>The highlight of the current issue of Southwest Review (Vol. 91 No. 3) is, for me, “Bye Bye Brewster” by Steven Barthelme. Happily, you can read the story online for yourself. It is about a young man in an apartment building—after his second divorce—who befriends an older gentleman with many cats. They spend a lot of time together and eventually the older man is evicted because of the cats. The narrator isn’t a terrific people-person and when the older man moves, he doesn’t see him again. As the story begins, the old man’s daughter calls to tell the narrator that her father has died. Here’s how the narrator describes their relationship:
“We spent a lot of time playing games. I work for the city in the Clerk Assessor’s office, I’m twice divorced, and my mother and sister live over a thousand miles from here in Arizona, so I guess I needed Brewster as much as he needed me. I spent a lot of evenings up there playing gin, blackjack, whist, even Hold ’em, as well as Scrabble and checkers and chess.”
When the old man names him in his will, what does the younger man do?
Jason Grunebaum’s “Friends of Your Enemies” appealed to me as well, possibly because the narrator works for the U.N. in Kosovo and reminds me of people I have worked with—well intentioned and ineffectual. He is approached by an Albanian who wants a job, who has a brother who is in trouble for being a collaborator with the Serbs, and the narrator wants to hire a Roma interpreter, even though the Roma are despised by everyone. There isn’t much he can do:
“War can rupture the tissue that connects people’s desires with their actions. This idea should have allowed me to hold back judgments about people I met in Kosovo. Sometimes it did. Other times, it just provided cover so I could like those I wanted to like, and not despise others I should have.”
That about sums it up.
There are other interesting pieces in the issue, including “Room, Empty,” an essay by Chris Arthur that is an impressive excuse to write about Buddhism, painting, poetry and philosophy, among other things. Some of the other short stories didn’t appeal to me because they didn’t grab me on the first page—a lesson I hope I’m learning about my own stories. They all have strengths but for me were not as satisfying as the Barthelme and Grunebaum stories.
Next up: Harpur Palate.