The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories
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by John Kessel
Category: Science Fiction Tiptree Award Winner, Nebula Award(R) Winner, Sturgeon Award Winner, Locus Poll Award Winner
Description: An ex-con finds himself falling, once more, under a seductive, amoral woman's spell. A hidden door in a summer house leads to a land of plenty. An inventor's life converges with the pulp fiction he reads. In "Pride and Prometheus," the Bennett sisters encounter Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. And, in his acclaimed and award-winning Lunar Quartet, Kessel explores the gender dynamics, politics, and long-term sustainability of a matriarchal lunar colony. This astonishing collection ranges from science fiction to the surreal while intersecting with Frank L. Baum's Oz and the characters of Flannery O'Connor, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen. By turns satirical, horrific, funny, and generous, these stories showcase the manifold gifts of a modern-day master.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press, 2008 2008
eBookwise Release Date: March 2008
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [537 KB]
Reading time: 338-473 min.
"Kessel is a superb satirist with a keen eye for detailing the human spirit."--The Philadelphia Inquirer
"These well-crafted stories, full of elegantly drawn characters, deliver a powerful emotional punch."--Publishers Weekly
"Kessel constructs stories of subversive eloquence.... One of the best collections of the year."--Locus
When I picked her up at the Stop 'n Shop on Route 28, Dot was wearing a short black skirt and red sneakers just like the ones she had taken from the bargain rack the night we broke into the Sears in Hendersonville five years earlier. I couldn't help but notice the curve of her hip as she slid into the front seat of my old T-Bird. She leaned over and gave me a kiss, bright red lipstick and breath smelling of cigarettes. "Just like old times," she said.
The Sears had been my idea, but after we got into the store that night all the other ideas had been Dot's, including the game on the bed in the furniture department and me clocking the night watchman with the anodized aluminum flashlight I took from Hardware, sending him to the hospital with a concussion and me to three years in Central. When the cops showed up, Dot was nowhere to be found. That was all right. A man has to take responsibility for his own actions; at least that's what they told me in the group therapy sessions that the prison shrink ran on Thursday nights. But I never knew a woman who could make me do the things that Dot could make me do.
One of the guys at those sessions was Radioactive Roy Dunbar, who had a theory about how we were all living in a computer and none of this was real. Well if this isn't real, I told him, I don't know what real is. The softness of Dot's breast or the shit smell of the crapper in the Highway 28 Texaco, how can there be anything more real than that? Radioactive Roy and the people like him are just looking for an exit door. I can understand that. Everybody dreams of an exit door sometimes.
I slipped the car into gear and pulled out of the station onto the highway. The sky was red above the Blue Ridge, the air blowing in the windows smoky with the ash of the forest fires burning a hundred miles to the northwest.
"Cat got your tongue, darlin'?" Dot said.
I pushed the cassette into the deck and Willie Nelson was singing "Hello Walls." "Where are we going, Dot?"
"Just point this thing west for twenty or so. When you come to a sign that says Potters Glen, make a right on the next dirt road."
Dot pulled a pack of Kools out of her purse, stuck one in her mouth, and punched the car's cigarette lighter.
"Doesn't work," I said.
She pawed through her purse for thirty seconds, then clipped it shut. "Shit," she said. "You got a match, Sid?" Out of the corner of my eye I watched the cigarette bobble up and down as she spoke.
"Sorry, sweetheart, no."
She took the cigarette from her mouth, stared at it for a moment, and flipped it out her opened window.
Hello window. I actually had a box of Ohio Blue Tips in the glove compartment, but I didn't want Dot to smoke because it was going to kill her someday. My mother smoked, and I remember her wet cough and the skin stretched tight over her cheekbones as she lay in the upstairs bedroom of the big house in Lynchburg, puffing on a Winston. Whenever my old man came in to clear her untouched lunch he asked her if he could have one, and mother would smile at him, eyes big, and pull two more coffin nails out of the red-and-white pack with her nicotine-stained fingers.
One time after I saw this happen, I followed my father down to the kitchen. As he bent over to put the tray on the counter, I snatched the cigarettes from his shirt pocket and crushed them into bits over the plate of pears and cottage cheese. I glared at him, daring him to get mad. After a few seconds he just pushed past me to the living room and turned on the TV.
That's the story of my life: me trying to save the rest of you--and the rest of you ignoring me.