CSULA Department of English | Events

Acclaimed fiction writer Douglas Unger will read from his new collection of short stories, Looking for War (Ontario Review Press), on Thursday, November 11, 6:30 p.m., in the Fine Arts Gallery at California State University, Los Angeles. His books will be offered for sale at the reading and Unger will be available to sign them. Light refreshments will be served.

Douglas Unger is the author of four novels, including Leaving the Land, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and, most 

Image of Douglas Unger

recently, Voices from Silence, about repression and terror in Argentina.
He is currently director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and serves on the executive board of the International Institute of Modern Letters, a supporting organization for the literary arts. His stories and articles have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies.

Seashells carried home from a tropical vacation harbor a devastating illness. A dockworkers’ strike diverts a sculptor’s work to Cuba. A guerilla raid turns gruesome, quelling a journalist’s fascination with war. Such pivotal moments form the backbone of Looking for War, a compelling collection of short stories. Exploring the nature of secrecy, grief, and fear, Unger’s fiction, according to reviewers, weaves the linear with the kaleidoscopic, the fragments of memory and unspoken sentiment coming together in his masterful voice.

Unger himself describes this vision of life in the story, “Autobiography,” in which a much-feared figure from the narrator’s boyhood, spent hustling on the streets of New York, reappears years later as his student. “In life and in stories,” he writes, “time and actions seem to me a series of collapsing and expanding frames . . . . It’s as if we live inside the body of an immense accordion, in the air, moving through this continually opening and closing machine.”

The secrets, silences, and schisms among couples are another thread running through the author’s hard-edged work. In “Leslie and Sam,” for instance, a graduate student’s order to euthanize a veteran lab monkey alienates his girlfriend, a lab assistant who has grown close to the animal. And, in “The Perfect Wife,” an Argentine politician discovers a shocking secret about a renowned economist’s wife whose charm and seeming perfection had cast doubt on his own union.

The collection culminates in the powerful “Looking for War,” a novella about a man with a gnawing sense of something missing in his life, something that can be found only in combat. The narrator ends up in South America, where his experience of true combat finally proves hellish as a guerilla operation he’s documenting runs amok, spilling, quite literally, both blood and milk. Like his disabled Vietnam veteran Harry, whose sadness Unger describes as “like hands reaching into his insides, squeezing, the grief of war never far away,” the narrator gains an experience he no longer wants, and a weight he finds hard to bear.

For more information on the reading, call Mary Bucci Bush, English Department at Cal State L.A., (323) 343-4140. 

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