to ElbaSwimming with StrangersSworn to SilenceSycamoreSylvia PlathTaking FlightTales of PsychotherapyTalking to AddisonTeaseTell the Truth, Shame the DevilTestimonyThat Old Cape MagicThe DrifterThe 101 Best Graphic NovelsThe 7 Deadly Sins SamplerThe Abortionist's DaughterThe Abstinence TeacherThe AccidentalThe AdultsThe AlienistThe Almost MoonThe Arctic IncidentThe ArrangementThe Artist of DisappearanceThe Austere AcademyThe Average American MarriageThe AwakeningThe Babes in the WoodThe Bad BeginningThe Beach HouseThe Beast of CretaceaThe Beat Goes OnThe Bell JarThe Best AwfulThe Big GirlsThe Big KissThe Big LoveThe Bird HouseThe Bird 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ManThe Undertaker's WifeThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia MossThe UnnamedThe UnquietThe Unseen WorldThe Usual MistakesThe Vanishing Act of Esme LennoxThe VegetarianThe Virgin BlueThe Virgin CureThe Water ChildrenThe WaveThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Whole TruthThe Wide WindowThe Wild Assís SkinThe Woman and the ApeThe Woman UpstairsThe Wrong Side of GoodbyeThe Year of the FloodThe Year That FollowsTherapyThere Are No EldersThings You Should KnowThinks...Third Class SuperheroThirty NothingThis Beautiful LifeThis Body of DeathThose GirlsThose Who Wish Me DeadThumbsuckerTimothy Tunny Swallowed a BunnyTina's MouthTiny DeathsTisToby's RoomTony & SusanToo Much HappinessTooth and NailTouchTouching Spirit BearTouchy SubjectsTrailer GirlTransparencyTraumaTreacherous LoveTrespassTriburbiaTucker PeakTuringTwentieth Century EightballTwinmakerTwo Can PlayTwo Little Girls in BlueUnaccustomed EarthUnder Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder the DamUnder 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Notes on a ScandalWhat We Don't Know About ChildrenWhat's So Terrible About Swallowing an Apple Seed?When We Were AnimalsWhen We Were OrphansWhere We LivedWhite HotWhy Did I EverWidowWild AwakeWild ChildWill@epicqwest.comWillful CreaturesWitWithout TessWolf in White VanWomen's Murder Club Box SetYou or Someone Like YouYou Should Have KnownYou Will Know MeYour Body is ChangingYour Heart Belongs to MeZapZap
In Len Gasparini's earlier collection of short stories A Demon in my View many of the narrators were boys or young men reflecting on their childhood. A lot of stories were set in Windsor, Ontario; others in various cities in the United States. There was a strongly autobiographical feel to the collection, and there were some dark moments. The quality was uneven, although A Demon in my View provided a number of memorable characters and images. The complimentary publisher's bookmark that comes with Gasparini's latest collection The Undertaker's Wife shows a smiling author, less pensive and preoccupied than in his last collection. I took this to be an indication that perhaps Gasparini had exorcised his demons. Perhaps I could expect something a little more upbeat and cheerful. The Undertaker's Wife is recognizably the work of the same author, and the autobiographical feel is still there. There are several stories in which a middle aged man reflects on his childhood and youth. Could it be, I wondered, that Gasparini is warming up to write a memoir? Overall I felt that this collection offered some intriguing glimpses although on occasion characters were left underdeveloped.
The book begins with a twenty-one year old narrator home in Windsor, Ontario, on leave from the US navy. The period is late fifties, and Gasparini gives us plenty of clues to the atmosphere. Chubby Checker, the twist, a Chev Bel Air. Even twenty-one was young in the fifties, and Frank and Millie recounts a coming of age. You can get a sense of the mood as the first person narrator, walking on the beach with the very attractive Millie tells us "I never knew there could be so much summer in one afternoon". Frank and Millie evokes an innocence that makes for a strongly nostalgic story, and Gasparini manages this without sentimentality. In the following story Absent without Leave the unnamed narrator goes AWOL from the navy and Gasparini develops a restless, moody character who holds himself aloof and can't settle. There's a clear connection to the next story whose twenty two year old narrator is called Larry, and who lives on a tobacco farm where he enjoys the company of Tina the farmer's daughter. The Grass is Greener is a gently evoked story of first love and of loss. A visit to Windsor sees Larry flirting with Millie (from Frankie and Millie) and incurring the jealous wrath of Tina. Scenes on the farm carry the scents and color of rural life as traditional values give way to those of the footloose early sixties.
In Ghosts, the narrator is back in his hometown of Windsor to bury his mother's ashes. He visits his old neighborhood. It is Halloween, and his mood is one of "melancholy nostalgia." After various reminiscences, he is confronted by the present, in the form of a cocky youngster driving a Honda Civic. The older man, distracted by his ruminations, has almost caused an accident, and although he acknowledges his fault he is offended by the raised middle finger and abuse from the youngster. The spell of nostalgia is broken, but the narrator has one more card to play. The story ends on a bitter note. Nostalgia figures in several other stories, like Ballroom Dancing for Beginners, and My Uncle Roy.
Another of Gasparini's themes is the frequently disappointed musings of the middle aged man reflecting on the stud he was. Winter Fantasy is a brief vignette in which such a man delays his approach to a bank teller so that he can talk to the young Asian woman he would have been sure to seduce in his day. A chance meeting in an Italian airport is the theme of Laura in which a very similar man becomes besotted by the young woman standing next to him in a queue. In the last story in the book, Montego Bay, a middle aged Drouillard actually manages to consummate a chance affair with yet another young woman.
Gasparini writes a good dark and brooding story. A day in June features Ellery, a dyspeptic writer down on his luck and just about everything else. He who thinks of himself as a 'sexy sexagenerian', but he really doesn't seem like it. The air is humid in downtown Toronto, and there isn't much about the day that doesn't stick to Ellery as he buys cigarettes, pays his phone bill, gazes at women and fobs off an acquaintance who tries to interest him in a snuff movie. This is followed by the title story in which a rather self indulgent poet has an affair with the wife of an undertaker. Scenes may disturb some readers.
It's hard to sum up Gasparini's style. He provides a lot of spare, terse description that evokes places and people with admirable economy. His characters, although by no means all likeable, feature some interesting and intriguing individuals with unfinished lives. The stories are littered with references to literature, and a surprising number of characters are poets. There are plenty of individuals you want to know more about. Gasparini does have a tendency to overtell, something that conflicts with his otherwise spare style. For example, there's a scene in The Grass is Greener where a young couple are watching All Fall Down at a drive in. They've recently argued about the young man's lack of commitment, something exemplified in the film by a philanderer played by Warren Beatty. More angry words between the two lovers, and the comparison is well made. Then Gasparini cuts in to have the narrator reflect "The similarity between the movie and my own situation struck me as ironic."
Is Len Gasparini writing a biography in amongst these and his earlier stories? It's something of a truism to say that writers draw on their life experience, but there's something so deeply personal about some of these stories that it only feels likely to be satisfied by making the switch to non-fiction. This sense is heightened by the apparent connections between the time, people and events in this collection. Perhaps that's only an impression, and Gasparini is simply very good at creating a complete fictional life. In that case there's a novel waiting to be written. I don't mean to demean the short story as a form, nor Gasparini's ability to capture the crucial moments of a life. But there seems to be a larger narrative connecting the episodes of these stories. The setting is Windsor, Ontario; the subject is in his sixties; the mood is both dark and comic, and there's poetry in the air.
© 2008 Tony O'Brien
Tony O'Brien is a short story writer, and lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of Auckland, New Zealand: email@example.com