Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Nothing About The Bakken Yet -- September 12, 2018

From Christian Lorentzen's review of Ben Blum's Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime, 2018, in the current issue of The London Review of Books, p. 22. It begins:
Most bank robberies in the US are accomplished with a simple demand note. That was the way my great-uncle Bobby went about it when he robbed a Boston bank in 1952.

He was wearing a mask but somebody saw the get-away car, and he was soon arrested because he'd parked it right outside his house.

He was 25 years old and had four children. He told the cops he'd robbed the bank 'to buy food for my family.'

Nobody left alive remembers how long he spent in prison, but it's said that he once stole an armoured car just to take it for a joyride.

He was wild when he was young.

By the time I knew him he was a genial elderly truck driver who liked to retell his mother's stories of growing up in a village in Albania, a country he'd never visited.

He was a black sheep, but in the eyes of our not very saintly family he'd long since been redeemed.
Our middle granddaughter is learning to write essays in her middle school "advanced" English class.

This week they are working on two- to three-page essays on biographical profiles of family members. I used Lorentzen's review to suggest two things, both issues with which she was struggling.

First, some classmates say they have a boring family, nothing to write about. Olivia has the opposite problem: too much to write about; where does one begin -- her maternal great-grandmother was an 18-year-old living in Japan when the US dropped two nuclear bombs on cities not far from where she lived; her maternal great-grandfather was sent back to Mexico by the Texas Rangers after illegally swimming across the Rio Grande; her paternal great-grandfather was Norwegian (that's a book in itself; we can start with bringing horses from England to Ellis Island); and her paternal great-grandmother was driving a tractor on the family's Iowa farm before she was eight years old. And that's just one generation.

Her first essay: about what it's like to become an "older sister" -- after Sophia came along.

The second issue we talked about at length: it doesn't matter what one writes about, as long as it's written well (I think Hemingway said that) and it is told in an interesting way. Most important: an opening paragraph that catches a reader's attention. Lorentzen's essay certainly did that for me -- bank robbery, Boston; stupidity; desperation; prison; Albania; redemption. How can one not finish the essay after reading that?

And, of course, that reminds me of the best country and western song ever written. If you don't want to listen to the entire song, but are curious, skip ahead to 3:30 at the video:

You Never Even Called Me By My Name, David Allen Coe

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