Dinner & A Story




This month’s story is from the wonderful Maile Meloy.  I’ve been a fan of her stories since I stumbled upon her wonderful collection, BOTH WAYS IS THE ONLY WAY I WANT IT.  When I opened up my June 23rd New Yorker I was thrilled to see a story from Ms. Meloy. 



Madame Lazarus” is the story of a heavily loaded gift between lovers.  A newly    retired   French gentleman receives the gift of a small dog from his partner.  At first the narrator resists the sweet terrier, Cordelia, as he rightfully recognizes her as a first step in his lover’s retreat.

(It is funny how a gesture, like the gift of a puppy, can foretell the end of a relationship.  When I was young and unhappy in my first marriage, planning on leaving but not certain how to go about it, I learned how to tune up my car, change the spark plugs, etc…  I remember one afternoon, I was washing and vacuuming my Volvo 122s and my husband looked out the window and said, “Your leaving me.” He was right.)  




As any dog-loving person would suspect, our French gentleman comes to adore his dog.  When he walks Cordelia around Paris he finds that people who might have ignored him before now speak to him.   He says of Cordelia, “At first I believed that the appearance of love from a dog is only a strategy, to win protection.  Cordelia chose me because I was the one to feed her and to chase away the hawks and the wolves.  But after a time we crossed over a line, Cordelia and I.  We went out each day to chase the pigeons and smell the piss of other dogs on the trees, and we came home to read the paper.”  The story follows the unraveling relationship of the narrator and his lover, the grip Cordelia gains on the narrator's heart, and the way in which the man and dog age together.




(My dog and I too have crossed over a line.  Leo came to our family when our children were teenagers.  He was our daughter’s dog, but I was so grateful to have at least one person in the house greet me with glee whenever I opened the front door. Now he sleeps in our bed and we scramble eggs for him.)

As the story progresses, we learn that Cordelia is ill and our narrator’s world is shrinking.  Meloy walks a potentially sentimental knife edge, any story about a dying dog can be a tearjerker, but Meloy’s writing veers away from manipulated emotion.  The loss of Cordelia is a terrible blow, and in it the narrator recognizes the end of other relationships, “The dog is the last thing to tie him to me, and now—snip.  Soon I will start walking into the bedroom, staring at nothing, listening for voices that are not there.”   



In the end we are deeply moved and feel so much empathy for our narrator and for Cordelia.  When the vet says of Cordelia, “Tu n’es pas immortelle, après tout”  we all feel the weight of his words.  



This story calls for something vaguely French, easy to prepare, light and delicious.  Something lively, with bright tang and texture, to remind us of our resilient hearts, and of course with tender morsels for our dogs. Warm Spinach Salad with Bacon, Tomatoes and Pecans





Enjoy the story and console yourself by sharing the lovely salad and a bottle of delicious pink wine, something like J. Christopher's, Cristo Irresisto, with a loved one.  Oh yes, and save some bacon for your dog!  (please note, all green text are links to books, stories, recipes and wine!)


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Writer, With Kids





Recently the writer, Cari Luna, invited me to participate in her blog, Writer, With Kids.  Luna is the author of the highly readable novel, The Revolution of Everyday, from Tin House Books.  You can read my Oregonian review of her highly readable novel here. Below is an excerpt from the interview. 

How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?

Before children, I never felt the joy/fear mix so fully. The awe and wonder of holding your baby, along with this suddenly deep deep connection you have with your partner as you two share the intimate knowledge and appreciation of this new little being. Parenthood blew open the doors of my heart.

In relation to my writing, being a mother made me more compassionate, empathetic, and open. It made me understand how important it is for a writer to have great affection for her characters, no matter how much they screw up, no matter how much you might not want to eat dinner with them, you have to recognize and honor their complexity, their ability to surprise you. (Think teenagers here!) No judging.

Read the full interview!




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Goodbye to My Hometown Bookseller


Though I no longer live in Santa Cruz, the news that a beloved bookstore will be closing at the end of February, hit me hard. I visited Capitola Book Cafe as a young women who dreamed of someday writing a novel. I discovered writers that inspired me, browsed the cookbook section planning dinner parties, dreamed of great trips in the travel section. One of my first writing groups ever met in the attic. I drank coffee, ate scones and wrote stories in the cafe. When my children were small we would stop in after   preschool to have a cookie and read Kevin Henkes books. Later, I brought them to the midnight release parties for Harry Potter. My husband went to his first author reading at The Capitola Book Cafe.  He saw Ann Packer read from her book, The Dive From Clausen's Pier, and he made the gaff of asking, incredulous, "How could you end it book that way?" offering up a huge spoiler. Ms. Packer told him, graciously, "Some people may not have read the book."  And my poor husband was so mortified.  She and the staff and the other readers made him feel fine.  It was a gracious moment at the book cafe.  Oh, and the authors I heard…Sherman Alexie whose voiced boomed over the explosions seeping through the walls of the adjacent movie theatre, Adrienne Rich, Andre Dubus III, so many I cannot recount. Then the cafe was kind to invite me to read at the store at the launch of my book. It was truly a homecoming for me.  My 7th grade English teacher, my first Creative Writing teacher, family and friends were all there.  What a generous and supportive community. I feel very lucky to have had the book cafe as a feature in my life in Santa Cruz. I will miss them terribly.


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I feel bad about my blog.  I haven’t visited for months.  Not because I forget, au contraire, I think about it often.  It’s like a neglected plant that I keep forgetting to water.  It just sits there in the corner, all droopy and accusatory.  Yet like the potting soil, my mind goes dry whenever I think about the blog (usually at a stop light or right before I fall asleep). Nothing seems postworthy... 

And then our family had this cruddy holiday season—uncovered lies, nasty outbursts, a latke grease fire, cathartic weeping, crashing on a neighbors couch, interspersed with good food, lovely homemade gifts, apologies, friends, the small kindness of coffee served in bed—really it was like the worst holiday movie ever, all the heartbreaking scenes from “The Family Stone” and “Home for the Holidays” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” with tiny bits of slapstick, humor, and harmony.  If it’s any indication of how ready we were to say adieu to the season, our Christmas tree was naked and abandoned on the curb by 9:00 am the day after Christmas.  We’re a volatile bunch with exposed nerve endings and not afraid say how we feel. Of course, in the end we're all fine.  We hang together in the same inelegant way burlap holds together, big chunky gaps, itchy and sometimes ugly, but überfunctional. We exhaust and forgive and love one another. 

The emotional exhaustion of the season left me reeling and recognizing that all I can do is shift is my outlook.  Expectations always get me in trouble.   And so, my New Year’s Resolution:  find joy anywhere it pops up.  Hence my #onegoodthing project.  Everyday on facebook I’ll post the apex moment of my day.  And then on Sundays, I’ll post the week’s good moments here. Voila!  A blog post and a happy outlook.   Any readers that care to, please post your good thing, I’d love to know about it. 


1 January: gorgeous day at the Oregon coast: expansive horizon, the light, the company.


2 January: received TWO rejections today: they said: the piece succeeded on its own terms, especially strong closing paragraph, lovely essay, near miss, lacked a narrative hook, nice (this one feels particularly damning!), keep sending. Trying to upset my paradigm and see these rejections as an open invitation to dig deeper and submit again.


3 January: "Just a pimple, a minor irritation, end of story," said the Oncologist.

4 January: Songbirds! In Portland, in January.

Wishing you all #onegoodthing each and every day.  Happy New Year.


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I recently had a delightful exchange with Cortnee Howard over at the Best Damn: Getting Your Literary Life website.  I'm always grateful to engage with readers and Cortnee asked some terrific questions.  Check it out.  



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