The Museum of Ordinary People
by Lewis Turco
Publisher: Cloudbank Creations, Inc.
Imprint: Star Cloud Press
ISBN Complete: 978-1-932842-16-6
Year of Publication: 2008
Page Count: 196
Lewis Turco's short fiction has been appearing since 1965 in such venues as The Alaska Review, The Arts (Chicago Tribune), The Beloit Fiction Journal, The Carleton Miscellany, The Courier-Journal (New Haven), Crosscurrents, The Edge City Review (where a story won second prize in the Millennium Fiction Contest in 2002), Kansas Quarterly, The Newsday Magazine, Syracuse New Times, Northwest Magazine (The Sunday Oregonian), Picture (Minneapolis Tribune), Ploughshares, Syracuse Guide, Voices in Italian Americana, and This World (San Francisco Chronicle). Many of the stories are scheduled to appear or have appeared on-line in such ezines as Per Contra and Nights and Weekends. Turco's stories have been anthologized in American Fiction 2, edited by Michael C. White and Alan Davis for Birch Lane Press; Two Worlds Walking, edited by Diane Glancy and C. W. Truesdale for New Rivers Press, and in Heroes and Villains, edited by Henry I. Christ for AMSCO School Publications. "Vincent" was included in the first P. E. N. / N. E. A. Syndicated Fiction Project, anthologized in The Available Press / P. E. N. Short Story Collection by Ballantine Books and included in the National Public Radio series The Sound of Writing, sponsored by the P. E. N. American Center and the National Endowment for the Arts, broadcast nationally on various National Public Radio stations beginning in 1987. Although The Museum of Ordinary People is Lewis Turco's first collection of short fiction, he wrote The Book of Dialogue, considered by many to be the definitive book on writing dialogue in fiction; it has gone through several domestic and foreign editions including one translated into Italian and another that makes up a tripartite U. K. volume (with Ansen Dibell and Orson Scott Card) titled How to Write a Mi££ion.
A Review by Mike Whitney:
(used by the permission of the author)
Welcome to The Museum of Ordinary People whose habitants are anything but. As you enter, shadowy hallways lead to empty rooms touched by shafts of slanting light, revealing, at first glance, but little: here an impress of harrowing tragedy; there an aura of sweet poignance. A sinister shadow darkens the upper floor. Some rooms are closed off, and he who enters does so at his own peril, for the Museum keeps its secrets.
The exhibits within reveal haunting stories of love and death, of fear and hope, of the most elemental emotions that comprise our days. I have read many eerie stories, stories of the uncanny – NOT mere ghost or horror stories, but stories much stranger and more enigmatic than that. The best of these convey a subtle suggestion of dread or discomfiture, often so subtle as to baffle conventional definition. Such stories vastly transcend popular contrivances of clairvoyance, voodoo, exorcism, demons, satanic possession, and other equally dismal, banal absurdities. No, the stories I admire are much more original and provocative in both concept and execution.
The best of these, for me, are Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and two of hers I like more, "The Summer People" and "The Bus"; Ray Bradbury's "The Town Where No One Got Off'" and "The Lake" (if you ignore the hackneyed, "ghostly" ending); Roald Dahl's "The Landlady"; Yvor Winters's "The Brink of Darkness," and H. E. Bates's atmospherically beautiful and enigmatic "The Station." Yet none of these are more uncannily disconcerting than the title story of this book, "The Museum of Ordinary People." What a chillingly bewildering story! In it parents are caught in a cycle of ceaseless searching for children utterly vanished on a beautiful sunny day ten years before. Their journeys lead, ultimately, to a strangely disquieting house on a lonely stretch of road.
The story is as troubling as it is perplexing, yet in such an ordinary, insidious manner. I really am not sure what it means, I just know it disturbs me with its feeling of quiet, soulless dread. Everybody here is a little too ordinary, as if they (we?) are all mannequin-like automatons, sentient but lifeless. What really happened to these children? What was the gas station attendant about to ask Howard? The new ending is chilling and makes a great story even better than the original version, which I first read in a high school English textbook (I am a secondary school teacher). It is unquestionably one of the most eerie stories I've ever read. It should be anthologized widely, especially in anthologies of the eerie and uncanny.
Things in this Museum are not always what they seem. In "One Sunday Morning" we see a grim portrait of the rationally irrational and of its shattering, inexplicable consequences. "The Scent of Lilac" suffuses the museum with the sickly sweet presentiment of death, yet foreshadows a quickening, too: a release of life and love not priorly possible. "An Old Fashioned Kind of Guy" is a story for our post-sixties' times, when roles are reversed, no one seems to know who he or she really is, and the world exists in a state of social chaos. The voice of the Gunner in "Shipmates" winds one in as smoothly as he must once have wound the lake bass in with his father. That final image of the bulgy-eyed bass caught in the father's death throes is as startling as it is grotesque, and the whole frightening thing is heightened immensely by the narrator's starry backdrop, the opening scene and narration reminiscent of Marlow's opening narration and setting in "Heart of Darkness." It is a tragic tale that works on several levels.
"The Man in the Booth" is an understated story of quiet reflection whose hauntingly intimate narrative anticipates a disturbing conclusion. It has the most unusual effect of unnerving even as it soothes. The quietly understated tone here is such a remarkable rarity in our day of relentless white noise and screeching media, and the imagery contrast between the lighted aquarium and the "lapping tides" of outer darkness is beautiful and other-worldly, yet the story feels so real as to be autobiographical.
In "The City of the Dead" a cemetery loosens a flood of happy memories juxtaposed with bittersweet reflections on life's ultimate end and the desolate loneliness of the one left behind. What a beautiful story it is, and it makes me muse ruefully on the loneliness ahead for my wife, who is ten years younger than I. The imagery in the graveyard setting (the first three pages) is the best I've ever read of any similar setting and conveys an overwhelming sense of loneliness and spiritual isolation, while yet retaining all the subtle beauty and otherworldly serenity of such a place.
These are but a few samples of the many curios within the Museum. And who are its denizens? Why, very ordinary people – you, me, the next-door neighbor. People who lead ordinary lives filled with extraordinary moments. Those moments are sure to illuminate both the sunlit places and the shadowy recesses of ourselves and those around us. So step right up, buy yourself a ticket, and enter – if you dare – this museum of extraordinary ordinary people.
Additional Titles from Lewis Turco:
Satan's Scourge, A Narrative of the Age of Witchraft in England and New England 1580-1697
Fearful Pleasures: The Complete Poems, 1959-2007
A Sheaf of Leaves by Lewis Turco
The Collected Lyrics of Lewis Turco / Wesli Court, 1953-2004 by Lewis Turco
Fantaseers: A Book of Memories by Lewis Turco
Lewis Turco and His Work: A Celebration
About Lewis Turco:
Lewis Turco, Professor Emeritus of English Writing Arts, is perhaps the most widely respected poet-scholar in the United States. He took his B.A. from the University of Connecticut in 1959 and his M.A. from the University of Iowa in 1962. In 2000, he received an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, from Ashland University in Ohio.
Founding Director of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center (1962) and the Program in Writing Arts at the State University of New York at Oswego (1968) before his retirement in 1996, he was chosen to write the major essay on "Poetry" - as well as a dozen other entries - for the Encyclopedia of American Literature, and he was himself included in it as a biographee. His poems, essays, stories and plays have appeared in most of the major literary periodicals over the past half-century, and in over one hundred books and anthologies.
Lewis Turco's classic The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics has been called "the poet's Bible" since its original publication in 1968, through three editions and many printings. A companion volume, The Book of Literary Terms, The Genres of Fiction, Drama, Nonfiction, Literary Criticism and Scholarship, received a Choice award as an "Outstanding Academic Book" for the year 2000. A third book in the series, The Book of Dialogue, appeared in 2004. His first book of criticism, Visions and Revisions of American Poetry, won the Melville Cane Award of the Poetry Society of America in 1986, and his A Book of Fears: Poems, with Italian translations by Joseph Alessia, won the first annual Bordighera Bilingual Poetry Prize in 1998. Poems in his book of poetry, The Green Maces of Autumn: Voices in an Old Maine House (2002) won both the Silverfish Review Chapbook Award for 1989, and the Cooper House Chapbook Competition for 1990. In 1999, Professor Turco received the John Ciardi Award for lifetime achievement in poetry sponsored by the periodical Italian Americana and the National Italian American Foundation.
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