We Were Ugly So We Made Beautiful Things

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9780972820035: We Were Ugly So We Made Beautiful Things
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Barringer's third fiction collection includes 15 stories, a seven-page intro by Steve Almond, author of My Life in Heavy Metal, and cover art and 8 illustrations by Eduardo Recife. Stories are thematically linked, as suggested by the title. We Were Ugly So We Made Beautiful Things . . . out of Wood, out of Pigs, out of Stairs, out of Somersaults, out of Brass, out of Magic, etc. The stories explore, with gentle humor and intelligence, the desires to create, build, salvage, and improve. Several stories are loosely connected by the same character, a young boy growing up who, in one story, imagines he can fly above the staircase and does, with fearsome results. In another story, he creates worlds in his basement from the junk accumulated by his unhappy parents. As a fourth-grader, he helps a geeky kid overcome his isolation and fear on the soccer field. And, finally, as a young man, he interviews for a job that promises what it can’t deliver, and he confronts his own future, his own dreams, in a single moment. Barringer weaves a bit of autobiographical material into several of these pieces, but his focus remains art, language, and the beautifugly human comedy.

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About the Author:

Barringer's stories have appeared in Epoch, Nerve, Quick Fiction, Del Sol Review, In Posse Review, Tatlin's Tower, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Failbetter, CrossConnect, 3AM Magazine, Carve Magazine, Small Spiral Notebook, Surgery of Modern Warfare, Eyeshot, The Paumanok Review, Minima, Drunken Boat, and many others. His writing has also appeared in Details, Mademoiselle, Playboy, The American Prospect, and others. His other story collections are: The Leap & Other Mistakes and The Human Case.

A writer, graphic designer, photographer, and lawyer, David lives in Michigan with his wife and two children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

We were ugly so we planted trees. A tunnel of blossoming fruit trees extended from the driveway to the front door, although we usually entered through the garage. A barrier of coniferous pine concealed our elevated backyard deck. A weeping willow spread motherly wings over our sandbox, playing in which we didn't feel ugly, but, we understood, feelings weren't everything.

Seagulls from the golf course used to screech from our gables on the days we would drag our garbage bags to the street. Now, sparrows and goldfinches shuttled domestically among our branches, and wind skimming off the man-made lake persuaded deciduous knuckles to rap against the glass of our windows.

A tree, we believed, can never be ugly. A tree can never be ugly, unless, we qualified, it is scarified by blade or wire.

We were neither poor nor rich so the trees, bought mature, set us back financially. Window treatments were going to break us. So we searched until we found honeycomb shades half price from a wholesaler in Georgia. We installed our affordable shades, delivered at dawn to our Michigan porch, in a single summer afternoon. Each shaded window filtered sunlight into a radiant golden glow. We were so relieved we fell asleep.

Or unless tentworms have mitted a tree's branches in their sticky webs.

Otherwise, a tree can never be ugly.

Or unless spraypainted. Or poked with orange or red flags. Or made into unfortunate furniture.

We were apprehensive about schools and jobs. Attendance, generally understood to be mandatory, threatened exposure. Like our ancestors, we grew beards and wore our hair long. We looked at the floor as we walked. In the classroom, our children followed their lessons behind the picket fences of their fingers. We got along, secure in the sturdy trunks of our ribs, just as our grandparents did.

A shrubbery is never so beautiful as a tree.

Unless a tree is bulldozed, uprooted. A tree can even stand burned and charred-leafless, tortured, skeletal-and it will yet wrest beauty from the wind.

We found meaning in our work. We listened to our hearts-well, to be accurate, our hearts were in our heads, and it was there, in the copse of our imaginations, that we listened to the stirrings in dry leaves-and we tempered our inner counsel with reference to the needs and desires of others. We made beautiful things. We made beautiful things out of wood or with wood, mainly. We worried that making things out of wood, which required us to chop down trees, exposed in us a paradoxical hypocrisy with regard to our feelings about trees and their beauty. But, we already well knew, feelings weren't everything. So we made beautiful things out of our hypocrisy. We tried not to bother our neighbors too much.

When our neighbors complained at our subdivision's Association meeting that our trees were blocking their rightful access to sunlight, we neither attended nor argued.

Instead, we hired tree surgeons to prune our trees to proportions acceptable to all. This was more easily and quickly done than expected, and our neighbors were caught up short in their indignation. They were forced to consider themselves satisfied, and they did not like the feel of it.

Our neighbors seared pork and pepper kabobs on their patio grill. Eating on shining metal furniture, they glared at each other in the raw smoky haze. In the minty shade of a willow, our children built moats in the sandbox. High above on our elevated deck, we fit secret drawers into the chests of our trees.

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