Book Bag: ‘And Go Like This: Stories’ by John Crowley; ‘Flight of Integrity’ by Peter Cichon with Janice Beetle 

Staff Writer
Published: 11/1/2019 9:28:04 AM

AND GO LIKE THIS: STORIES

by John Crowley

Small Beer Press

johncrowleyauthor.com

Conway author John Crowley has been called “one of the finest writers of our time” (The Washington Post), a “master of language, plot and characterization” (Harold Bloom), and “so good that he has left everybody else in the dust” (Peter Straub). The fantasy and historical fiction writer is perhaps best known for his novel “Little, Big,” which won the 1982 World Fantasy Award for best novel.

Now Small Beer Press of Easthampton has issued a new collection of selected short fiction by Crowley, all (with one exception) published in the last 17 years and gathered together for the first time. The new volume, “And Go Like This: Stories,” also includes one new work, “Anosognosia,” in which a young man’s life takes an unusual turn after a bad fall in a story that offers a twist on the old TV show “The Twilight Zone.”

As the publisher notes put it, “Reading John Crowley’s stories is to see almost-familiar lives running parallel to our own, secret histories that never quite happened, memories that might be real or might be invented.”

The title story from the collection, for instance, is drawn from a quote from Buckminster Fuller, the noted 20th-century American architect, writer and futurist who once said “There is room enough indoors in New York City for the whole 1963 world’s population to enter, with room enough inside for all hands to dance the twist in average nightclub proximity.”

In Crowley’s story, every person on earth makes his of her way to the Big Apple as part of an immensely complicated plan — it’s not clear who has actually designed it — to test that theory. With the city’s airports jammed with endless incoming flights, and all roads in the greater New York metro area gridlocked, new arrivals, like the story’s narrator, are soon walking to New York, possessions in hand.

“It’s easy enough to see which way to go. Especially people are walking who walk anyway in their home places, bare or sandaled feet on dusty roads, with children in colorful slings at their breasts or bundles on their heads — those are the pictures you see in the special editions of Life and Look … How beautiful they are, patient, unsmiling, in their native dress, the Family of Man.”

And when this bizarre migration is complete, and people have been housed in every corner of the city — the Empire State Building, Greenwich Village, the Metropolitan Museum of Art — the narrator describes a collective “giddy pride” in knowing that the rest of the planet is now covered in “primeval darkness,” even as every light in New York is blazing: “Overpopulation is a myth! There are so few of us compared to Spaceship Earth’s vastness, we can feel it now for certain in our hearts, we can hear it with our senses.”

The longer story “The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines,” set partly at a Shakespeare Festival in Indiana in 1959 (in a town named Avon), also examines the nagging question of Shakespeare’s authorship and the struggles of those facing mental illness in what one critic calls “an emotional bomb.” Meantime, “Spring Break” envisions a strange Yale University of the future; it recalls something of Gary Shteyngart’s satirical novel “Super Sad True Love Story,” also set in the future. (Crowley recently retired from over two decades of teaching creative writing at Yale.)

Publisher’s Weekly calls Crowley’s writing “utterly engrossing, with prose that treats a sun-washed rural road or a software box with the honor and admiration due a sacred relic. This collection’s recurring refrains — “pay attention,” Shakespeare, injuries and aging, the agony of making choices — coalesce into a reading experience like a long afternoon spent with an intimate, excellent raconteur.”

John Crowley will read from his new story collection on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Book Moon (the former White Square Books) in Easthampton.

FLIGHT OF INTEGRITY

By Peter Cichon with Janice Beetle

Janice Beetle Books

janicebeetlebooks.com

The book “Flight of Integrity” is a true-life story that is presented as a novel, with the names and places of certain characters changed. It’s the story of Peter Cichon (called James Kowalski in the book), a former baggage handler, or “ramp agent,” at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut for an airline that’s now out of business (Arrow Airlines in the story).

It’s a grim tale — though one with some redemption at the end — of Cichon’s battle against his former employer, where he was falsely accused of aberrant behavior by three fellow male employees whom he had angered by calling them out for their persistent harassment of some female employees of the airline.

“Flight of Integrity” is co-written by Cichon and Janice Beetle, a writer and editor who runs an Easthampton writing services business that includes coaching, book development, copy editing and other assistance.

The story traces Cichon’s background, growing up in a working class home in Holyoke where money was always tight but where he also learned the value of hard work. He’d long wanted to work for an airline, a thought that was reinforced when he’d spend some lunch breaks watching jets landing and taking off at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee.

“That’s where I want to be,” he’d think. “In the sky.”

Cichon then landed his job at Bradley Airport in the 1990s, but as the book outlines, his workplace eventually turned into a hornet’s nest of sexual harassment, backbiting, racial tension and more. Cichon would have to fight to preserve not just his job but his reputation as a good worker and a stand-up guy.

Janice Beetle will discuss “Flight of Integrity” on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the South Hadley Public Library, at 2 Canal Street.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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