Friday, January 31, 2020

The Mutual UFO Network

It turns out the Mutual UFO Network is a real organization, but I'm talking about The Mutual UFO Network, a marvelous book of short stories by Lee Martin. In the title story, the narrator's father sells a sort of "fake news" to people who believe in UFOs. "In my own home, my parents operated a mail-order business called The Mutual UFO Network. My father transferred computer-generated images to videotape and created illusions of spaceships streaking across the night sky." He then sold his wares to people "who wanted proof that what they'd suspected all along was indeed true: there were visitors from other planets, and they were indeed watching us." I wonder what the real organization thinks about the book! Also, I see from the Wikipedia article that the founder of MUFON lived in Illinois, and so did Lee Martin for a time. Coincidence?

This is a beautiful book. The characters in it are deep and complicated, flawed and lovable anyway. They suffer, they hurt, they love, they misbehave, and then, amazingly, so many of them are so decent, so compassionate, so capable of change. These are stories about people who yearn for reparation, transformation, some way to do the right thing after, sometimes, doing the wrong thing. I read this at exactly the right time, as I am watching people obstinately doing the wrong thing when they could do the right thing. This book gives me hope. Yes, it's fiction, but it's realistic, not escapist or genre fiction, where things may turn out all right but not necessarily in a believable way, more in a formulaic way. Nothing formulaic here, just wonderfully organic meanderings (not manipulative twists) and (motivated) turns. I follow Lee Martin's blog, and you can, too. It's listed on the right of my blog here. He teaches at Ohio State University, and his blog gives generous and practical writing advice.

And I'm still reading Sontag, where AIDS has struck, in the early 1980s, and, true to form, Susan Sontag doesn't want her story about AIDS to be thought of as a story about AIDS. And she's not aware of new information about children of alcoholics, either, in a book by Janet B. Woititz, who sees adult children of alcoholics as stuck between "Always tell the truth" and "I don't want to know." As Sontag author Benjamin Moser summarizes, "She called the conflict between demanding the truth and not wanting to know it 'the greatest paradox.'" AKA denial.

What I see in Lee Martin and in many of his characters is deep acceptance. In the characters, it may come after a period of denial. Denial, or meth, or alcohol, or sex may blunt the suffering for a while, take the edge off, but the suffering is there underneath, raw and waiting. Martin as a writer has acceptance and character, and he allows his main characters to experience acceptance, which leads them to action. His characters acquire nobility. By being human.

No comments: