Lit: Lucy Corin's boundary issues

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In her story collection The Entire Predicament, author Lucy Corin investigates the unstable line between public and private life
By Amanda Davidson
lit@sfbg.com

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Dangling by one ankle in the front doorway of her house, the narrator of “The Entire Predicament,” the titular story in Lucy Corin’s new collection, regards the world from an upside-down vantage point. “My country’s at war,” she states, as if, tilted over, she can simply spill out this oft-suppressed information. As she twirls, slowly, suspended by a “network of ropes,” the unnamed protagonist observes the inside of her house and the outside world in alternating rotations. Inside, consumer totems of the good life -- “the desirable open floor plan” and “shining kitchen” -- turn out to lack substance. Doors are hollow; walls crumble at a touch. Outside, children, soldiers, and, mysteriously, a small giraffe collect on the lawn. “How did I get here?” the suspended narrator wonders.

Corin’s characters, whether lesbians, married couples, or interfering-neighbor types, frequently occupy this precarious threshold between public and private life, exploring ways in which that boundary can become porous and unstable. The predicament, for characters and writer alike, becomes how to forge meaning and agency in the mutually informing encounter between self, other, and a violent world. “Should I skip to the good part?” asks the narrator of “My Favorite Dentist,” as her story jumps tracks between a trip to the dentist, news reports of the DC sniper, and a make-out session with her neighbor. “I’m wondering which clump of time is skimmable,” she continues, “what space is the space between things that count.”
Corin doesn’t take this question for granted, but instead experiments restlessly, varying her formal approach from story to story. In fact, the figure of the upside-down narrator might also correspond to the ways in which Corin investigates form, overturning conventions of realist fiction -- such as plots that climb to a climax and neatly resolve -- without entirely doing away with them. If the results are occasionally uneven across the collection, some kind of meaning or beauty emerges from the pileup of astonishing sentences, which are by turn carnal, disarming, and profound. As the narrator of “Who Buried the Baby” reckons, “There was some justice, I thought, later. A sweet, naked little bully, with scarves around her feet.”

THE ENTIRE PREDICAMENT: STORIES
By Lucy Corin
Tin House Books
220 pages
$13.95

READINGS
Radar Reading Series, with Rebecca Brown, Masha Tupitsyn, Ric Royer, and guest host Sara Seinberg
Tues/16, 6 p.m., free
San Francisco Public Library, Main Branch, Latino Reading Room
100 Larkin, SF
(415) 557-4400, www.sfpl.org

With Rebecca Brown
Wed/17, 7 p.m., free
City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus, SF
(415) 362-8193, www.citylights.com

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