Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Night in Question

While ironing shirts, I listened to Tobias Wolff reading his short story, “Bullet in the Brain.” When the titular shot was fired I put down the iron and sat on the side of the bed, so riveted by Wolff’s words and images I couldn’t do anything but listen. Then it ended, perfectly.


A normal person would at this point breathe a deep sigh of satisfaction, stand, spritz a sleeve, and resume ironing. But I’m not a normal person. I’m a writer.

I had to know how Wolff slowed time, how he revealed character by exclusion, how by the end of the story he made me care so much. To understand his crafting, I would have to see the words on the page. I opened my laptop and clicked to our library’s website to put in a request for The Night in Question, Wolff’s story collection containing “Bullet in the Brain.” Only then was I able to finish my ironing.

Yesterday I dropped by the library with my two younger daughters in tow. From behind the counter the librarian located my request on the hold shelf and pulled out the book. I could see that it was the size and shape of a book you might buy off a spinning book display. Odd, I thought. Maybe they’re marketing literary fiction for the popular market now. The librarian handed me the book and I slipped it into my purse, collected my daughters from the children’s room, and left.

This morning I took the book out of my purse. Something wasn’t right. It wasn’t by Tobias Wolff, for one thing. The title was correct, but the cover image of a windblown couple jolted me. Across the top of the book in serif all caps I read: HARLEQUIN.

"Max Ross spoke coldly, but the flash of heat that seared through his eyes told her he heard her plea."

I took the book back this afternoon, and a chuckling librarian said she’d tell the library where the book originated that their Harlequin is listed incorrectly in the database. “We don’t even stock Harlequins at this library,” she said. We’re classy here in Newberg, I guess. She filed a new request for The Night in Question, but she said chances are good that this same Harlequin title will boomerang right back to me. My very own drama taken straight from the theater of the absurd.

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