About Jill McCorkle’s upcoming new novel, Lee Smith says it is McCorkle’s “best ever.”
Wow! This news will stir up the enthusiastic fans that McCorkle earned with her novels (“The Cheer Leader,” “July 7th,” “Tending to Virginia,” “Ferris Beach,” “Carolina Moon” and “Tending to Virginia”) and collections of short stories (Final Vinyl Days,” “Creatures of Habit,” and “Going Away Shoes”)
But before we get too excited, her new book is not scheduled for release until next spring, about the same time their publisher Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill will release Lee Smith’s new novel based on Zelda Fitzgerald’s time in North Carolina.
If McCorkle’s fans cannot wait to watch her talk about the new book on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, they can watch her on a Bookwatch Classic presentation at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 13, on the UNC-TV MX digital channel available to Time-Warner subscribers on channel #172 or #4.4.
On this program that was first broadcast in 1999, McCorkle talks about “Final Vinyl Days,” a collection of short stories. Those stories, as I read them again recently, are even more delicious than they were 13 years ago.
The title story, “Final Vinyl Days,” takes us back to the times when record stores were the active centers of our music culture, before CDs, before MP3s and IPods. The people who owned them and worked there were community opinion leaders. Think about Barrie Bergman’s Record Bar in Chapel Hill, or its equivalent in almost every other North Carolina small city in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.
The story’s opener lets the reader know that the popular music of radio and record stores is going to be in the background all the way through. “I’ll never forget the day Betts moved in,” the record store worker narrates. “How could I? Open the apartment door, and there she is, with two suitcases, a purple futon and two milk crates full of albums. It was 1984, the day after Marvin Gaye died. That is how I remember it so well. I had just gotten home from my job at Any Old Way You Choose It Music, where the Marvin Gaye bin had emptied within a couple of hours.”
How is the narrator going to deal with losing Betts, his girlfriend, who moves out as quickly as she moved in? “I didn’t miss her so much as I just missed.” Or losing again the girl who dumped him in high school? Or realizing that CDs were taking over and these were his “final vinyl days”?
My favorite, though, is “Your Husband Is Cheating on Us,” written in the voice of the mistress talking to the wife of the cheat who is two-timing both of them with a younger woman. She tells the wife not to “let him off easy. Pitch a blue blazing fit. Scream, curse, throw things. Let him have it, honey. Your husband is cheating on us. Let him have it. And when all is said and done, please just forget that I was ever here; that I ever walked the earth…Who knows if I even exist.”
This year our Sunday school class read and discussed short stories that had religious themes or dealt with challenges to faith. Somehow we missed McCorkle’s story, “The Anatomy of Man,” in which a pastor retreats to the heated baptismal pool in his church. In the pool he wrestles with his inadequate understanding of his purpose in life and the expectations he should have of himself as a minister.
“Now as he floats, drifting in and out of sleep, he feels unworthy. He feels like a failure, someone who somewhere along the line has stopped paying attention.”
Reading her stories from the 1990s and watching her talk about them this Wednesday can be like a trip back in time with Jill McCorkle, a trip where we discover her stories really are timeless.