• 68°

Funny little stories in a funny little book

Author

Joseph Skibell

Joseph Skibell

“My Father’s Guitar and Other Imaginary Things,” by Joseph Skibell. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2015. 209 pp. $16.95.

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

On one of our recent rainy days, I picked up a funny little book and stepped into the world of Joseph Skibell.

His latest work is “My Father’s Guitar and Other Imaginary Things,” a collection of essays with a hint of fiction about incidents in his life. Much of the fiction is based on how unreliable memories can be.

Skibell is the author of the novels “A Curable Romantic” and “A Blessing on the Moon,” both of which earned critical acclaim, and other works.

These essays/stories were written after Skibell and his daughter went on a guitar tour, visiting master guitar makers. And that trip was prompted by a memory of his late father’s guitar. Or the guitar Skibell thought his father had, or was it one he had? A guitar anyway.

And somewhere in there, it probably had a lot to do with Skibell being 49 and his daughter 18 and that sudden feeling of “this IS what being a grown-up means.”

“A Blessing on the Moon” told a fantasy-realistic story about Polish Jews who died in the Holocast that won high praise from nearly every major review publication. “A Curable Romantic,”  in which a man falls in love with two different prominent women of the 20th century, had a cast of hundreds, and Skibell wanted to write something intimate and close.

The stories, of course, are intimately about Skibell’s life, and it’s a quirky one. He’s a writer, a teacher, a student of ancient Jewish texts. His family lives in Texas, which seems unusual in and of itself, a Jewish family with a Texas drawl. And his family has its fair share of oddballs — like any other family.

In “Wooden Nickels” Tiger, Skibell’s uncle, is a less successful version of Ed Wood, trying to be a moviemaker and Hollywood somebody. He’s also got this great idea of building casinos on Indian reservations. None of it ever works out, of course, and Tiger dies sad and alone in an Alzheimer’s unit. But Skibell commits him to our memories.

In “Irvin and Wonderland,” Skibell spends a few days with his father in the hospital. Irvin Skibell is very somber, rather critical and uncomfortable when it comes to son Joseph, the writer. But a reaction to medication sends Irvin into a remarkable place, where he sees and imagines things, where he talks about his dreams and going into hyperspace, and speaks German and dips into Jewish mysticism.

For the first time in their lives, they are able to get along. But as the medicine is changed, life returns to normal. Those precious moments, though, live on.

And there are silly parts, too, like the house in Taos haunted by a dressmaker who committed suicide, the sound of scissors heard, then problems with water and electricity. And Skibell’s discussion with the happy man who locked his wheel with a boot for parking in a restricted parking lot.

Throughout these story/essays, Skibell is having fun. He’s letting his hair down, letting it all hang out and writing what’s on his mind, which is a fascinating and complex thing.

One of the funniest stories is “International Type of Guy,” his attempt to get telemarketers to fund a trip. Every time a telemarketer calls, Skibell turns the tables and tells them about his great idea: “I’m soliciting funds to send a delegate to the Eighty-Eighth Annual Esperanto Congress in Sweden.” Because, in addition to writing screenplays, novels and studying Judaism, he also learned Esperanto, the international language linguist L.L. Zamenhof proposed in 1887. You can read all about that in “A Curable Romantic.”

Not having read Skibell’s novels, this collection of memoir essays is a glimpse into what pleasures may lie ahead.

Comments

Coronavirus

CDC: Fully vaccinated people can largely ditch masks indoors

Crime

One arrested, another hospitalized in Castor Road stabbing

China Grove

China Grove Roller Mill open for tours Saturday

News

Facing personnel deficiencies, local fire departments request tax rate increases

Local

‘Panic buying’ creates gas supply shortages locally, statewide after pipeline cyberattack

Business

Twice as nice: Planet Smoothie opens alongside Cold Stone Creamery in co-branded store

Local

Spencer board gets update on South Iredell rat problem

Education

West Rowan teacher awarded $15,000 outdoor learning grant

Cleveland

Town of Cleveland plans celebration May 22

High School

High school girls tennis: Busy Hornets win again easily

High School

High school softball: Nixon, Walton top all-county team

Education

All Hood Alumni and Friends Symposium scheduled June 18

Education

Shoutouts: Southern City Church awards educational gifts

Local

City to pave streets surrounding Bell Tower Green after park is constructed

Nation/World

Colonial Pipeline restarts operations days after major hack

Nation/World

Ohio’s million-dollar idea: Lottery prizes for vaccinations

Nation/World

GOP dumps defiant Trump critic Cheney from top House post

Nation/World

Israel steps up Gaza offensive, kills senior Hamas figures

Coronavirus

Fluctuating COVID-19 death number back to 302 in Rowan County

Crime

Habitual felon sentenced to at least 8 years in prison

Kannapolis

City of Kannapolis to have bike rodeo Saturday

Crime

Two more charged for operating illegal gambling businesses

Education

A.L. Brown celebrates seniors with signing day

Business

Rebounding, but not recovered: Rowan County tourism begins challenging path toward normalcy