The Crusader Online

November 16, 2012
Vol. 54 No. 10

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Reader response

Student examines the works of Claire Watkins

Reading Claire Vaye Watkins has changed the way that I want to write. In her collection of short stories, there are so many different styles of short stories, and I think that this reveals how great of a writer she is.

When I first started reading "Ghosts, Cowboys," I really had no idea where the story was going, and I was thinking I wasn't going to like Watkins much. Then, as I kept reading, I saw where the story was going and I absolutely loved it. It's no secret that I love dark topics written bluntly, and that's exactly what she did. Her description of Razor Blade Baby, a child born from Charles Manson's orgies, and the feelings she felt toward the entire situation was extremely frank, and the fact that the narrator spoke so frankly of her was phenomenal. For example, she was at party and her friends asked if she'd brought her auntie with her, and she said, "No, that's Razor Blade Baby."

Considering the nature of the story, I wasn't really expecting the ending at all, and I think I liked the ending because I hadn't really felt bad for the narrator, but more pity for Razor Blade Baby, and the ending just kind of fit.

Razor Blade Baby never even gets a name or called much else, and so the ending of the narrator accepting Razor Blade Baby a little was a nice relief to her strange coming into the world and upbringing. "The Last Thing We Need" is one I'm still trying to figure out. It's like Watkins was relaying that people have many faces and masks that they wear to please different people.

Thomas Grey, the writer of the letters, talks about how he tells these things to Duane Moser, the person whose objects he found on the side of the road, but they are things he hasn't even told his wife. At one point, he says that's the way it has to be, and she has to understand that. I just see this reoccurring theme of masks and different sides of people. I like that Watkins is so detailed in her descriptions and that her stories are so relatable. She does this and doesn't try to fluff the reader, but simply write the truth of a situation.

In my introduction to fiction class, we talked about how many of Watkins' characters are born into violence, and it is something that I saw repeating through the second half of her book. I think that my favorite has been "The Archivist."

The thing that I like about Watkins' stories are that the main narrators themselves are not explored as much as the characters around them, and that's why I can relate to the characters so much. Sure, I didn't know Nat's name until a good portion into the story. I don't really know what she looks like or her hobbies. What I do see is her relationships to people (her sister, Ezra, her mother) and how those relationships affect her. Isn't this the way that we think every day? We don't look at ourselves and explain our characteristics, but we see how relationships change us and mold us and seep into our souls.

I attended the reading that Watkins did at Susquehanna as well. I loved that she read "Wish You Were Here." This is another story where we see how the relationships she's had and the life she led, which is what made her into herself. Listening to Claire read it, I could see the easy flow of her words and sentences. I realized that her word selection isn't necessarily difficult or crazy, but she is still able to paint a picture, especially while explaining a character's actions. I really liked her writing, and I'm happy I had a chance to read her work.

After reading and hearing her talk, I know that I want to try and imitate the type of ways she writes. Whether it's straining to find a connection through events, or using a letter-writing technique to expose the characters, I know that this is a new style I will want to work with and see where the wind blows me.

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