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Brief History of Male Nudes in America

Stories by Dianne Nelson Oberhansly

Publication Year: 1993

In these stories, Dianne Nelson illuminates that vast territory of pleasure and pain created within modern families. Whether it is a father trying to kidnap his young son from his estranged ex-wife or a woman celebrating her ability to produce babies without any help from men, Nelson's characters reveal the dark, haunting and sometimes comic dilemmas of kinship.

In the title story, seventeen-year-old April is an involuntary witness to the seemingly endless parade of lovers who frequent her mother's bed. "I don't know why my mother finds no lasting peace" she muses. Opening a book and trying to find her peace in "facts, dates, the pure honesty of numbers," April is overwhelmed finally by the sounds of lovemaking from the adjoining room. "The walls of this house aren't thick enough to keep that kind of sadness contained." In "The Uses of Memory," Netta and Carlene are engaged in a different sort of mother-daughter drama. The issue at hand is the fate of Franklin, their husband and father, who lies in bed in a near comatose state, oblivious to the nurturings or pleadings of either woman.

The past, with its countless repercussion on the present, tugs relentlessly at many of the characters. In "Chocolate," the lingering pain of an impoverished childhood plagues Janice; she recalls, in particular, the birthday and Christmas celebrations, the meager gifts wrapped in the same brown twine that was used to hold the door shut. Hillary, the narrator of "Dixon," is spurred into action by the memory of her dead brother. When a local barfly with "silt for brains" persists in telling outlandish lies about Dixon, Hillary takes up karate training with an eye to defending her brother's name the truth of what she knew him to be. Dee, in "Paperweight," can pinpoint the exact moment at which she came to think of the body as an earthbound trap, "a hopeless house with the doors all locked"; she traces it back to a grade-school theatrical performance and a classmate's luckless efforts to open the cumbersome stage curtains. "If it weren't for my body," she laments, "I could fly, I could go anywhere, I could be anything."

Ranging in setting from a restaurant in St. Louis to the rain-soaked streets of San Francisco, from a boisterous family reunion beneath the broad Kansas sky to a ranch in Utah where a young father dreams of becoming a movie star, these fifteen stories show men and women pondering--and often struggling against--the mysteries of their own circumstances, especially the bonds of flesh and blood.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

Title, Copyright Page

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pp. vii

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Ground Rules

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pp. 1-6

Lewis Houser and his thirteen-year-old son Nathan were hiding behind a toolshed in the unlucky state of Missouri. They had been like that for over an hour—waiting— ready to salvage their lives and take what was...

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A Brief History of Male Nudes in America

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pp. 7-17

They step from behind my mother's shower curtain, pose like acrobats and soldiers, they lie bound in the afternoon light of our downstairs bedroom. There are buttons on the floor. Someone's wallet on the dresser. On the back of...

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Evolution of Words

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pp. 18-20

I tried to see the city as he must have seen it—a miracle of light, the rain-wet streets opening from Battery to Sansome and finally down to Grant. Judd hadn't slept in four nights, and so, when he left his parents' house on the fifth...

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A Map of Kansas

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pp. 21-32

Early on a June morning my relatives come driving in from places small and windswept, places with the names of lost souls: Netawaka, Leavenworth, Skiddy, Sabetha. Those who live in the Far West—Liberal or Scott County—...

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pp. 33-35

I remember a birthday when there was hardly anything for me—a pair of blue mittens wrapped in a Husted's Dry Cleaning sack, brown twine tied in a lopsided bow around it all. With her eyebrow pencil, Libby, my mother, had...

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pp. 36-46

If it weren't for my body, I could fly, I could go anywhere, I could be anything. I learned this fact long ago, and yes, there was regret and suffering from it, there were nights I cried, there were whole summers spent in an upstairs bedroom...

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In the Shadows of Upshot-Knothole

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pp. 47-63

My mother and I ran away only one time, on a sunny May morning when the world was about to end. She didn't know where we were running to, but my mother Lorraine was smart and she would have figured something out, a place for us...

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Nature's Way

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pp. 64-66

Close to midnight, they finally broke the lock and convinced her to get out of the bathtub, that she needed to see a doctor. She was Navajo and had been sitting in the steaming water for hours. She'd miscarried and all that stuff was...

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pp. 67-79

First, it is not true that my brother Dixon went crazy in Vietnam—chewed his fingernails completely off and gutted a Huey helicopter in a rage when his R and R was suddenly bagged. Hell, Dixon never was in Vietnam. His three years in the Air Force were...

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Simple Yellow Cloth

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pp. 80-83

My eyes open and quickly the water of my sleep clears. It's Thursday night. At first I'm angry because it's past one and I have to go to work the next day. Daria is out there in the hallway and she's humming something that I can't name...

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pp. 84-98

Lorna came to us in the first big snow at the end of November, flushed up as strays often are in the sudden cold. Dogs, cats—anything old, nearsighted, or temporarily lame. They look for a garage or a warm light or even a fleece-lined...

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pp. 99-105

It was a Tuesday night when Maize and I ran out of money in Santa Fe—a place dusty and old and, if you aren't careful, the last place you might visit. We knew that we didn't have much cash left, but it was a surprise anyway to dig to the...

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The Uses of Memory

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pp. 106-119

Netta Cartwright believes these are the things that will bring her husband Franklin back from the dead: thick Velveeta sandwiches, fresh air, plenty of talk and music. She throws the windows open, though it is October in Boise and the...

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Exactly Where I Am

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pp. 120-123

I don't know where I am—on the porch, at the screen door, standing on the backyard walkway—but 1 know that I'm there when Daddy and Uncle Gill find RayAnn's fingers in the grass. Where I am standing seems less important than the way...

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Frog Boy

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pp. 124-137

Rocky Davis is all hands and eyes. Big hands—state of Texas hands. Shoulders broad enough to suggest his first good sport coat. He is already wearing size 10 men's shoes, and since last Thursday, Rocky has been on fire. It started as a...

E-ISBN-13: 9780820342009
E-ISBN-10: 0820342009
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820315713
Print-ISBN-10: 0820315710

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 1993

Series Title: Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction