Thoughtful Thursday: Boys of My Youth


I have to admit, I wanted to read this book because the author and I share the same last name. Having aspirations of being published one day myself, I was just intrigued by the sight of my name on the cover. I’m pretty sure we’re not related, although who knows? As it turns out, this was a really impressive collection of short stories — even more impressive because it was her first published collection. This will go on my list of books with a writing style I aspire to mimick. She’s very conversational, with an amazing eye for detail and the past. A friend commented here recently that he was amazed I could remember such detail. I remember a few things in great detail, a few things in general, and most things not at all. It continually amazes me, the stories my oldest friends recount — events where I was present and involved — and I have no memory of them left at all. I hate those moments. It makes me feel very guilty somehow. One of the reasons I enjoy writing so much is that it gives me a way to record things I want to remember, but probably won’t be able to years from now without some kind of documentation.

I like The Library Journal’s description of this book: twelve autobiographical sketches linked by the theme of romance and the author’s painful disillusionment with it.

“Beard often edges from serious laughter to high seriousness and back again. “The Fourth State of Matter” is perhaps the book’s standout, a narrative about space physicists; invading squirrels; a beautiful, dying dog; a “vanished husband”; and, alas, a seminar turned 12-minute massacre. On November 1, 1991, she leaves work early and passes by the disappointed graduate student who will later that day gun down eight members of the University of Iowa physics depart. Her piece is complex and heartbreaking, a master conduit of emotion and information. As always, Beard knows the rich value of the minor ritual. Earlier, she had recalled playing “Maserati” with her collie: “I’d grab her nose like a gearshift and put her through all the gears, firstsecondthirdfourth, until we were going a hundred miles an hour through town. She thought it was funny.” After “the newslady” finally confirms her colleagues’ deaths, “Maserati” again figures: “We sit by the tub. She lifts her long nose to my face and I take her muzzle and we move through the gears slowly; first second third fourth, all the way through town, until what has happened has happened and we know it has happened.”


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