Aleksandar Hemon is interviewing for the position of Steve's Favorite Living Author. He probably doesn't know that, but still. Interviewing means I've got to read just about everything he writes, which in turn means I have to read his short stories. Now, Hemon's come out with three books so far, only one of which is short stories. Hardly an onerous task. In fact, I'm only mentioning it so I can express my general low regard for ss's. This is silly, of course. But even when they're good, they generally just don't stick. Not with me, at least. Frankly, not with many people, as far as I can tell. We who relish good fiction can all enjoy short pieces, but how many of us can come up with specific stories we've read once, maybe five or ten years ago, and remember them well enough to express why they touched us? Not many, right? Hence my low regard. There are exceptions, of course. Beginning with David Foster Wallace. Girl With Curious Hair isn't only a wonderful introduction to his work, but the title piece is unforgettable. Especially if you've ever done drugs. And who but DFW could make a story out of a dictionary entry? OK, maybe someone else could, but only Wallace thought of it and pulled it off. (Datum Centurio in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, if you're interested.) I've dug lots of stories by Alice Munro, Ellen Gilchrist, and William Trevor, too. Not that I remember any, except for Floating Bridge in Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage.
Which brings me to Hemon. The Question of Bruno was published in 2000; it was his first book. The themes of identity, dislocation, war and death that mark his subsequent novels are all there. As are his understated humor, emotionally nuanced characters, and penchant for adjectives. Blind Jozef Pronek & Dead Souls ranks among the best stories I've ever come across. I've never ventured into lit crit, so forgive me my ignorance if I maintain that I read it as an exploration of displacement and an extended metaphor for death. It's also grimly funny. If you like it, you'll enjoy the rest of Hemon's work; if not, you're wrong.
I've also been thinking quite a bit about beards. Shortly after I ventured down life without lanes (i.e., retirement), I grew a beard to accompany my vintage 1968 moustache and the barbet/soul patch I added shortly before I semi-retired in 2009. We'll get to my present facial hair configuration and its place in the constellation of beards later. For now, I'd observe that new FHCs and retirement seem to go together for lotsa guys.
So what do I think of when I think about beards? Classification, of course. Just what you'd expect from an ex-librarian. Let's first get my approach clear. I don't count moustaches or soul patches as beards, but when accompanied by chin whiskers, they're part of the beard for purposes of classification. Second, I'm not gonna include ethnic takes on/varieties of beards. Ditto for women with beards. I claim no understanding of either realm. And ethnic women's beards is, well, terra incognita. So, when I describe a beard, picture it worn by a white male.
Beards fall into two general categories, full-face and partial face.
The professional. "Professional" doesn't refer to the beard's owner, but to the short, well-polished beard itself. These beards are not grown, they're cultivated. And one doesn't "cut" a professional beard. One doesn't even trim it. No, one grooms it. Maintenance takes some time and rather more attention. A degree of pride and prosperity are hallmarks of its owner. The professional beard is de rigeur for Oregon criminal defense attorneys. They're also popular with economists, though not with those on the margins of opinion. Middle age and up.
The professor. Similar to the professional, but longer. Similar to the sculpture (below), but shorter. As its name suggests, it's a distinctively academic pursuit, though it will appeal to writers, too. The professor has a relatively wide margin for error/inattention, thus the appeal to absent minded profs. Suitable for all ages.
The sculpture. Longer than the professor, shorter than the mountain man. The owner is generally lean and may well have an artistic background. Performing arts, especially. And let's not forget REI workers. High maintenance required, but owners relish the chore. Failure to attend to its upkeep results in a mountain man look; confusion among one's acquaintances (and audience) ensues. The sculpture provides its owner with terrific opportunity to be creative. Which parts long, which short? How long is long? Pointy or not? It's really chin topiary. Not a great look for beginners.
Mountain man. Long, uneven, unkempt. This is the beard for bikers. Not much in the way of upkeep. The owner should be of some size, and that goes for both height and girth. The MM looks ridiculous on anyone under 30. After that, age is irrelevant, as long as you're big.
Santa. Think mountain man, but grey to white, rounded and even. Hell, think Santa. Upper middle age and beyond. Please.
Hermit. Like the mountain man, but without the upkeep. In fact, any upkeep disqualifies a beard from this category. And that includes washing.
I'll deal with partial-face jobbies in my next post. And yes, there is point to this.