I have a new story in The Stinging Fly. It’s about woodturners, sort of.

I haven’t done too much woodworking lately, not since last Spring when I finished my blanket chest. Our place is so small, there’s only so much room for another box, bowl, or coffee table. But some things from the past few years filtered into my story.

Like the woodpile at Ian’s parents’ home on the Oregon coast; the chalky cedary smell of woodshops; time spent in slow and patient purpose; bark, burl, rings; a little bowl I turned from some sweet-smelling apple; a tin helmet I saw when wandering around Portland one day; and this fog that won’t lift and makes me wonder is the world out there at all.

Small bowl, turned from apple

Blanket Chest with Bear Dovetail Joints, Blanket Chest Handmade Dovetail Joints Woodpile at the Coast WoodpileTable Top Legs In The Air Tin Helmet Morning fog, Portland

The Spring issue of The Stinging Fly looks beautiful, as ever, is available to order online, and will be in (Irish) bookshops very soon.

 

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For now, Portland Oregon

A short essay I wrote is up on Orion Magazine’s website.

“My husband wants land. He digs through websites, hoping to uncover a patch we could afford. I want it too but it hurts to see him look at places someone else will live on, or subdivide. It’s not our time, yet. We plant pennies in our bank account and watch them grow too slowly. In the meantime, we live in a condo in the city….”     [continue reading at Orion]

The Big Pink in a Portland Mist.

I love The Place Where You Live feature; I’m glad they brought it back.

And I do love Portland, Oregon—even on days like this one.

Sometimes a Great Notion.

When I first moved to Oregon, I asked around about local literature and everyone’s first response was invariably Geek Love. If a novel has any relation to the place where it comes from, Katherine Dunn’s story of a family of circus freaks is pure Portland. Bizarre, irreverent and bewitching, Geek Love keeps it weird.

But Portland doesn’t define Oregon. There’s impenetrable forest, ravenous rivers and mighty mountain beyond the strange city limits and it stretches all the way to the wild Pacific Ocean.

Along the western slopes of the Oregon Coastal Range… come look: the hysterical crashing of tributaries as they merge into the Wakonda Auga River…

The first little washes flashing like thick rushing winds through sheep sorrel and clover, ghost fern and nettle, sheering, cutting… forming branches. Then, through bearberry and salmonberry, blueberry and blackberry, the branches crashing into creeks, into streams. Finally, in the foothills, through tamarack and sugar pine, shittin bark and silver spruce – the the green and blue mosaic of Douglas fir – the actual river falls five hundred feet… and look: opens out upon the fields.

The opening lines of Sometimes a Great Notion pulled me into its pages like ivy curling round a tree stump. Ken Kesey’s words – his story and his characters – wrapped around and through me, utterly compelling and savage and sorrowful.

Sometimes a Great Notion is about a logging family on the Oregon coast who refuse to heed a union strike against a lumber company and continue cutting down trees, incensing the rest of the town. It’s peculiar to this State but it’s also about America and freedom and a man’s right to do whatever he goddamn pleases. It’s about memory and the interpretation of past events. It’s about festering resentment and loyalty and revenge. It’s about finding some space to be in the world.

It was a long read at over seven hundred pages. Fragmented and meandering, with sudden shifts and slow slides in narrating voices, it wasn’t always easy. Nor was it laborious or wearisome. Rather, I felt like I was on an epic but necessary journey into the heart of a very complex, divisive and painful point in Oregon’s history. It often made me gasp and cry and hang my head and sigh.

I loved it.

If I did such things as top tens then this novel would be towering somewhere in that list.