Buzzed Books #1 by Alise Hamilton
Mastering the Dinner Party, Dialogue, and First Person Narrators
Recommendation: Bobcat And Other Stories by Rebecca Lee
Bobcat is a collection of seven short stories so rich and expansive they leave the reader walks away feeling she has read seven novels. Rebecca Lee manages to fit an amazing scope in each story, both through breadth of time and depth of character. Such an ability has earned her (rightful) comparisons to Alice Munro, but I would argue there are stronger similarities to short-story writer Amy Hempel. It is not just Lee’s inclination to use first person (each story in Bobcat is presented in first person, and the vast majority of stories throughout Hempel’s career are written in first person point-of-view as well), but her ability to reveal a kind of truth. Truth with a capital “T.” The undeniable yet often ignored observations of the little things that make us human.
Lee is not afraid to allow her characters to be intelligent—the stories are full of lawyers, professors, writers, architects and students. And since each story is presented through a first-person narrator, one would be correct in assuming the stories are, in fact, smart. This is not to say the work is littered with little-known literary allusions, is unnecessarily convoluted, or is held down by a kind of high-brow, academic snobbery. No, the stories here are both intelligent and accessible. Lee respects her characters (and therefore, her readers) enough to give them actual, working brains.
The collection opens and closes with two very different stories, each revolving around dinner parties. Lee deftly handles multiple characters in the same room, so that the reader is never confused about keeping everyone at the table straight—a feat in itself. Her dialogue is superb. Take these lines, from the title story:
“We’re not prepared at all. We just found out yesterday at our Lamaze class that we’re supposed to have a theme for our nursery.”
“Theme?” Lizbet said. “What do you mean, theme? Like man vs. nature?”
“How about alienation in the technological age?” Ray said.
“Hollywood under McCarthy?”
“It’s going to be Winnie the Pooh,” John said, which was true. Everyone seemed a bit dejected that John was closing down the joke so early, but he made a recovery. “Winnie the Pooh and the Reconstructed South,” he said.
These are not simply stories about people sitting around and talking, although sitting and talking do occur, it is what is brewing and bubbling under the surface—what people don’t say, lies they tell each other and themselves, incorrect assumptions, deep desires, fears and regrets—which are the meat of the stories in Bobcat.
In “Fialta,” a famous and celebrated architect describes what building “ought” to be composed of: “Even the simplest buildings, he said, ought to be productions of the imagination that attempt to describe and define life on earth, which of course is an overwhelming mix of stability and desire, fulfillment and longing, time and eternity.”
It is these characteristics precisely that make Bobcat the beautiful book it is.
To be paired with: Sugar Gin
Alise Hamilton earned her MFA from Lesley University and holds a BFA in creative writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College. Her short fiction appeared in the Francesca Lia Block-edited anthology Love Magick.