Can stories fix our lives? Can they heal wounds? Can they save us?
Through the heartsick protagonist of "Doc's Story," Wideman raises these questions and refuses to answer. Even in the story-within-the-story of the blind basketball-playing university professor, we hear about both magic and failure. Shooting fouls is a good metaphor for stories and the art of telling stories. If you practice you can "swish," even if you're blind; however, even if you practice and mostly "swish," sometimes you shoot way wide. Is this story's plot like the arc of a basketball? Does it go through the hoop? Does Wideman want it to?
In "Presents" we again see that what goes up must come down. Big Mama serves as the font of truth, prophesying what will happen for her grandson: "He'll rise in the world, sing for kings and queens, but his gift for music will also drag him down to the depths of hell." The boy's acquisition of music is fated to him as kingship was fated to Arthur: "The music's in the box like the sword in the stone." Wideman "presents" us with "a simple story" that should remind you that stories are old and they are necessary and that we recycle them in order to fix our lives. The protagonist's story is "Easy to tell to a stranger at the bar who will buy you a drink. Young boy and old woman. Christmastime. Reading each other's minds. Exchanging gifts of song. His fortune told. The brief, bright time of his music. How far it took him, how quickly gone." The stranger buys him a drink for his story--a pattern as old as the tradition of bards--and then the storyteller, again alone, wishes for salvation.
I write about family, about the sketchy salvation of storytelling. I'm claiming Wideman for my family. I hope he can teach me more about voice.