Books
4:27 pm
Mon June 9, 2008

Racing in Place: Collages, Fragments, Postcards, Ruins

The other mainly Alabama essay is "Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Moon Winx," which is just that?a meditation not on the nearly defunct Moon Winx Lodge, but on the neon sign in front of the Moon Winx Lodge, which was supposed to be in service to the lodge but has now surpassed it.

Michael Martone of the University of Alabama Creative Writing Program is vying for hardest-working writer/editor in Alabama as well as cleverest. In 2007, Martone published Double-Wide: Collected Fiction, with Indiana University Press. With Lex Williford he coedited the Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction, put out the second edition of the Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, again with Williford, and now has gathered his own nonfiction of the last few years into Racing in Place. Martone calls these assembled pieces "collages, fragments, postcards, ruins." This describes their brief, snapshot nature but not their dense playfulness.

Martone is still writing about his native Indiana. The title piece, "Racing in Place," he subtitles "33 Hoosier Haiku." It is just that: 33 short takes on the place the Indy 500 had in Hoosiers' hearts: where they listened to the race on the radio, what they ate while listening, what they were doing. It reminded me of Doris Kearns Goodwin reminiscing about Dodgers games in the 1950s; you could walk down the streets of Brooklyn and hear the game coming out of every store door and apartment window. One should remember though, that the Dodgers played 162 games a year, and there is only one day of the Indianapolis 500. Surely this makes the event all the more treasured.

There is also a lovely piece about his grandfather, who worked for the City of Fort Wayne, reading meters. A sample line captures Martone's linguistic prestidigitation: "My grandfather walked to work to work a job that required walking." Martone is in love with language, no joke, and readers would be advised: to get the most pleasure out of this style, read a little at a time, or you may suffer death by alliteration, coma induced by cleverness. The stylistic influence of John Barth, Martone's mentor at Johns Hopkins, is visible on every page?in a bright way. Just don't eat the whole box at once.

Having been an Alabama resident now for over a decade, Martone also writes occasionally of Tuscaloosa. In "Fore," he tells what it is like to live in Country Club Hills, across the street from the golf course, but to be neither a member nor a player. He sits in a chair in his driveway, reading Love in the Ruins by Alabamian Walker Percy, overlooking what may be the same fairway described in Percy's novel, written when Percy was visiting friends who lived in a house also overlooking the fairway.

Did I mention that Martone is nothing if not literary and playful?

The other mainly Alabama essay is "Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Moon Winx," which is just that?a meditation not on the nearly defunct Moon Winx Lodge, but on the neon sign in front of the Moon Winx Lodge, which was supposed to be in service to the lodge but has now surpassed it. "The sign has already transubstantiated. It is an existential sign. It is itself. It stands for itself. It is its own memorial."

There is an essay on searching for the locales of the Indiana writer William Gass, an essay on the frames of Martone's spectacles, on Snow White's Seven Dwarves, on sympathetic pregnancy (Martone gained 25 pounds, too), on elevators and observation decks, and, maybe my favorite, "Still Life on the Sidelines with Bob," on Bobby Knight, the Indiana basketball coach who, yelling, screaming, choking his players, and, finally, throwing a plastic chair onto the court, became more the center of attention than the game itself. What is Coach Knight doing? Is he a madman out of control? Is he an actor playing a madman out of control? Martone asks, "Is the actor out of control or is the actor acting out of control?" In any case, Knight was fired from the University of Indiana in Bloomington, a kind of Midwest college-town paradise, and now coaches at Lubbock, Texas. Lubbock, Texas.

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