Monthly Archives: September 2005

Nic Pizzolatto, "Haunted Earth"

Sexual awakening in the shadows of UFOs and the Vietnam war.

(from The Iowa Review, Fall 2005)

Moody and mysterious, this story was a cloudy little trip through confused times. It captured boyhood attitudes toward sex, politics and war nicely. At times, “Haunted Earth” reminded me of one of my favorite songs, “Tulsa Imperative” by The Mountain Goats. Here’s the first bit of it:

your mama’s failed wheat field
is a good place to lie down together
three weeks deep into the guts of summer
we sweat like hogs and i felt light as a feather

i saw a disc-like object
reflected in your eye
and the noise grew louder
as we looked up to the sky

and the sleek silver body
headlights along the side
and the sleek silver body
headlights all underneath

Here‘s a link to all of the lyrics. I could find no homepage to Nic Pizzolatto. Authors, I mean, seriously.

Noria Jablonski, "Pam Calls Her Mother on Five-Cent Sundays"

Death and strangeness at Hair We Are.

(from Human Oddities)

A funny story laced with moments and people to make you a little uncomfortable. Only a little. In the author’s hands, the Siamese twins are treated like people, something they’re not actually used to in their hard, pathetic lives. Of course, everybody’s lives are hard and pathetic.
The grimness of poverty, obesity and trapped people in “small” existences is piled pretty high by the time things end. Some of it’s moodsetting/storytelling, and some of it’s overkill. (Reminds me of this line from My Name Is Earl: “Go get us some cheeseburgers out of the machine.”) There’s trash and there’s cartoon trash. This story walked the tightrope, but never really let things slip into stupidity. In other words: This is a freaky story with a head on its shoulders.

Nothing Painted Blue, “(I’m A) Haunted House”
Dinosaur Jr., “Freak Scene”

Courtney Eldridge, "Sharks"

She won’t go swimming, because she’s afraid of sharks. No, not even swimming pools are safe.

(from Unkempt)

Yes, she said, I know that rationally, but I have a fear of pools, just the same.

I totally heart this story. It’s almost entirely a conversation about elaborate and irrational fear, specifically about bioengineered sharks sensing fear and waiting where they shouldn’t. It sounds sorta silly, but it’s captivating ina simple, humanistic way. It’s Franny and Zooey meets Deep Blue Sea. There were some parts, the non-conversation parts, that took the good feeling away. But mostly this story scratches an itch.

Here‘s a link to it.

The Von Bondies, “C’mon C’mon”

Lisa Glatt, "The Body Shop"

Megan can’t get over her daughter running away with an old guy or her husband carrying that stripper off stage.

(from Zoetrope All-Story, Summer 2005)

There were some interesting and sorta subtle techniques in this one. Example: Scenes with the husband were all past tense, others were present. This turned out to be sort of helpful in keeping things organized, since this isn’t really a story where things happen. It’s more like a series of states of being. Well, some things happen.
Another Example: When the narrator is lying, she points it out, even though we already know she’s lying. As in (and pardon the quotes, they’re mine): “That’s an old picture. She was six, I said. She’s twelve now, I lied.” Now, it had already been established that the picture was of the daughter, and the daughter was twenty years old. Multiple choice: The “I lied” thing is:
A) a little lazy — the author didn’t realize the redundancy.
B) an overcooked attempt at plainspokenness, so as not to confuse readers.
C) meant to imply the narrator’s consciousness of her own dishonesty, an inner sting which “I said” would not clarify.
I’ll go with C. Why? Because this was a smart little story. Also, while the narrator turned out to be the sort of person she didn’t like very much, she wasn’t amoral. She knew the sting.

Rainer Maria, “Ears Ring”

Haruki Murakami, "Chance Traveler"

Ah, coincidences.

(from Harper’s, July 2005)

This is a short story in that it is short and it’s a story. But, it’s not fiction, maybe. Hard to say. Murakami goes to strenuous lengths to convince me, the reader, that it’s him, the author, just shooting the shit on how funny and strange coinkydinks are. But he’s a sneaky one. Likes to mess with heads while coming off all nonchalant. So I don’t know. It’s an interesting read, in any case.
This copy of Harper’s, on loan from Brian Howard, is getting beat up, mainly because the really interesting article on politicized cavemen sits on the center staples and has taken much abuse. Sorry about the poor condition your magazine will be in upon its return to you, BH, but good luck in your big bike race on Saturday. (It’s for MS, donate here.)
Back when Bee and I used to write video game columns together, we liked to start them with the ubiquitous, lazy “Ah” opening, before launching into some obscenity-laced, nigh-intellectual duiloquy on, say, Wacky Races. “Ah, violence” “Ah, progress.” “Ah, premises.”
“Chance Traveler” did not start with with Ah, but the same feeling of an author phoning it in, or pretending to, wafted along the early paragraphs. One day somebody’s gonna stand up at a Murakami reading and say the emperor has no clothes. I’m not saying that person’ll be right, I’m just saying. Ah, complexity.

The Mountain Goats, “This Year”

Naguib Mahfouz, "The Disturbing Occurences"

One cop’s hunt for a mysterious crook gets twisted and turned by false leads and contradictions.

(from Harper’s, Aug. 2005)

This funny, fast-paced mystery kept my attention throughout. At times, our intrepid investigator does things against what I would call common sense, but there are cultural and plot considerations at work. You feel better once you decide to accept the weird parts, relax and be a thoughtful passenger.

Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. Looking at the list (link), I found he wasn’t the only Nobel-winner I’ve come read for I Read A Short Story Today. There’s also Ernest Hemingway (1954) and… Oh well I guess it’s just the two. Hm.

Gina Ochsner, "Thicker Than Water"

Traveling vitamin salesman/activist/uncle comes to visit but his worldview doesn’t quite jibe with modern Latvia as young Ada understands it.

(from The New Yorker, Aug. 22, 2005)

I’m not sure that plot summary/teaser thing really fits, but it’s close. This is the second Gina Ochsner story I’ve read for I Read A Short Story Today. The first was “Elegy in Water,” a pretty, crazy mermaid story (from May 19). “Thicker Than Water” has far less water in it, and it’s also set closer to real reality. But there’s the same tipsy feeling of whimsy mixed with pain, harsh reality tempered with humor and warmth.
I also would like to point out that this story has something resembling a conclusion. Like, a change totally occurs. This differs from many of the stories I come across, which make a point of minimizing the action and building up to some kinda nothing-ever-changes slide-whistle wink at the end. I like plot. I like action. The other way’s good, too.

OK, I especially enjoyed the way “Thicker Than Water” begins, so I have pasted it here for you:
In the spring of 1988, Vasya Brkic, waking from a dream in which she was a wolf, bit her husband’s neck and killed him in the bed they shared. The following spring, Marti Cosic, a saxophonist in a klezmer band, went crazy and killed his fellow band members-all seven of them-then beat himself to death with his saxophone. One year later, after swimming naked in the newly thawed River Daugava, Semyon Iossel, an unemployed engineer, built a flying machine and died after falling from a great height.
Here‘s a link to this story.

The Mountain Goats, “Masher”

David Foster Wallace, "The Suffering Channel"

Style magazine plans a 400-word article on a guy who poops masterpieces.

(from Oblivion)

Wow. It took several days to read — this 91 pager is an I Read A Short Story Today record (for length, not pages per day) — but that’s more a comment on my distractions than how alluring the pages were. “The Suffering Channel” is explicit in its details, mesmerizing in its observations. The action comes slow, but the pace is quick, if that makes sense. New ideas, and wells of sharp, sad comedy, trickle in from every sentence. (Sometime you just got to kick a metaphor in the shin.)
This story has a satirical bone to pick with frivolous, pre-9/11 silliness, but it’s sort of gentle about it. I like these people, even though they misuse “literally.” I see doom coming to them before the story lets you know one way or the other, and it’s mean and pathetic and hilarious. So much time, energy and empty soul-searching is spent on a mere 400 word puff piece — about an outsider artist who has no idea how he does the remarkable (and gross) thing he does so well — for an issue of a feathery nothing magazine run by overprivileged interns due out September 10, 2001. Oh yeah, the office is in the World Trade Center, NYC. You just know, the shit is about to really go down. So to speak.
Loved this story.

It came recommended by I Read A Short Story Today benefactor Maura Johnston (of, whose review of Oblivion is quoted among the press accolades within my softcover edition. Famous!

Yo La Tengo, “Tom Courtenay”

Jodi Angel, "Portions"

She loves her kid sister but does she know how to take care of her?

(from Zoetrope All-Story, Vol. 9, #2)

Short, cynical and deliberately told. This story’s got a specific, well-crafted worldview and sticks to it smartly. I really liked this one. I’m not sure where else to say. It’s late. My downstairs neighbor has an unremarkable taste in music and wants us all to know that.
Here‘s the author’s web site.

Jim Shepard, "Trample the Dead, Hurdle the Weak"

Personal problems should be ignored in this cutthroat small town high school football culture.

(from Harper’s Magazine, September 2005)

Beautiful in an honest way, and effortlessly intense. Might be the best thing I’ve ever read about football, but that’s fainter praise than I intended because I am no interested in football and I’m sure I’ve mostly avoided reading about it. This isn’t a let’s-go-underdogs story or a humanize-the-jocks story, but it does have you rooting for its characters, if only because they’re imbued with a depth usually reserved for the nerds they surely prey on. But their flaws and psychological fucked-uppednesses are also laid bare to inspire all the appropriate loathing. This story is pretty right on.

I Read A Short Story Today maintains simultaneously enthusiasms for both Roy Kesey and George Saunders. If you do too, you might be interested in this article, wherein the former interviews the latter. No, isn’t going to become that kind of blog.