Monthly Archives: May 2005

J. David Stevens, "The Sniper’s Story"

The marksman reflects on the little things.

(from The Paris Review, #148, on loan from Jessican Lowenthal)

A tiny little thing. The wartime sniper just lists a couple things he’s noticed during his time as an unseen bestower of death. He has a favorite spot which would be pretty lovely in peacetime. There are people he could kill but doesn’t. He’s not sure why. An interesting a brief examination.

Stevens wrote this once, a sarcastic lamentation on the death of the short story. Funny stuff.

Del Tha Funky Homosapien, “Mistadobalina (Remix)”

Gina Ochsner, "Elegy in Water"

Frank meets a mermaid whom he suspects is his dead wife.

(from Black Warrior Review, vol. 31, #2)

Love this story. Short, sharp, smart, spooky, gorgeous. Plotwise, and moodwise, this story appeals to my superstitious nature. The way the fisherman in this story are spooked by their blue collar mythologies. The way bad luck manifests itself in shipwrecks, diving gulls and fouls smells. It’s also sensuously detailed and confident in its vision. You just know you’re in good hands.

Today was my birthday and I was drunk in Borders. So I bought some things.
1) The abovementioned issue of Black Warrior Review. I liked the look of this book, but had previously passed on it because I tend to look for purchases that give me a high ratio of short fiction. This one also has some comic strips and poetry and stuff. Here‘s a link.
2) The Paris Review, #173. Fiction by A.S. Byatt, Rick Moody and more. Cool cover. Looked like a can’t miss. Here‘s the link.
3) The Iowa Review, vol. 35, #1. Had good luck with the last issue, far as I can remember. Here‘s a link for that.
4) Ploughshares, vol. 31, #1. Fiction by Melissa Bank and others. Yikes, a lot of poetry in this one, too. Oh well. Click here.
5) The Believer, vol. 3, #4. You know I never seem to read more than one thing in any issue of The Believer, so I haven’t picked it up in a while. But it always looks fun, so sometimes it suckers me. I heard the next issue’s got a sweet CD with Cynthia Mason, The Mountain Goats, The Decemberists and such. Here‘s a link to The Believer.
6) In/Vision, Spring 2005. Collection of poetry and fiction by students of Temple University’s creative writing program. Flipping through, I found that an old friend has some poems in it. At the register, nobody seemed to know what to charge me for this. After a lengthy but fruitless investigation, we ended up just scanning an issue of Glamour, which is probably cheaper. Can’t find a good link for In/Vision, so here.

Salvador Plascencia, "Pollinating Insects"

Cameroon has a for real glowing halo and a bee sting habit. She and Saturn have their honeymoon.

(from Tin House, Vol. 6, Number 3)

This is like one of those befuddling IFC movies so full of weird moments and memorable images that you hope there’s something behind it all — a plot, a meaning, a plan. But if there isn’t one, it’s okay.
I could probably write lots more about this freaky deaky story but I won’t because damn if the author notes didn’t once again reveal that I had read an excerpt from a novel. Rrr. I didn’t read a short story today, I guess. If I was the type to read a book, I don’t think I’d like to read a whole book written the way “Pollinating Insects” is written, all dense and hazy and quirkier than thou. Then again, that might be when it all makes sense.
It made a fine short story reading experience, but still you know, rrr.

Patrick Marber, "Peter Shelley"

Two young Brits have their first go at sex while listening to the new Sex Pistols single.

(from Speaking With The Angel)

The best part is when the two kids are silently trying to decipher the album art. It’s full of befuddling symbols they like but which they can’t quite figure out. I think about punk music more than I listen to it.
I’ve never read Patrick Marber before. IMDB’s got him as the screenwriter behind Closer, which looked like your boilerplate artsy adultery movie. Ain’t fair of me to say, but I’ve seen enough of those under the Ritz umbrella to have developed an unreasonable intolerance. Marber was up for a Golden Globe for Closer. Here‘s that IMDB entry.
This page, for some sort of gambling site for some reason, says this about him: “Patrick Marber is 36 and currently lives happily in London with his actress girlfriend and his West Highland Terrier.” I find that sentence preposterous in ways I am unable to express. Here’s a go at it: ‘Actress girlfriend’ would only be a cool description if it were a dig. Like: ‘She’s faking it.’ I know Marber didn’t write it.

“Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard,” Paul Simon

Nick Arvin, "Along The Highways"

Graham’s chasing his ex-friend and his ex-sister-in-law.

(from The New Yorker, May 9 2005)

This story was really good at being subtly funny while it was lightly dangerous, absurd and unreasonable while also endearing and understandable. It takes a steady hand to make the inane actions of a man like Graham seem, if not sane, then possible.
I liked this line:
The water could not be seen in the nighttime dark, but when the trees opened the lake was implied by a vast, indefinite nothingness.
And this one:
Graham folded his fingers into fists, or approximations of fists—it seemed as if he were doing this wrong somehow.
Here‘s where you can find this story for your own reading pleasure.

I’m going to make a point to stay up-to-date on my New Yorkers because A) it’s always good source for fiction and B) every time I see my uncle Bob we make a point to talk about fiction and I never seem to have read the ones he has. My family is taking casual note of my fiction kick; my aunt Maryanne and Sandy gave me a gift certificate for Barnes and Noble.

Roxana Robinson, "A Perfect Stranger"

A member of the Music Festival’s Lectures Committee, Martha volunteers to open her house to Kingsley, the opera expert, much to the overt dislike of her husband Jeffrey.

(from One Story, issue 55)

You know how experimental/daring/pretentious TV shows and movies may show you events from one perspective then show them to you again from another? This first couple pages of this story do that, but there are hardly any actual events being repeated. Which is okay. This story thrives not on action, but slow unfolding. I thought something might, you know, happen at some point. And nothing big really does. If somebody called you up and told you this long-winded go-nowhere series of non-events, you’d be all dude, you’re wasting my minutes. But as a read, it’s not a harsh imposition.
That said, this story was long-winded and unnecessarily redundant at times, in ways that hinted more at carelessness than stylistic choice. Interestingly, there’s a short scene in which Jeffrey tells Kingsley his opinion that modern writers write too long because of computers. It’s sort of interesting. I’m not gonna just go blaming a computer for this story’s substantial length. But only because there’s one in the room looking at me right now. I think it knows I’m thinking about it. Gotta go.

Grace Paley, "A Conversation with My Father"

Her father is sickly and old and wants her to write a classic plot-driven story, the way the old favorites used to. She gives it a shot.

(from The Collected Stories)

Okay, you know I don’t go for meta much. But this bit of sedate and thoughtful satire gives hope to all self-important artists everywhere. Almost all of them. Almost hope. Mostly because there’s this character, her dad, who’s full of life and stubborn and, despite the apparent success of his author-daughter, decisive about the kind of fiction he likes. He’s a kind of voice of reason. It also helps that the narrator’s similarly stubborn and decisive. And not particularly self-important.
“I would like you to write a simple story just once more,” he says, “the kind de Maupassant wrote, or Chekhov, the kind you used to write. Just recognizable people and then write down what happened to them next.”
I say, “Yes, why not? That’s possible.” I want to please him, though I don’t remember writing that way. I would like to try to tell such a story, if he means the kind that begins: “There was a woman…” followed by plot, the absolute line between two points which I’ve always despised. Not for literary reasons, but because it takes all hope away. Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life.
Somebody named Andie Miller recommended this story to me, and sent me a link to read it here. Excellent suggestion. From what I gather Andie, lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, which might be furthest location from which I’ve received correspondence. Well, maybe. How far is China from Philadelphia?

Jill McCorkle, “Turtles”

Carly thinks back on past loves while pining for the hottest guy in the nursing home.

(from Creatures of Habit)

This is a sad, sad story fueled by the fairly universal fears of getting old and feeling useless. I love stories told by unreliable narrators, and this one slowly comes through in that respect. Reality gets bent gently, not flat-out shattered like sci-fi. Not knocking sci-fi.
Here’s a line I like:
“Carly tells them she doesn’t like the fact that the only big window near her room is made of stained glass and it gives her a dark sad feeling to try and see through it.”
Every story in this collection has an animal name — “Snakes,” “Chickens,” “Starlings,” “Billy Goats” and more. This story is set at the Turtle Bay Nursing Home, but nobody reliable has ever seen the turtles who supposedly live in the marshland behind the home.
We talk about turtles a lot at work.

Eric Shade, “Superfly”

Young Wayne contemplates death and love on an all-night drinking binge in the cemetery with Mosey and Jinxie.

(from Eyesores)

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” I told him.
“You will,” he said. “You’ll believe in love and ghosts before the night is through.
We ran through the graveyard, jumping over headstones.

This is one of those small town grew up way too fast sexual awakening drugs beer loss of innocence coming of age realization of mortality stories and it’s pretty good. The character types are familiar — the narrator is your basic moral idiot, Mosey is the jerk pal and Jinxie is wayward slut — but the neat aside about the local man who commits suicide-by-cop shines an interesting light on the boys, their interest in death and their collection of knowledge through macabre anecdotes.
I should point out that I find these characters to be familiar from life as much as from works of fiction. They’re real enough. This story was not mired in cliché or stereotype beyond those which actual people regularly adhere. I wonder, though, why the Moseys of the world — the irrepressibly immature and assholic friends — are never the narrators. Is it impossible to justify their actions, to put thought behind their ignorant and cruel behavior? Is Mosey inexplicable?
Eric Shade, whom I’ve never read before, is from Altoona, Pennsylvania. Yuengling gets a shout-out.

Giles Smith, "Last Requests"

What it’s like to be the chef who makes the final meals for death row inmates.

(from Speaking with the Angel)

There’s no action per se, but plenty of vignettes into this charming woman’s fascinating job. It’s a funny mix of peace and pain as she humanizes her unseen customers despite their apparent inhumanity. I found her sort of admirable. If this were based on a real person, I would be surprised but immensely pleased. There’s something hopeful about her attitude under such hopeless conditions. A nice, interesting story.
I don’t know much about this author. Here is an article by somebody named Giles Smith calling for football (soccer) refs to have artificial brains inserted.