MOMMY FRANKEST: Local writer Mary Rechner wants to tell the truth about being a mom. IMAGE: mikelarremore.com
Horror isn't a homicidal maniac or an alien invasion. To Mary Rechner, horror is an exhausted mom trying to wipe crap off her 3-year-old's ass. The Long Island-born Portland author has been a fixture on the local lit scene for years, first teaching creative writing at Portland State and University of Portland and now as the head of Literary Arts' Writers in the Schools program. This fall she branches out with her first short-story collection, a tight, incisive and darkly funny series of vignettes about mothers, wives and the people who unwittingly become them, called Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women.
Not all is well in Rechner's compact but gut-punching missives from the world of women: Mothers daydream in the dentist's office of escaping their children while pregnant women pine over long-gone lovers; a wife wishes her husband would die so she could return to her single life in the city.
"I don't think I do shy away from negative emotions," she says with a chuckle. "I'm really interested in conflict. To me, a lot of these stories explore the complexity of human relationships. Particularly in mothering—people like to put a gloss on it. What they really want to put out there is how much they love their kids—not how hard it is sometimes…or how hard it is to juggle everything. Or how hard it can be to stay in love."
But that doesn't mean the married mother of two doesn't believe in love—or happiness. Nine Patterns isn't an indictment of traditional women's roles so much as a cathartic assessment of the worst moments of a very good life. Sometimes her simple sentences make you suck in your breath, like when she accuses women of becoming self-satisfied "momaholics"—it's like a J. Crew catalog crossed with PostSecret.
She also has a keen sense of the tension between friends. In "Invisible," struggling actress Chloe wryly appraises her feelings about her smart, skilled roommate, Donna, who makes good money turning streetside junk into beautiful furniture: "It was difficult to live with someone who wasn't aspiring and failing."
Despite her characters' faults, a fierce thread of love keeps them sympathetic, a quality that makes the collection compelling rather than soul-crushing. Fiction, as in real life, is complicated. "My husband—it's a good thing he loves me," she says. "Let's just keep it at that."
READ: Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women debuts Oct. 5, the first offering from new Portland imprint Propeller Books. Mary Rechner speaks at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Sunday, Nov. 21. Free.
Sept. 23: Portland Arts & Lectures: Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin
Award-winning authors Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale) and Portland-based sci-fi guru Ursula K. Le Guin (Earthsea) will let audiences in on their conversation this fall. The feminist heavyweights will discuss politics, publishing and their own careers. Tickets are available to season ticket holders, and individual tickets are subject to availability. SARAH DAVIDSON. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, 248-4335. 7:30 pm. Season tickets start at $70, individual tickets start at $35. All ages.
Sept. 30: My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me
The 21st century meets traditional fairy tales in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, an anthology of more than 40 new fairy tales by authors like Neil Gaiman and Aimee Bender, plus, we're told, some to-be-announced local voices. Mysterious, inventive and tragic, these stories are the Rapunzels and Hansel and Gretels of our time. The Powell's event features the book's editor, Kate Bernheimer, and musicians Willy Vlautin, Megan Pickerel and Herman Jolly. SD. Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm. Free. All ages.
Oct. 8-10: Wordstock
It makes perfect sense that one of America's most literate cities would host one of the largest celebrations of words. Besides the four-day smorgasbord of readings and performances by everybody from short fiction phenom (and sister of Colin) Maile Meloy and Joseph O'Neill to Jonathan Lethem and Timothy Egan, there will be book sales and workshops and even a short-fiction contest. SD. Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 235-7575. General book fair 10 am-6 pm Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 9-10. $7 for one day, $10 for both. Kids 13 and under free. Full schedule of events at wordstockfestival.com.
Nov. 17 & 22: The Householder's Guide to the Universe
Local sustainable-living guru Harriet Fasenfest is going to solve the world's environmental and economic clusterfuck one month at a time. In her new guide to living simply, Fasenfest offers advice on how to keep house the right way, from urban farming to food preservation. Fasenfest isn't just a fuddy-duddy homemaker, though—she's been a voice in the PDX social activism scene for years, and she's known for being opinionated and funny. SD. Annie Bloom's Books, 7834 SW Capitol Highway, 246-0053. Wednesday, Nov. 17. Free. Fasenfest also appears at Powell's on Nov. 22. Free.