The Bigness of the World

The Bigness of the World

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Bigness of the World
    Book Description:

    In Lori Ostlund's debut collection people seeking escape from situations at home venture out into a world that they find is just as complicated and troubled as the one they left behind. In prose highlighted by both satire and poignant observation, Ostlund offers characters that represent a different sort of everyman-men and women who poke fun at ideological rigidity while holding fast to good grammar and manners, people seeking connections in a world that seems increasingly foreign. In "Upon Completion of Baldness" a young woman shaves her head for a part in a movie in Hong Kong that will help her escape life with her lover in Albuquerque. The precocious narrator of "All Boy" finds comfort when he is locked in a closet by a babysitter. In "Dr. Deneau's Punishment" a math teacher leaving New York for Minnesota as a means of punishing himself engages in an unsettling method of discipline. A lesbian couple whose relationship is disintegrating flees to the Moroccan desert in "The Children beneath the Seat." And in "Idyllic Little Bali" a group of Americans gathers around a pool in Java to discuss their brushes with fame and ends up witnessing a man's fatal flight from his wife. In the eleven stories in The Bigness of the World we see that wherever you are in the world, where you came from is never far away.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3745-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. The Bigness of the World
    (pp. 1-21)

    THE YEAR THAT ILSA MARIA LUMPKIN TOOK CARE OF US, Martin was ten going on eleven and I, eleven going on twelve. We considered ourselves almost adults, on the cusp of no longer requiring supervision, but because our days were far more interesting with Ilsa in them, we did not force the issue. Her job was to be there waiting when we arrived home from school, to prepare snacks and help with homework and ask about our days, for our parents were deeply involved at that time with what they referred to as their “careers,” both of them spending long...

  5. Bed Death
    (pp. 22-44)

    WE MET MR. MANI BECAUSE WE PAUSED ON THE footbridge that spanned Jalan Munshi Abdullah, a busy street near our hotel, for it was only from up there that the sign for his school, the unobtrusively named English Institute, could be seen. The school, which occupied the second floor of the decrepit building just below us, did not look promising, and when we trotted back down the steps to the street and went inside, it seemed even less so. Still, we presented our résumés to the young woman at the front desk, and she, not knowing what to do with...

  6. Talking Fowl with My Father
    (pp. 45-60)

    My father wants to know what I had for lunch today. I haven’t called in months, but this is what interests him.

    “I had a turkey sandwich,” I say.

    “Turkey,” he says with clear disgust. Last year, my father’s doctor gave him a list of safe foods, foods recommended for someone in my father’s condition. Turkey was high on the list. My father has never liked turkey, except at Thanksgiving and only then because it comes with all sorts of things that he does like — fatty skin swaddled in strips of bacon, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls and butter, ham (yes,...

  7. The Day You Were Born
    (pp. 61-73)

    WHEN ANNABEL COMES HOME FROM SCHOOL ON TUESDAY, her father is back, standing at the corner of Indian School and University, across the street from where the bus drops her and the other children from her apartment complex. When the light finally changes, the two of them cross hurriedly toward each other, and so their reunion takes place in the middle of the street, her father twirling her around several times and then releasing her abruptly in order to present his middle finger to an old woman in a Volvo station wagon who has beeped tentatively to let them know...

  8. Nobody Walks to the Mennonites
    (pp. 74-90)

    THE TWO AMERICAN WOMEN READ IN THEIR GUIDEBOOK that there were Mennonites not far from town, so on the second morning they set out to find them. The women were staying perhaps a quarter of a mile outside of town in a bungalow, a round structure with cinder block walls, one of several grouped together along a footpath behind the main office. At some point, perhaps when bungalows were in greater demand, a flimsy wall had been erected down the middle of each, slicing it into two separate, though by no means soundproof, units. Now, however, the entire place stood...

  9. Upon Completion of Baldness
    (pp. 91-109)

    MY GIRLFRIEND RETURNED F ROM HONG KONG BALD, thoroughly bald, the bumps and veins of her skull rising up in relief, as neat and stark as the stitching on a baseball. When we embraced, I noted that her scalp had a sickly yellowish cast to it, the influence of the airport’s fluorescent lights apparently, for once we were home, the yellowness had vanished, leaving nothing but white. It may surprise you to know that I did not address her baldness immediately, right there in the airport, but I did not. Rather, we stepped free of our embrace and then rode...

  10. And Down We Went
    (pp. 110-132)

    I have been defecated on three times in my life, literally crapped on that is, for I am not the sort to go around characterizing any victimization I might feel in such vulgar metaphorical terms. In each case, the offending party was a bird, the incidents occurring on three different continents over the course of thirty-five years, the third and most recent incident occurring on a quiet street in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as Georgia and I stood beneath the eaves of an antique textile shop waiting for it to open. We had first visited the shop two days earlier and...

  11. Idyllic Little Bali
    (pp. 133-152)

    CALVIN GOES FIRST, TELLING THEM ABOUT THE TIME HE was in Florida and decided to attend a Beach Boys concert, not really knowing anything about the Beach Boys except that they played music for basking in the sun to, which, Calvin being from Michigan, might explain why he knew so little about them. He hitched a ride up to Fort Lauderdale, which is where the concert was being held, with a guy in a convertible who dropped him off right at the stadium, and it wasn’t until the band came on stage hours later that he realized the convertible guy,...

  12. Dr. Deneau’s Punishment
    (pp. 153-173)

    dr. dunno. THAT IS WHAT THE BOYS CALL ME, WHAT THEY write on desks and in bathroom stalls, a play on my name — which is Deneau — and on the fact that, day after day, that is how they respond to my questions. “Dunno,” they say with an elaborate shrug and the limp, unarticulated drawl that has become ubiquitous among teenagers in a classroom setting; they cannot even be bothered to claim their ignorance in the form of a complete sentence, to say, “I don’t know,” a less than desirable response to be sure, but one that does not smack of...

  13. The Children Beneath the Seat
    (pp. 174-196)

    THEY HAD NOT EXPECTED THE DESERT TO BE LIKE this — just like the stereotypical images of it that they brought to Morocco with them — but, ironically (and disappointingly), it was. There were camels, one of which had chased them up the side of a gorge in a fit of misplaced anger, and the occasional oasis in the midst of kilometer after kilometer of rock and sand and dryness. The only thing that had really shocked them was the unwavering brownness of it all, consuming entire villages so that houses rose like intermittent lumps in a bedspread of brownness. Intellectually, of...

  14. All Boy
    (pp. 197-215)

    LATER, WHEN HAROLD FINALLY LEARNED THAT HIS PARENTS had not fired Mrs. Norman, the babysitter, for locking him in the closet while she watched her favorite television shows, he could not imagine why he had ever attributed her firing to this in the first place, especially since his parents had not seemed particularly upset by the news of his confinement. His father had said something vague about it building character and teaching inner resources, and his mother, in an attempt to be more specific, said that it could not hurt to learn how the sightless got by. Nor had Harold...

  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 216-217)