Category Archives: classic

Bill Wallace

As a child I clung to books as a lifeboat from loneliness. I can remember distinct times in my life  I considered certain books not  just an entertaining diversion, but an extra appendage. I recall wandering the streets of Oxnard, CA with my family, clinging to the Sweet Valley High book, The Ghost of Tricia Martin. There, of course, was the long period of time that I brought Paul Zindel’s The Pigman to every family outing. And there was the stretch that involved me clinging, tears a-flowing, to A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace.

Bill Wallace died last night, January 30, 2012, at the age of sixty-four after struggling with lung cancer.  Wallace was a prolific Oklahoman children’s writer, he published thirty-one children’s books for various ages and co-authored seven books with his wife, Carol Wallace.

There are a lot of things that I could say about Wallace: he was a teacher, that he is the recipient of twenty state children’s choice awards, that he became a writer by accident (in order to quiet his fourth grade class he started telling them stories, these would eventually become his books). There are many beautiful things to learn about Bill Wallace.

There is a deep sense of loss that comes with learning that someone who so profoundly changed your love of reading has passed. Bill Wallace’s books taught me the basic fundamentals of being a great storyteller. He was an exceptionally honest with his audience. The honesty and poignancy of his writing allowed me, at a young age, to visit Oklahoma, and cope with the loss of a beloved pet. His writing was a solace to me during the dark times of isolation, and his impact on the accessibility of writing for youth has stayed with me as an adult.

To learn ore about his work and impact please check out:

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Review: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness

(Richard Yates, Vintage Classics, 1962, 220 pp)

I was pleased by my first journey into Richard Yates’s writing. In Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Yates has created a collection of short stories that delve into the intricacies of alienation in post-war America. His stories feature characters that have become Americana icons over the years- from soldiers to suburban children, housewives, expatriates and city businessmen. He expertly dismantles their carefully constructed exteriors in order to let the reader explore how constricting 1950s American life could be for both the privileged and down and out.

His short stories are cinematic and vaguely familiar; we have seen them often in the past decade in cinemas and in shows like the clearly Yates-influenced Mad Men. Yet the characters still feel fresh and contemporary, we know these characters, we have seen aspects of them in ourselves, in our parents and grandparents. I read this collection in three bursts because I was desperate to read more about these haunted lives while also being somewhat hesitant to endure the sometimes raw honesty of sadness contained amongst the pages. Four of the stories have especially stayed with me, “Doctor Jack-O-Lantern” and “Fun with a Stranger” both involving schoolchildren and their teachers; “A Very Good Jazz Piano”, about two Ivy League students on holiday in France; and “Out with the Old”, about veterans with TB and their lives in their ward on the cusp of a new year.

What Yates is masterful at is capturing the sense of transitional anxiety, the fear that surrounds people who are yearning for both their past and their future. These characters are not symbols of nostalgia; they are on the front line of all the social changes slowly occurring around them. They can’t see its effects yet but they can sense it, and it terrifies them. In my favourite stories, this fear and loneliness is intergenerational. In “Doctor Jack-O-Lantern”, a young boy confronts his loneliness and alienation through destruction, while in “Fun with a Stranger” it is schoolchildren who bear witness to their teacher’s loneliness, while compounding it with their lack of understanding. “ A Very Good Jazz Piano” shows inherent loneliness of a life abroad, where a constant sense of thwarted potentiality colours the interactions of two Ivy Leaguers with everyone around them, as well as each other. In “Out with the Old”, TB patients must continually negotiate their previous selves, and all roles they once had, with how they are regarded in their ward and their encroaching obsoleteness. I found this story to be particularly moving; it contained a bittersweet warmth unmarred by sentimentality.

One of the only flaws found in this lovely book is the end piece, “The Builder”. Longer than the other stories, the tone never felt particularly sincere to me. Though this was largely done purposefully- the story centres on a writer asked to write mawkish stories for a cab driver with stars in his eyes- I couldn’t move past the clunky metaphors bandied about by the characters. It didn’t contain the underlying gracefulness of the other stories. Whether this is simply my own preference of wanting some kind of desperate grace or an actual defect of the story, I cannot be certain.

Despite the last tale, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness is a strong collection that is also aided by strong and beautiful cover art. The characters remain with you once you have stopped reading its pages and you realise how much the echoes of their actions reverberate throughout all of us as we attempt to survive the loneliness of the mundane.

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