Weird short stories

By
December 4, 2003

Mills College Weekly

The following series of remarks comprises my superficial review
of a complex collection of stories called First Love, Last
Rites
by British author Ian McEwan.

“Homemade” is the sexually allusive title of this tale about an
adolescent boy who, predictably, longs for carnal knowledge; he
grows progressively more preoccupied with mysteries of women and
sex, gets impatient, plots and eventually persuades his younger
sister to engage in sexual intercourse with him on their parents’
bed. Why she gives in: “There is a game which all home-loving,
unimaginative little girls like Connie find irresistible, a game
which, ever since she had learned to speak the necessary words,
Connie had plagued [him] to play with her…And now at last [they]
were going to play Mummies and Daddies.”

A man dissatisfied with his marriage to a neurotic woman named
Maisie narrates “Solid Geometry.” The narrator’s fixation on his
dead grandfather’s journal reveals an improbable method by which he
rids himself of his spouse. Highlight of “Solid Geometry:” the
liberation of a 160-year-old pickled penis from its jar of glass,
Maisie’s desperate attempt to get her husband’s attention.

What happens to the badly mothered baby and the singing boarder
lady when a boat flips in the river on the last day of summer? I
don’t know; “Last Day of Summer” continues to puzzle me.”Cocker at
the Theatre” was a waste. Somehow, actors hired to simulate sex on
stage end up doing the deed. Nothing special.

The narrator of “Butterflies” is ugly, misanthropic, motherless
and suspected for murder. To make matters worse, the canal running
through the poor son-of-a-bitch’s hometown stinks of waste, and he
ain’t got no friends. Molestation and manslaughter inevitably
ensue.

Obligatory pearl of wisdom: people without chins are inherently
suspicious.

“Conversation with a Cupboard Man” highlights the effects of a
deranged mother on her lone male child, a victim who, although
fictional, deserves your sympathy. The following is the cupboard
man’s pathetic personal statement: “I hate going outside. I prefer
it in my cupboard…I don’t want to be free. That’s why I envy
these babies I see in the street being bundled and carried about by
their mothers. I want to be one of them. Why can’t it be me?”

The climax of the title story “First Love, Last Rites” is marked
by the gruesome slaying of a pregnant she-rat at the hands of an
aspiring eel hunter. “With both hands I swung the poker down,
caught it clean and whole smack under its belly, and it lifted
clear off the ground, sailed across the room…It dropped to the
ground, legs in the air, split from end to end like a ripe fruit.”
Then, appropriately, the main characters retreat to a mattress on
top of a table to get it on.

The final story in the collection is titled “Disguises.” One
good reason to read it: aunt with a taste for costumes and drama
forces her newly-orphaned nephew to dress like a little girl, get
drunk and sit on her lap while she wears a soldier’s uniform,
penciled-on mustache and assumes a masculine tone of voice.

I think this collection of stories warrants multiple readings.
It’s got layers, and it’s good. I highly recommend McEwan’s
writing, though his subject matter (at times homicidal, at times
incestuous) is bound to alienate people.

My review doesn’t do this book justice; it’s too complicated to
summarize in 500 words. The best way to cure your annoyance
with/ambivalence about/interest in this review or First Love,
Last Rites
is to read the book.


Weird short stories was published on December 4, 2003 in Arts & Entertainment

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