Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry by Elizabeth. McCracken is a brilliant novel or collection of short stories; feel free to choose your label. It is an Amazon five-star plus read, and I highly recommend it to readers who might be in a reading slump. Elizabeth McCracken defines creativity by examples so diverse it is difficult to believe they were all created by the same author. There is a parenthetical note McCracken makes to the story. It looks like this. (Art of the Story). I didn’t find a note or reference to this note anywhere in the stories, but a reader should get a sense of what the author meant by reading the Introduction. Do not skip the Introduction. It is brilliant all by itself, but in that the author describes personal experiences in provoking “the muse,” it is not fiction and should stand separate from the collection.
I like to highlight sentences and phrases that impress me, but with this collection, I would have to highlight more than half the texts. In other words, a review is almost impossible without revealing a lot of spoilers. I will attempt a brief comment on each story followed by a quoted sentence or two that I thought especially good, entertaining, weird, or unique in the context of the story but is not a spoiler.
It’s Bad Luck to Die***** “Maybe you wonder how a Jewish girl from Des Moines got Jesus Christ tattooed on her three times: ascending on one thigh, crucified on the other, and conducting a miniature apocalypse beneath the right shoulder.” (p. 5). How do you walk away from a first line like that? If you did, still on page five we find this “I met Tiny the summer I graduated high school, 1965, when I was eighteen and he was forty-nine.” I am going to stick around and see where this is going. No more quotes but a comment. This story has one of the best last paragraphs which ends with one of the best last sentences that I have read in the past several years. Will I copy the paragraph and sentence here? Nope. Read this excellent first story to appreciate the build-up to great endings (there is more than one).
Some Have Entertained Angels, Unaware***** This is a complex story with many moving parts, all the parts are characters. I will start with the conclusion of the story; this tale has a perfect last paragraph. It is the only possible end to this story. Of all the many, many, observations I highlighted, here is my pick from this story. “Suzanne was least cheerful. She got along well with Dad, was formal and polite to Bobby, barely tolerated Mike, ignored Gert, and hated Kenneth Graves with an intensity that I only realized years later comes of having slept with a person.” (p.35). The “intensity” comment struck me because it seems to condemn all marriages, inevitably. The character descriptions in this story will lead many readers to agree with the story’s perfect conclusion.
Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry*****Everyone loves the surprise that comes with the arrival of a long-unseen relative. Right? And Aunt Helen Beck loved to surprise her relatives. A remark attributed to Winston Churchill (Guests and fish begin to smell after three days) might have hurt Aunt Helen Beck’s feelings. Three days were just the beginning of Helen’s visits to any of her relatives. She was not a freeloader; she contributed much during her stay, much of it in the form of stories. My favorite lines: “Aunt Helen Beck had many intentions about her death. She was about being dead the way some people are about being British—she wasn’t, and it seemed she never would be, but it was clearly something she aspired to, since all the people she respected were.” (p.58).
The Bar of Our Recent Unhappiness ***** Jake describes a bit of his life with wife Barbara to his good friend, George. When not doing so he muses alone about his life with Barbara. They are in a perfect symbiotic marriage. Jake likes feeling needed by Barbara. He also knows that he needs her. His life before meeting her gives me a quote I liked. “I am a man of many small mistakes. I am not competent. This is not harsh self-judgment; it is a fact. I have burned food all my life; I wear spotted clothing without noticing; I botch household jobs. I can’t fill out a check right the first time. I am not an expert at day-to-day living. This can’t be turned into anything good—you can’t say I’m being cautious or that I’m thinking deep thoughts—there’s no excuse for why I do things this way. I never learn.” (p. 94). But Barbara is sick now. Will Jake survive? What will be the driving force necessary to keep him alive?
Mercedes Kane ***** Ruthie lived with her mom, Ellen, and heard many stories about Mercedes Kane. Mom knew Mercedes as a whiz kid who had achieved fame by demonstrating her genius on quiz shows. Who would have thought that mom would one day meet Mercedes casually in a shop and invite her home? Mercedes would live an extended stay with mom and Ruthie as Ellen tried to encourage Mercedes to tell stories and reveal the secret of her genius. Ellen was in love with genius and the idea of being a genius which led me to highlight this passage: “You can’t be a genius, she (Ellen) told me (Ruthie) once, if you forget what it is you’re geniusing, and if you’re stupid, you might as well be absentminded.” (p. 105). Her recollections of Mercedes Kane may have been faulty.
What We Know About the Lost Aztec Children ***** Steven was not pleased when his father gave him the task of watching out for Uncle Plazo, an uncle who had come to visit his mother, a former circus performer who had headlined as the Armless Wonder for obvious reasons. Plazo was old going on ancient and might have been approaching dementia, hence the need for a watcher. But why Steven? At least Plazo was good for a lot of stories which were amusing except when acted out in public. Telling Steven about a former fellow circus performer, Plazo noted: “The man from Mars,” he said to me outside, “was from Kentucky. I always liked him.” (p. 133).
June ***** Phoebe met a new friend soon after moving into a new neighborhood. But it soon became apparent that the two were from different backgrounds and would likely have different adult outcomes. Describing her new friend, Phoebe observed: “She had other things I lacked: cowlicks, cavities, Barbie dolls, a number of relatives who lived with her, a record player and some glossy 45s, and her period. I, she explained to me, had these advantages: long hair, a resident father, my own room. June told me I was lucky in a voice that made me sure I was not.” (p. 149). I found a twist at the end of the story very sad.
Secretary of State ***** Should loyalty to one’s birth family ever supersede loyalty to a family one creates through marriage? That is a central question in this story. Sophie, a child, had to witness the battle for the control of her father’s soul between the Barron family and her father. Her mother, a Barron, was in the enemy camp. In later life, Sophie will reflect on the pressures that made up such a family. Sophie recalled: “Every older Barron had a younger Barron to take care of. Ida, a fretter even as a child, would once a month get up in the middle of the night and dress my mother before leading her out to the lawn. It wasn’t that she’d smelled smoke, exactly: it was just that she’d remembered a fire. (p. 168)
The Goings-On of the World ***** “One morning in the last week of May I got up, got dressed, and killed my wife. I remember an argument the night before about oranges, and Rosie threatening to leave.” (p. 197). These are the second and third sentences beginning this story. Joseph Green had remorse for much of his life, both in and out of prison, for what he had done. When contemplating suicide, he thought: “I imagined undoing my body as if it were a machine, unscrewing first my feet, then calves, opening my torso like a cabinet and clattering around in there, untightening kidneys.” (p. 198).
The novel is such a good collection of stories; words fail me in trying to describe them. Luckily for readers of this collection, words did not fail the author.