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NC Lit Talent On ParadeCL Carolina Writers Night brings McCorkle, Gurganus and more



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A veteran at least twice over, with the publication of The Practical Heart, his fourth book, Gurganus also clearly becomes a veteran writer. In explaining his joke about entering the room a gentleman but leaving a faggot, he says "Some part of me is still seven years old and afraid to go on the playground."

As his new book makes lucid, Gurganus has conquered the literary playground, so tell us another.

Allan Gurganus will read from his work and sign books at the Novello Festival's Creative Loafing Carolina Writers Night, Monday, October 22 at 7:30pm at the Great Aunt Stella Center. The event is free. Creatures of Habit: Stories by Jill McCorkle. (Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 240 pages, $22.95)



Hominids and Other Animals

By Mary Kratt

If Jill McCorkle wrote it and Shannon Ravenel chose it, the story has to be good. Not just good. Outstanding. Wickedly funny and wry. True as a ticket to your most desired destination. Human as underwear. Wise as a woman who has seen it all and lived to tell.

One story, "Dogs" leaps from the first line, "If I were a dog, I would have been put down by nowl" This one was my favorite, a wry, witty hoot about a woman who owns a dog kennel and translates the world in terms of dogs and their owners. One client, a man, she sized up instantly, "I knew he had a lot more in mind for me than pulling off ticks. . .I'm sorry to say I smelled the desire on him and I do have to also say that at first meeting I was kind of turned on. Let's just say if you've never gotten right up in a pit bull's face, you might be curious."

She has it down to a science, "I can look a a person and tell you immediately by looks and personality what breed that person would be. . .if Marilyn Monroe had been a bitch, she'd have been a yellow Lab. They'd have dressed her up like a poodle again and again but deep down she was definitely a Lab and who better for a Lab to hook up with than a fella with balls."

McCorkle worked in a kennel in college. She feels "a person insecure and fearful is likely ­ metaphorically speaking ­ to lunge and bite. A mother whose child is threatened will, too. . .And isn't our notion of networking just a fancy form of tail sniffing?"

These aren't stories about animals, although creatures of one sort of another are a thematic emblem in each of this round dozen of stories with animals' names as titles (Snipe, Chickens, Turtles), except for "Hominids," which points without subtlety to the creaturely nature of men and women.

"Hominids" starts with a spunky impromptu speech a wife makes at a golf weekend of guys who bring their wives or significant others. Tired of trash talk about women, she calmly declares, "I'm thinking I will have myself a restaurant known as Peckers, and as my model I will use Hooters, where one of Bill's buddies likes to go on Friday night. I will have a woodpecker instead of an owl and waiters instead of waitresses. They will wear uniforms that are, shall I say, a bit revealing below the belt and as manager my job will be saying who looks good in the outfit and who doesn't. . .You don't see animals making fun of breasts and udders. I doubt if it happens in Third World countries either." She says this while the women in the other room talk about peonies and weddings.

In "Cats," the female narrator is reminded of cats' famous roaming habits by the sound of her former husband's key in the lock of her house which he left 12 years before. He roamed and left and married and created another family on the other side of town, but now at age 60 with early dementia, he wanders back to his deserted wife's home and tries to get in.

"And every time the wife came after him her eyes seemed to say This is supposed to be your life. Did her eyes also say Do you want him back?"

What could be stranger or stronger? But McCorkle has many touching characters so real you are sure you just met them on your way into the post office, overheard them at McDonald's, or remember from the town you grew up in, like the witch woman who lives down the block, whose husband hung himself. McCorkle speaks for her and tells in the story "Monkeys" how this ordinary woman got labeled and taunted by neighborhood kids who needed something to fear.

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