Monthly Archives: February 2005

Poppy Z. Brite, "The Devil of Delery Street"

A young girl is haunted, actually haunted.

(from McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories)

I was wondering when the ol’ Enchanted Chamber, with its predilection for smartypants horror stories, was going to capitalize on my Catholic fears and superstitions. This story is freaky in plot and alluring in tone. Scary, but humane. It’s also pretty sweet how you’re lured into a kind of calm via the real world, so that when something supernatual actually happens, it’s as fucked up for you as it is for the characters.
This is where I point out that “Poppy Z. Brite” is a preposterous name.

Charles D’Ambrosio, "The Scheme of Things"

Addicts cum door-to-door petty con artists wander into a small Iowa town.

(from McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Secrets)

A beautiful story. At times spooky, or heartbreaking, or aggravating. Some images — the buttery pie, the clean shaven face — are detailed and clarion. Other parts of this story are told through a cheese cloth. The author has us wrapped around his finger. And at 30 pages, did he have to let it linger? But, no, really, this story did not drag or wander, though the same could not be said for its main characters. Though I predict an epiphany on the horizon.
I like the part where, for no other reason than to experiment with a rare tactile sensation, Kirsten places her hand onto the dusty road.
A lot of times, I am hesitant to reveal too much about the story, because, surprise is, like, so great. This story, in particular, has a plot but its beauty is down there in the dust, traveling word-to-word. What? Point is, go here and read the story. Then try to tell me these characters aren’t pulled right out of a Mountain Goats’ song.

* * *

Some time soon, and for the first time ever, I will answer some mail and post a list of stories I would like for people to lend me. If you were thinking about writing me, well, c’mon already.

Wells Tower, "Executors of Important Energies"

An unsuccessful inventor can’t seem to avoid unsuccess.

(from McSweeney’s, Early Fall 2004)

Once again, the mysterious Wells Tower has dazzled me not just with twisting, wandering plotlines, but also with deliberate and sensual phrases. I encourage you, my peeping peeps, to peep this:

“Two human greyhounds in immaculate white jackets stepped from a restaurant door, hatchet heads swiveling in their fur collars, estimating the chill.”

I should really say something more about the writing, since I’m all canonizing all aggressive like, but no. It’s excellent. Read it, I suggest.

But who is this Wells Tower? Well, the “Contributors” section of this book tells us he’s a he, and that he’s working on a novel. A Google image search produces neither a picture of the author (meaning he has never, ever been photographed) nor a picture of the Wells Tower structure which supposedly stands near the Edgbaston Reservoir in Birmingham, England (so, like, nobody ever aimed a camera at that, either). How do I know there’s a Wells Tower over there in blighty? I don’t, but look: This guy thinks he was in it when he took a picture. Too bad he didn’t photograph the Wells Tower itself.
What else? is taken, but it’s only got a “coming soon” message. It could be about the author, or that putative tower, or for well stowers (which would be, I suppose, people who put their wells in sneaky places, so as to hoard water).
A Wells Tower, surely our Wells Tower, is or was a contributor to the Washington Post Magazine in some capacity. See?
Oh, wait, here‘s a picture of him plus an audio clip of him reading.
So much for mystery and excitement. The secrets have all been revealed, people. I bet you Bigfoot’s on MySpace. And the Loch Ness Monster’s got a blog. (Go ahead and find out for yourself whether these things are true, but send me no links, I am humorless, I am damaged goods.)
Here‘s a place where somebody really did some homework researching Wells Tower. Look, the guy was in a band called Hellbender. You may not be a yeti anymore, Mr. Tower, but I like your style nonetheless.

Franz Kafka, "A Hunger Artist"

Ah, remember the days when you could be entertained by something as simple as a man starving himself in a cage?

(from Selected Stories of Franz Kafka, on loan from Ryan Godfrey and Jessica Lowenthal)

What is this, a commentary on fads? On artists? On mob mentality? On pricey cuisine? On changing morals? Yes, yes, perhaps, no, yes. Sometimes you feel like you’re reading some kinda allegory. All the signs are there: No proper names of people or places, no defined era, no extraneous detail to divert your senses from the main action. And by action, of course, I am referring to the guy curled up on the straw staving himself nearly to death. It’s a beautiful and heavy story.

Read it here.

Agatha Christie, "The Perfect Maid"

Miss Marple tries to clear the name of young Gladys, the maid accused of attempting to steal a brooch from Miss Skinner.

(from Three Blind Mice, on loan from Inspector Ryan and Miss Jessica)

It’s not that the maid is too perfect. I don’t know what it is. Really, the ending makes sense except for motivation (unless the wrongdoer is just daffy) and how exactly what this person did was a crime. Egad, I’ve already said too much. I’ll not be a spoiler!
But, it’s my first Agatha Christie experience (outside the made-for-gogglebox fare, of course) and just my luck I picked a story without a murder. Oh well. No I didn’t solve the mystery. I thought the culprit was climbing through ventilation ducts. Anyway, it’s a funny little story, though every single character is ridiculously high brow.
Okay, my poppets, read the story here and explain it to me. While you’re at it, tell me what they mean by “smut.” Cause that word doesn’t make sense to me the way they’re using it.

Mark Twain, "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"

Funny scenes and tall tales from the life infamous betting man Jim Smiley.

(from, uh, old lit text books, recommended by Bethy Howard)

A strange and meandering little story that feels most like snapshot of a funny, quaint, simpler time in American history. The frog part, though interesting, isn’t really integral. It’s just sort of the last thing the narrator hears before he gets bored of the storytellers and ducks away. Most appealing about this story is the peculiar manners of speech and spelling. We should all start behaving in the way Twain has outlined for us. It would be considerable better.

I found the story here.

Emily Franklin, "43 Lake View South"

The second floor tenant of a three story apartment building can’t help but know what’s going on with her neighbors.


I like the way this piece has a main character who tells us detailed information — about her upstairs neighbor in mourning, her downstairs neighbor who watches porn, her dog who eats trash, her hours at the courthouse where she sketches — but leaves most of her own thoughts unexhumed. She’s somebody with a dog, and a job, and not a lot else going on. With very little actual action to lead us further into this character besides her cursory tour, we’re left with more of an articulate still life than a story. Appropriately, this is a shorter piece.

Read the story here. Find out more about the author here.

Julio Cortázar, "All Fires Fire"

Two gladiators battle and two ex-lovers confront each other in interwined plotlines.

(de All Fires The Fire, en el préstamo del mezcló los archivos de Ryan y Jessica)

This is what you call experimental fiction. The action jumps from a Roman coliseum to a bitter, mostly quiet confrontation on the phone in the present day. One could say that the two stories are intertwoven seamlessly, except that the leap is so conceptually jarring that I, the reader, always the reader, gave pause, so there might as well have been some white space indicating the rift in the time/space continuum to follow. This story was so crazy strange that I am tempted to read more by Julio Cortázar.

Here is a web site, perhaps with information on the author. It’s en Espanol, as he was Argentinian.

Charles Baxter, "The Next Building I Plan To Bomb"

A man finds a piece of paper with that phrase on it and the crude drawing of a pillared building. And he’s like, what should I do with this?

(from Believers)

Well, honestly, I was kind of hoping something would blow up. Not a lot happens, but really, that’s OK. The guy who finds the note shows it to friends, cops, his shrink, and nobody knows what to make of it. There’s not even a consensus as to which building that is on the paper. But the various guesses are routinely followed by some white space. It’s probably supposed to be profound, or deadpan. But I’m hearing a slide whistle. You’ve slipped us a touch of broad comedy, Mr. Baxter!
It’s funny how this note, this possibly harmless little doodle, inspires the narrator to examine his life a little bit. Not to any extreme end, mind you. Like I said, not a lot happens.

Hannah Tinti, "Animal Crackers"

Everybody at the zoo has a terrible moment in their past they’d like to live down.

(from Animal Crackers)

In the sad and eventful world of our narrator — who spends the majority of this story cleaning an elephant at the zoo — everybody’s got it rough. But the way you deal with adversity, how you react to trauma, is what you use to measure your self-worth. Or something. I drank four ciders at the Rarebirds show tonight.

At first you think that this is a story about animals, how they’re sort of unpredictable and predictable at the same time. Then you figure, but really, this is a story about humans. A little later on you decide you were right the first time and the second time.

The author has a web site. Here. Wow, it says she’s the editor of One Story Magazine. I just subscribed to that a few weeks ago (after hearing about it through I Read A Short Story Today benefactor Maura Johnston). One Story sends out a new short story every three weeks, via snail mail. Here‘s the site for that. I’m waiting by the mailbox, with stilted breathing, for my first edition. If you’re wondering where I am, I’m there.