A Brief History of Male Nudes in America

A Brief History of Male Nudes in America

Dianne Nelson Oberhansly
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 152
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    A Brief History of Male Nudes in America
    Book Description:

    In these stories, Dianne Nelson illuminates that vast territory of pleasure and pain created within modern families. Whether it is a father trying to kidnap his young son from his estranged ex-wife or a woman celebrating her ability to produce babies without any help from men, Nelson's characters reveal the dark, haunting and sometimes comic dilemmas of kinship. In the title story, seventeen-year-old April is an involuntary witness to the seemingly endless parade of lovers who frequent her mother's bed. "I don't know why my mother finds no lasting peace" she muses. Opening a book and trying to find her peace in "facts, dates, the pure honesty of numbers," April is overwhelmed finally by the sounds of lovemaking from the adjoining room. "The walls of this house aren't thick enough to keep that kind of sadness contained." In "The Uses of Memory," Netta and Carlene are engaged in a different sort of mother-daughter drama. The issue at hand is the fate of Franklin, their husband and father, who lies in bed in a near comatose state, oblivious to the nurturings or pleadings of either woman. The past, with its countless repercussion on the present, tugs relentlessly at many of the characters. In "Chocolate," the lingering pain of an impoverished childhood plagues Janice; she recalls, in particular, the birthday and Christmas celebrations, the meager gifts wrapped in the same brown twine that was used to hold the door shut. Hillary, the narrator of "Dixon," is spurred into action by the memory of her dead brother. When a local barfly with "silt for brains" persists in telling outlandish lies about Dixon, Hillary takes up karate training with an eye to defending her brother's name the truth of what she knew him to be. Dee, in "Paperweight," can pinpoint the exact moment at which she came to think of the body as an earthbound trap, "a hopeless house with the doors all locked"; she traces it back to a grade-school theatrical performance and a classmate's luckless efforts to open the cumbersome stage curtains. "If it weren't for my body," she laments, "I could fly, I could go anywhere, I could be anything." Ranging in setting from a restaurant in St. Louis to the rain-soaked streets of San Francisco, from a boisterous family reunion beneath the broad Kansas sky to a ranch in Utah where a young father dreams of becoming a movie star, these fifteen stories show men and women pondering--and often struggling against--the mysteries of their own circumstances, especially the bonds of flesh and blood.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4200-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Ground Rules
    (pp. 1-6)

    Lewis Houser and his thirteen-year-old son Nathan were hiding behind a toolshed in the unlucky state of Missouri. They had been like that for over an hour—waiting—ready to salvage their lives and take what was theirs. “Ground rule number one,” Lewis had told Nathan earlier, “is no talking, not even a single word because this hot, windless air can take a sound and stretch it and make it last forever.” Nathan was small for his age, but he understood perfectly what they were doing, and as he stood there with his father behind the shed he was determined...

  4. A Brief History of Male Nudes in America
    (pp. 7-17)

    They step from behind my mother’s shower curtain, pose like acrobats and soldiers, they lie bound in the afternoon light of our downstairs bedroom. There are buttons on the floor. Someone’s wallet on the dresser. On the back of a chair, a shirt leaves everything to the imagination. The shirt is blue, it is Oxford, it has sweat rings, a pocket, it’s a workshirt with the smell of hay still in it, it’s khaki, short sleeved, long sleeved, on the back Sugarloaf Bowl is machine embroidered with Del Rio below it.

    I have my eyes open. I see them strut....

  5. Evolution of Words
    (pp. 18-20)

    I tried to see the city as he must have seen it—a miracle of light, the rain-wet streets opening from Battery to Sansome and finally down to Grant. Judd hadn’t slept in four nights, and so, when he left his parents’ house on the fifth night and walked downtown, the city must have spun with music for him. He was seventeen and sleepless and that close to what his mother would later call “release.”

    We cried at that. Release. The idea of Judd walking in Chinatown the fifth night, change in his pockets, the on-and-off rain a passage into...

  6. A Map of Kansas
    (pp. 21-32)

    Early on a June morning my relatives come driving in from places small and windswept, places with the names of lost souls: Netawaka, Leavenworth, Skiddy, Sabetha. Those who live in the Far West—Liberal or Scott County—have driven through the night or stopped in one of the gray, mid-state, freeway towns where motels raise holy hell with each other in their war for customers. I’ve seen the signs and come-ons before—Better Queen Sized Beds, Super Satellite Cable, Free Ham and Egg Breakfast—and I’ve usually been fortunate enough to have somewhere else to stay. A desperate Imperial Inn...

  7. Chocolate
    (pp. 33-35)

    I remember a birthday when there was hardly anything for me—a pair of blue mittens wrapped in a Husted’s Dry Cleaning sack, brown twine tied in a lopsided bow around it all. With her eyebrow pencil, Libby, my mother, had written on the package: To Janice, Our Angel. I sat with my arms folded and refused to move. I didn’t want to turn nine that year in the dull, beat-up world of Idaho and welfare.

    Besides pretending that it was ribbon fit for an angel, Libby used the brown twine to secure the lampshade on the lamp and also...

  8. Paperweight
    (pp. 36-46)

    If it weren’t for my body, I could fly, I could go anywhere, I could be anything. I learned this fact long ago, and yes, there was regret and suffering from it, there were nights I cried, there were whole summers spent in an upstairs bedroom where I surrounded myself with ladies’ magazines and poetry and my brother’s borrowed Penthouse. Lying across the bed or spread on the parquet floor, I was the tall, sad witness to myself: arms and legs and all the rest of me that I wouldn’t have given fifty cents for.

    When I think of my...

  9. In the Shadows of Upshot-Knothole
    (pp. 47-63)

    My mother and I ran away only one time, on a sunny May morning when the world was about to end. She didn’t know where we were running to, but my mother Lorraine was smart and she would have figured something out, a place for us to go—Cedar City or Tonopah. For a while after she met my father and married him, my mother said that she only thought between her legs, but time had passed and I’d come along and life had resumed its normal colors and she was trying to think with her head again. Lewis and...

  10. Nature’s Way
    (pp. 64-66)

    Close to midnight, they finally broke the lock and convinced her to get out of the bathtub, that she needed to see a doctor. She was Navajo and had been sitting in the steaming water for hours. She’d miscarried and all that stuff was floating in the water, too. After that, nobody in the dorm would use the bathtub. It was like voodoo or filth, something that could be picked up, or simply something that reminded us how death bloomed from our own clear bodies, too.

    They lifted her up gently, but even so, I could tell it hurt. Her...

  11. Dixon
    (pp. 67-79)

    First, it is not true that my brother Dixon went crazy in Vietnam—chewed his fingernails completely off and gutted a Huey helicopter in a rage when his R and R was suddenly bagged. Hell, Dixon never was in Vietnam. His three years in the Air Force were mostly spent in Biloxi where he was assigned to the motor pool and stayed long weekends in Gulfport on windy beaches with sand in his eyes and his shoulders constantly sunburned. He’s buried now in a small cemetery called Dutchman’s Acre, a place so quiet and green that it doesn’t rightfully belong...

  12. Simple Yellow Cloth
    (pp. 80-83)

    My eyes open and quickly the water of my sleep clears. It’s Thursday night. At first I’m angry because it’s past one and I have to go to work the next day. Daria is out there in the hallway and she’s humming something that I can’t name, and maybe it’s because I’ve just been awakened suddenly, but the vague familiarity of that song is driving me crazy. There’s a formula for remembering things; it’s like walking backwards. It’s based on the premise that every movement and thought is connected, and that by being methodical we can find anything: our shoes,...

  13. Wintercourse
    (pp. 84-98)

    Lorna came to us in the first big snow at the end of November, flushed up as strays often are in the sudden cold. Dogs, cats—anything old, nearsighted, or temporarily lame. They look for a garage or a warm light or even a fleece-lined boot that’s been left out overnight. Under our back deck near the steamy underside of our hot tub, Bruce and I found a small, sickly bear eating scavenged pizza from a half-crushed box early one morning, the peppery smell of sausage drifting up from beneath the wood planks. In no time, Fish and Game was...

  14. Nocturne
    (pp. 99-105)

    It was a Tuesday night when Maize and I ran out of money in Santa Fe—a place dusty and old and, if you aren’t careful, the last place you might visit. We knew that we didn’t have much cash left, but it was a surprise anyway to dig to the bottom of my purse and find only a Revlon eyebrow pencil tucked in the bottom folds. Like someone who suddenly finds herself in deep, dark water, I woke up fast. I dumped my purse out on the queensized bed and rummaged through the collection of cosmetics and Kleenexes, pens...

  15. The Uses of Memory
    (pp. 106-119)

    Netta Cartwright believes these are the things that will bring her husband Franklin back from the dead: thick Velveeta sandwiches, fresh air, plenty of talk and music. She throws the windows open, though it is October in Boise and the smoke-filled breeze whips the lacy curtains, makes them dance in the near-cold. Netta works the radio dial the way other retired women learn to spin the Bingo basket up at St. Mark’s on Thursdays—90 percent wrist, 10 percent luck. She turns up the radio’s volume when something good comes in: Johnny Paycheck or “The Wabash Cannonball.” She taps her...

  16. Exactly Where I Am
    (pp. 120-123)

    I don’t know where I am—on the porch, at the screen door, standing on the backyard walkway—but I know that I’m there when Daddy and Uncle Gill find RayAnn’s fingers in the grass. Where I am standing seems less important than the way the flashlight steals the grass from the night, studies it slowly, then names it green. Daddy holds the light and Uncle Gill bends from a lifetime of factory work into the grass for his daughter’s fingers—RayAnn who has cried all the way to the hospital, her hand wrapped in what was a clean bath...

  17. Frog Boy
    (pp. 124-138)

    Rocky Davis is all hands and eyes. Big hands—state of Texas hands. Shoulders broad enough to suggest his first good sport coat. He is already wearing size 10 men’s shoes, and since last Thursday, Rocky has been on fire. It started as a hot, hopeless weight in his chest and then suddenly blew wide open, his hair smoldering, his arms and face so flushed that twice his father, Wade, gently reaches over to him, puts a cool square hand on his son’s shoulder, and tells Rocky to go shower.

    “Christ, the kid just can’t stand this heat,” Wade says,...

  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 139-140)