Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Trouble With Thurber

Shanti Arts recently released Nothing But Trouble by the renowned master of the short story Bob Thurber. My first encounter with Thurber was when he submitted a short essay for Stone Voices titled “The Cheap and Gaudy Heart.” We published the piece in the summer of 2012

Oddly, rather mysteriously, some of us are more malleable than others. Implanted with some essential and ancient aptitude that we can take no credit for. I was fortunate, almost clever, not quite bright, but able to adjust. Like Siddhartha, I was able to fast, and think, and wait. I survived by my wits, gritting my teeth, taking my beatings, clutching my belly against hunger, determined to outlast one suffering event after another, constantly observing, studying every sting, every soreness. I learned as I burned. And I grew, and I adjusted (or maladjusted) but I endured.

As I learned more about Thurber from reading about him on Goodreads and various blogs, I was compelled to read his “dysfunctional novel,” Paperboy. It was a good decision on my part. The book grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I read the book in one day; it’s short, so that’s not saying much, but I simply could not put the book down. When I would look up off the page for a moment, I just stared ahead, feeling numb and shaken, as if I’d been slapped in the face. Dark, gritty, raw, wrenching. I never knew there were people and situations like those I met in Paperboy. But now I know.

Thurber describes himself as an old (not true because he and I were born the same year), self-taught writer who grew up dirt poor in Rhode Island. He worked at writing every day for twenty years before submitting his work for publication. He went on to publish three hundred short fictions and collect more than forty awards and citations, including The Barry Hannah Fiction Prize, the Meridian Editors' Prize, and the Marjory Bartlett Sanger Award.

His stories are rough and tough, sometimes disturbing. Still, they’re hard to put aside. Something about his straightforward, succinct, and, dare I say, sincere writing style keeps you tethered to his work. I think it’s because his writing is true—not in the sense of being autobiographical—but in the sense that they germinate and grow from that place in him that remembers his difficult beginnings. His background is the breeding ground for his stories. So they are true, coming forth from his experiences, his difficulties, and, as he says, his ability to endure.

I’ve thought about this quite a lot—how traumatic and difficult experiences impact and shape our lives and our creative endeavors. Thurber works through his difficult life experiences by writing and churning out stories. Others paint or make photographs or act on stage or write poems. As a photographer, I am often asked for an artist statement, just as I ask for one from the artists whose work I feature on our website or in our publications. For the first several years of my work with photography, I rewrote my statement dozens of times. Then, one day it hit me. For me, it’s quite simple. I make photographs because it makes everything right. It helps me to make sense of the world. I think that’s what art is all about—making sense of what is happening to us and around us and in us. When an artist does this successfully, the work is true, not in the sense of being autobiographical, but in the sense of touching upon Truth, with a capital T.  

Thurber, with a capital T, is a successful writer. His work uncovers some difficult parts of humanity, but, in his own wonderful way, his work makes sense of the world. Maybe it’s because buried deep within his dark and difficult tales, there is hope. And hope is what makes everything right.

Nothing But Trouble

Stories by Bob Thurber
Images by Vincent Louis Carrella

$22.95  |  ISBN: 978-0-9885897-6-6 

available at www.shantiarts.com
most online booksellers, 
and many fine bookstores

Christine Cote
May 4, 2014

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