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Fitting Endsby Dan Chaon
Synopses & Reviews
1. Chaon has professed to being influenced by the well-known old story, 'The Lady or the Tiger?' Like that story, many of the stories in Fitting Ends deliberately end on the edge of a moment, leaving the reader to decide what the future holds in store for a character. Do the stories point the reader toward a particular conclusion, or do they leave the unanswered questions entirely to the reader's own view of human nature? 2. In 'Presentiment,' Rich thinks: 'Love didn't have anything to do with the outside world: It just happened. Some mysterious brain chemistry set in, and you couldn't avoid it.' Is his love for his autistic son really so mysterious? How does this example of love compare with others in the book? Are some types of love more positive than others? 3. Many of the young characters in Fitting Ends exhibit a great dread of the future. What does their pessimism stem from? Is it a function of psychology? Family and social circumstances? The larger culture? Do you think these young adults will continue to face the world with such trepidation as they get older, or is there hope that they will grow out of it? 4. A review of Fitting Ends in the Chicago Tribune said, 'Dan Chaon shows a marked affinity in both setting and sensibility with fellow Midwesterners Wright Morris and Willa Cather.' What is a 'Midwestern sensibility'? Are there places in these stories that seem to particularly represent such a sensibility? Which aspects of Midwestern life does Chaon seem critical of, and which does he appear to view with affection? 5. In 'Thirteen Windows,' the narrator admits that sometimes he sees things that aren't there, and many of the other characters in the book struggle with skewed perceptions of the world around them. To what extent are the various characters' problems a result of misinterpretations of reality? To what extent are the characters lying to themselves? Do you see some of the narrators as more clear-sighted and honest than others? Which ones seem most trustworthy? 6. 'Chinchilla,' 'Accidents,' and 'Going Out' all present children who must cope with a parent's alcoholism or mental illness, but every child responds to his or her situation in a different way. Why? What are the factors that seem to influence each of these children the most? 7. Ghosts and ghostly visions figure prominently in several of the stories. In other stories a memory of a person's past self haunts the present. What do ghosts represent in the world of these stories? What would it take to dispel these ghosts? 8. Several of the characters in the book have made an effort to break loose from their small-town roots, and they are often in conflict with those they have left behind. What are the advantages and disadvantages of setting off on one's own, versus the decision to stay put and remain close to one's origins? 9. In his interview, Chaon talks of being concerned about the order in which the stories appear in Fitting Ends. How did you approach reading the stories in this book? Did you start with the first story and read straight through until the end, or did you skip around here and there? Would the order in which you read the stories change the effect of the book as a whole? Why do you think Chaon chose to place the stories in this particular order? 10. The epigraph of the book evokes Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, and Scrooge's desperate question to the Ghost of Christmas Future: 'Are these the shadows of things that Will be, or are they the shadows of things that May be, only?' In what ways are these stories about fate, about the 'shadows of things that Will be'? Are the characters' futures sealed, or is there hope for them to change? Are their ends really 'fitting,' or should we to take the title of the collection
My Sister's Honeymoon: A Videotape
There is a moment or two of vertigo in the beginning, that kind of cinema veritéeacute; thing that all the young future filmmakers back at school were so crazy about for a while. The date stamp in the corner of the screen holds steady: 8-11-94, it says, but the time stamp moves swiftly. PM 12:01:46, and the second counter babbles through a garble of numbers, almost too rapidly to notice. 12:02:01, and there is nothing recognizable on the screen. Many seconds scroll by until we can recognize that the blur of color and darkness has some purpose. 12:03:56 before the camera comes to rest on the motion of the landscape passing outside the car: the blurry silver stream of an interstate guardrail sliding past, impressionistic dapples of green and yellow vegetation, and the sky. We're moving forward. 12:04:28. 12:04:51. It is almost 12:06:20 before part of the dashboard rises up and we see a map. One of my sister's red fingernails appears hugely in the corner of the frame.
We hear her voice: Do you think this is working?
She is not very steady. The camera jerks and bobs-the window frame, the glint of the rearview mirror, her feet, barely recognizable in the dimness below the dash. She points the camera at the map, focuses.
PM 12:59:03 8-11-94
My sister's husband’s grip is firmer. He makes a clean sweep over an orchard of apple trees, an orderly orchard made quaint and picturesque by its many boughs of bright, heavy fruit. A red van crosses in front, obscuring the view for a moment, and then my brother-in-law arcs slowly over the trees again.
Old apple orchard, he murmurs solemnly, as if reading aloud to himself, as if narrating for a blind person. “Along the side of the road. Lots of apples
He zooms in for a close-up of a particularly bountiful branch. Another red van, or the same one, drives across the picture.
PM 1:18:32 8-11-94
Deer are eating grass by the side of the road. The couple doesn't say anything.
It is about three in the morning, and I lean back, taking a slow drink from my beer. I don't know why I’m watching this videotape-out of boredom, maybe, restlessness, insomnia. I’m not sure why I’ve come here after all, to my sister and brother-in-law's new house, not far from the small town where my sister and I grew up. I guess one has to be somewhere at Christmas, and I am single, unconnected, and we used to be close, my sister and I. You haven't seen your new niece yet, my sister said to me. You’ve got to come. But my sister goes to bed at ten every night, and the quiet seems to expand and expand, radiating out from the newly occupied house. In a nursing home five miles away, my mother lies in her bed, her thumb and forefinger moving against each other in her sleep, the late early stages of Parkinson's. Across miles, in a distant city, my empty apartment sits in darkness. The faucet drips slowly into a pot I didn't have time to wash before I left.
On the screen, the camera tries to zoom in on a doe, who is now lifting her head suspiciously, but the picture won't focus properly. High weeds obscure the view of the suddenly alert animal; the frame is mottled with blurs of leaves.
They’re sure not scared of people, are they? my sister says at last, in a stage whisper.
PM 2:14:05 8-11-94
Fitting Ends is the first collection of fiction by the acclaimed author of the National Book Award finalist Among the Missing and now appears in this newly revised edition with two never before collected stories.
Written before Among the Missing and originally published by Northwestern University Press, Fitting Ends features thirteen stories detailing the almost panicked angst of the American generation now approaching thirty. Struggling with gaps between youthful expectations and adult experiences, these characters long for understanding and acceptance—but are thwarted by failed love, family disruptions, numbing work, and sexual confusion.
Chaon is one of the most promising new voices in fiction, and this re-issued collection offers further evidence of his unique talent.
“The best of these stories . . . possess a rare, disorienting force. When you look up from them, the quality of light seems a little different. It’s a reminder to those of us who have almost forgotten what literature can sometimes do.”
—Boston Book Review
“The most honest, observant and timely book written this year about the American generation now approaching thirty . . . Chaon speaks with clarity of feeling, and more than a little oddball wit, about the lives of those left behind the demographic curve of America—men and woman with pointless jobs, doughy faces, soured relationships, bad credit. . . . Each story pulls you into its subtle emotional vortex, largely because of Chaon’s knack for simple but poignant detail.”
—New York Newsday
“Remarkable . . . Each story is a marvel of complexity, dense with meaning and nuance. . . . Very few first works are as solid, moving, and pitch-perfect as Chaon’s.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[AN] OFTEN PERCEPTIVE, LUCID VOICE.”
—The New York Times Book Review
Table of Contents
My sister's honeymoon: a videotape — Going out — Spirit voices — Chinchilla — Thirteen windows — Fraternity — Transformations — Sure I will — -- Transformations — Sure I will — Accidents — Do you know what I mean? — Rapid transit — Presentiment — Fitting ends.
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