Friday, May 13, 2011

NOÖ Knows Stories #8: Tao Lin on Charles R. Johnson

"Two stories I like that I haven't discussed before on the internet (except here, where I also list other stories I like) are Charles R. Johnson's "China" (from his 1986 collection The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Tales and Conjurations) and "Kwoon" (from his 2005 collection Dr. King's Refrigerator: And Other Bedtime Stories).

"China," based on my memory, is about a man and his wife. In the beginning the wife is worried about her husband's failing health. She thinks things about what she'll do when he dies. Then the husband becomes involved in martial arts and becomes increasingly healthier and more "Zen," to a degree that the wife, somewhat confused about why she feels this way, becomes disapproving of the husband's behavior and, in her view, seeming self-righteousness. The story ends with the wife watching the husband doing a jump-kick and crying upon realizing that she is going to die before her husband dies.

"Kwoon," based on my memory, is about a person who is teaching martial arts. He is alone, seems to have no friends or family, and lives in the same location where he teaches. He seems older, maybe in his 30s or 40s, and to have a resigned view of life. One day a new student challenges the person and beats him badly in front of his students, embarrassing him. Most of the students begin training with the new student. The story ends with the person and the new student both implying, or accepting, that they have things to learn from the other, I think.

Based on my memory both stories are in 3rd-person. I was reminded of Lorrie Moore when I first read "China." Both stories are ~20 pages. I think I first discovered Charles R. Johnson when I was trying to find writers who had an interest in Buddhism." — Tao Lin, author of Richard Yates

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