Monthly Archives: May 2005

?, “Ashes”

A cable guy finds a body.

(from The Secret Society of Demolition Writers)

Eh. Not a bad story. Not poorly written. But also not dazzling or particularly original. Had some interesting details, but was too short and simple.

Early morning in Nethers.

?, “Wonderland”

A sarcastic college student is suddenly put in charge of the daughter of the maintenance man she’s sleeping with.

(from The Secret Society of Demolition Writers)

Yes. This is a cool story. The narrator is so snide and sarcastic and bitter and uncaring you want to yell at her. She does have moments of humanity, glimpses of understanding, but she treats everything like a waste of time, everybody like a drag. When she has visitor her during the duration of Jessamina’s stay with her. She’s too much of dick for friends. Which is not to say we, the readers of America, do not feel for her. She’s had it rough and the situation is ridiculous.
“Wonderland” is smart in tone and pacing, in description and setting. The dialogue is pretty dead on too. I wonder who wrote it.

Early morning in Nethers.

?, “Deck”

You remember your first love and things like that?

(from The Secret Society of Demolition Writers)

A short one, all in second person. It’s mostly a wandering exploration of one person’s love life and career, in fits and starts and ruminations. I bet if there’s one story in this collection that gives away too much about its author, this is it. It just feels autobiographical. Of course, this could be the work of a writer meaning to give that vibe. If I knew anything about the private lives of any of the authors in this collection, I might be able to make an educated guess as to his/her identity.

I read this in Nethers, where the wind whooshes through the bamboo, an owl hunts in the distance and a guy name Stan picks up a snake to make sure he doesn’t close the door on it.

?, “Sweet”

A day in the life of a mentally disturbed bum.

(from The Secret Society of Demolition Writers)

No plot, just this author’s imaginative journal of one streetwalker’s daily routine of begging and hoping the voices don’t come back. Isn’t there a Phil Collins song like this? Yeah, I don’t think I’d want my name on this story either.

I read this in Nethers.

A.S. Byatt, “The Narrow Jet”

Two old men emboldened by their lack of necessity set about designing and building a fountain in a nearby pond, much to the surprise of the creature who lives in it.

(from The Paris Review, #173)

As a film, probably some sprawling international indie job, this tale would hardly be worth the caffeine it would take to get through it. But in Byatt’s careful hands, it is an exciting and fun story. The actions of the old men are put in context of their complex feelings of self-worth and values. The creature’s thoughts, or, at least, her motivations, are also delivered with understanding, care and whimsy.
There were some pleasant, rare words in this story: hermitage, plashing, cannikin, rowlocks, macerated woad, pochards, sticklebacks, muniments, surcoat, integument. Four things were given the “she” tag: The creature, the boat, the model and the siren fountain.

I read this story late at night in Nethers, and wrote this entry in the early morning with the unceasing soundtrack of the mighty Hughes River rushing by just below my window. All night a giant bird which apparently means me no harm delivered its spooky caw at nearly regular intervals. Once I realized we had a deal, I slept soundly.

?, “The Safe Man”

A not-so-routine safecracking job leads Brian Holloway into a series of nonfortunate events.

(from The Secret Society of Demolition Writers)

A fun little story. Some of the language is a little clunky, and you can see the plot unfolding like a Transformer well before things start happening. But it’s appropriately spooky and angsty. I like issues of doubt and confusion that spring up just as the couple are on the verge of having their first couple. This is where the story strays from convention and leads the reader to care for the characters, long after that seemed improbable. I also liked the very brief moment when you the reader started to doubt Brian’s story like everybody else.
It should be noted that the clunkiness may be this writer’s attempt at Michael Crichton/Tom Clancy-action-suspense, where plain language and straightforward dialogue keeps the reader’s mind on the plot.

I read this in Shelly’s car on the way to Nethers, Virginia, and wrote it up there. The date on which this appears to be posted is a lie, a trick of the trade. But that is the day I read the story, so, you know.

?, "There is No Palindrome of Palindrome"

A married woman who killed her parents has taken a liking to Babe, the friendly widowed pharmacist.

(from The Secret Society of Demolition Writers)

This story liked to jump around in styles, in chronology, in perspectives, in approach. But never in a too-slick or too-annoying experimental film kinda way. It made its jumps sparingly, and hardly ever to move the main action.
It’s funny, at the start, you think Babe is the crazy one, given his sorta fascination with checking out tonsils. As things move along, you forget he’s weird or weird looking. Understanding Connie a bit like a reversal of that process. I very much enjoyed the way Connie’s speech was written. There was a telling cadence to it, something that implied both her age and her maturity.
“I just want to—” She clenched her hand and mimed yanking someone else’s pants down. “You know? I want to pants them.” She hooted. “Seriously, that’s what would have happened in my high school.”

Rilo Kiley, “Science Vs. Romance”

?, "Eggs"

Cynthia starts selling her eggs around the same time her mother’s cancer relapse.

(from The Secret Society of Demolition Writers)

“I’m twenty-one, sun sensitive, my skin as white as milk in a blue china cup.”

I liked it. I mean, early on, parts of this story are awkward — the phrasing, the askew observations. But it’s just enough to keep you off kilter. And it’s building to something inventive and memorable.
It’s funny, even those occasional stilted phrases were also neat, tactile or visual images like in the quote above. It’s not a sentence, strictly speaking, but it gets it all across and stimulates the senses. Cool story.

Why don’t I know who wrote this? Because while we know who wrote the stories in The Secret Society of Demolition Writers, we don’t know who wrote what. It’s a mystery you can let go or puzzle over. I think I shall puzzle. The choices are: Aimee Bender, Benjamin Cheever, Michael Connelly, Sebastian Junger, Elizabeth McCracken, Rosie O’Donnell, Chris Offutt, Anna Quindlen, John Burnham Schwartz, Alice Sebold, Lauren Slater and Marc Parent, who is also the editor. Hm. When I’m through the book, I’ll take some guesses as to who wrote what.
The point of this collection, according to Marc Parent’s intro, is not to play an author-to-story match game, but to create an environment of fearlessness for the author. “Released from the constraints of your reputation and the expectations that come with it, how far would you go?” he asks. That said, he welcomes the readers to pin the bylines on the stories, but warns that the authors have been deceptive on purpose, perhaps imitating their peers within the collection. Doesn’t exactly sound fearless, but hey.
Here’s hoping Rosie O’Donnell’s is some kinda fiery masterpiece. Why? Because I like underdogs, and an author better known for slinging koosh balls has something to prove.

The Hold Steady, “Multitude of Casualties”

Melissa Bank, "Run Run Run Run Run Run Run Away"

Sophie doesn’t love her brother’s new girlfriend as much as he does.

(from Ploughshares, Spring 2005)

I try to talk to her but it is just me asking questions and her answering them. My questions get longer, her answers shorter. Still I don’t quit. I’m like a gambler who keeps thinking, Maybe the next hand.

I knew from the Talking Headsian title that I’d dig this story. It’s warm and kind but also funny and sarcastic and real. I love a snarky narrator almost as much as I love an unreliable one. Bank hints at the complexities of the sibling relationships without getting too much out in the open. Isn’t that how brothers and sisters interact? Caring without burdening each other with too much information.

One day soon I’m gonna go off on every other story I come across being set in New York City, but not right now. This story is good. It deserves better than that.

But please.

Keren Ann, “By The Cathedral”

Daniel Orozco, "Orientation"

What you need to know about your new office.

(from Best American Short Stories, 1995)

Those are the offices and these are the cubicles. That’s my cubicle there, and this is your cubicle. This is your phone. Never answer your phone.

It is what it sounds like, the get-acquainted first-day-of-work speech. After it takes you through the copies and the coffee, it moves to the soap operatics and then into darker territory. Still, even as it moves into the absurd and impossible — always in that bored, tour-guidey human resources cadence — it’s never an unrecognizeable fantasy. And it’s always funny.
Here‘s where you can read the story. It’s not long and it’s a fun read.