Monthly Archives: October 2005

Edgar Allan Poe, "The Cask of Amontillado"

Fast and and devious revenge.

(from The Raven and Other Writings)

Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

Surely you’ve read this one before? I know I did in high school. Defintely worth a re-read with older eyes. Here‘s a link to the story proper, though I cannot vouch for it being a typo-free reading experience (such is the web).
It was recommended by Jesse D. (a.k.a. the Bloody Knee Jerk) that I pick up this cheap Poe compendium from Borders, here in the pre-Halloween days, and this story in particular was suggested by Liz.
Poe wastes little time in this story. In fact, we really only see the act of vengeance. No motive. Little exposition. Just cunning and malice. All we know is Fortunato fucked with the wrong guy. I didn’t quite get all the Masonic stuff, and I’m guessing all the nitre references were a red herring. But the story’s main points were sharp and swift.

Alan Heathcock, "Peacekeeper"

A reluctant small-town sherrif’s murder investigation becomes a sort of cover-up.

(from The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 81, number 4)

The VQR table of contents promised a “tale of suspense” and that’s pretty much what this was. But the tension came more from how the action unfolded than what the action was itself, thanks to non-chronological arrangement of its elements. It jumped around among three or four different days/scenes in a neat way that unfolded the primary murder mystery early, but not in a confusing or useless way. The time-jumps are labeled like shuffled journal entries, so you’re with the sherriff sneaking up on the suspect in the snow, then you’re visiting the family of the victim on Christmas, then you’re with her as she steers a boat through her now-flooded town (parts of which called to mind recent news footage).
The story was dark and humorless. Maybe it’s what people mean when they call a story “hard-boiled.” Or maybe not, because the main character was manipulative, understanding and self-doubting, not slick, confident and cold like some noirish cartoon detective. There were parts I didn’t get (like why was the town flooded?), but not all mysteries should be unraveled.

Richard Brautigan, "The Scarlatti Tilt"

“It’s very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.” That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.

(from Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970)

Usually that top line is where I put a (vague) description of the plot of the story, but here I’ve placed the entire story because it’s just that short. (It’s so short, in fact, that my pal Brian pasted it into IM to send it to me.) I like the story. It’s sort of like a dark little joke. Succinct, with each word building up to the punchline.

Dedicated to Aunt Lee.

Etgar Keret, "A Bet"

The kids don’t understand politics and death and nobody’s explaining it very well.

(from The Paris Review, Summer, 2005)

This one’s a shorti, as we might say here in Philly. It’s a lot like that Eggers one I read recently, because it’s about dealing with the disconnect of televized events and trying to make sense of them. But it’s not only about that. You spend the first two-thirds of the story thinking this is about wide-eyed, mischievous, curious little kids. Turns out they’re twisted little monsters. So much for hope for the next generation. I believe that children are the future killers.
I’m not seeking the shortest stories out, I’m arriving at them by accident. I picked this one because the author came recommended by a friend who, when she sets her mind to it, can recommend about 100 authors at a time. So I think she said Etgar Keret, but maybe not. I’d thought I’d heard Edgar Carrot at the time. He’s probably not a real person.

Two New Orleans writers I have read for I Read A Short Story Today, Pia Z. Ehrhardt and Poppy Z. Brite — you may recall me pitting them against each other for no good reason — are writing interesting things about returning to the city they love after the hurricane. I think you’ll dig the way PZE tugs at your heart with poetic observations. I think you’ll also enjoy the way PZB is brutal and beautiful and a little bit psycho. Both blogs are intimate and earnest — a personal perspective you might be missing out on now that media has receded with the floodwaters.

“Across the street from our house, someone’s dumped a black refrigerator, bound it tight with silver duct tape. It’s going to be a long time before I take twice weekly garbage pickup for granted again.”
—Pia Z. Ehrhardt.
Here‘s the link.

“We slept in the old house on our first night, which was creepy: it’s definitely haunted, not by ghosts but by our old lives that will never exist again.”
—Poppy Z. Brite.
Here‘s the link.

Michelle Garren Flye, "All The Colors"

Everything is colorized when a person quits the city job to live in the country.

(from Opium #1)

This story is so short, it’s really just an allegory, a new agey parable with a moral and a point. It’s simple in a way that makes you think it’s both refreshing and obvious at the same time. Won’t blow your mind. Move to the country where the colors and nice and everything is soft, but then when will you have time to work? Perhaps you should move back to the city?
This Biblical damned-if-you-do scenario calls to mind The White Stripes’ song “Little Room”:

When you’re in your little room
and you’re workin’ on something good
but if it’s really good
you’re gonna need a bigger room.
And when you’re in the bigger room
you might not know what to do.
You might have to think of
how you got started
sitting in your little room.

Least that’s how i think it goes.

The President of the United States, “Peaches”

Dave Eggers, "What It Means When A Crowd In A Faraway Nation Takes A Soldier Representing Your Own Nation, Shoots Him, Drags Him From His Vehicle,…

And Then Mutilates Him In The Dust.”

A guy tries to deal with feelings of frustration and powerlessness upon seeing the above on the news.

(from How We Are Hungry)

Longest title in I Read A Short Story Today history, and one of the shortest stories, too. Won’t even fit in the space normally reserved for authors and titles. Does this bug me? Do I find it pretentious or precocious or prehensile? No. But then, you are reading the blog of a guy who has seen They Might Be Giants more than 20 times. Their band name is long. They have some short songs. I like ‘em.
This story, this part-of-a-day-in-the-life tale of a consummate American is interesting and thoughtful — particularly because a longer story about this would be grinding, reducing the reader to power when granola would do. Essentially, the title is the premise, which is what poems are doing when they say “On Pears” or “About Aeolian Mayo” or “Concerning the Arson of My Ice House.”
Read the story here. It’ll only take you three minutes. Two if you don’t read the title.

They Might Be Giants, “Minimum Wage”

Aimee Bender, "Tiger Mending"

A master seamstress and her sister travel to Malaysia to swen up the torn backs of tigers.

(from The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2005)

And like usual it was the way she said it. In that gentle voice that had a back to it.
Here’s to probably meaningless allegories. I loved this crazy story. It’s got a sneaky calm soundtrack to it, an inner peace that never recedes, even when the story takes bleak or bizarre turns. The final gesture feels right while not speaking its meaning outright. What I mean is, I have no idea why most of what happens happens, but I accept it. Revelations are for fiction. Sewing tigers is truth.
Here is a link to the painting by Amy Cutler that inspired this story.
And here‘s a link to Aimee Bender’s web page.

George Saunders, "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline"

Problems both modern and timeless creep up on the Civil War theme park.

(from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline)

I feel like enumerating.
1. I dig George Saunders the way I dig early Mountain Goats stuff. In both, I recognize recurring themes, ideas, characters, oases of humanity in deserts of harsh civilzation. Young John Darnielle liked ancient civilizations, desperate people and the weather. Saunders likes his ghosts, theme parks, corporate babble and thoughtless violence. It’s a great mix of elements, a nearly familiar, always exciting recipe.And, much like The Mountain Goats, Saunders has no problem switching it up. You could say The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is his Tallahassee. I would get it if you did.
2. Mike Pelusi, the Smatthew Brock of rock criticism, gave me this book, along with four other which I shall read from and thank him for when the time is right. Meantime, here‘s a link to Mike’s homebase.
3. I actually finished this long story on Friday night, but I was having too good a time this weekend to blog. Oh, don’t give me that look. You know I’m not always telling the truth about when I read and when I post. You really think I’m writing up that many stories at 11:59 p.m.? You want to be lied to. I don’t need your negative trip. I am happy.

Josh White, “Free and Equal Blues”

Linnea Jacobson, "Faking It"

Trying to get the upper hand in a low-key coke deal.

(from Wild Violet)

This is sort of a passive, bizarro version of “The Gift of the Magi” where the surprise ending is that your can’t trust a dealer and you can’t trust a user. That’s not news, the surprise is the manner in which the con unfolds. If you can even call it a con. It’s not a complicated story, but it is effective in achieving its goals. I’m always intrigued by stories about “the woman” and “the man” and the decision to leave names off the characters. It could end up being a joke or an allergory, but it’s almost always a short, simple read. Which is what you want sometimes.
You can read the story here. It’s from the online literary magazine Wild Violet. I should really check out the web publications more often.

Shelly Rich, "Conquering Paradise"

The sisters want to bolt but they end up living in the car in the driveway.

(from Opium #1)

Cool, funny little story. Seemed sort of fearless in its thought processes, if you know what I mean. It let its morals and plausibility get bent and stretched in ridiculous ways, and the language was appealing in its modernity and casualness. Well, I know what I’m trying to say anway.

‘s a link to Opium magazine, an online literature site that has put out this, its first print edition. All the cartoons and photos and stories and poems come with an “estimated reading time” at the top. Which I dig. “Conquering Paradise” was estimated to take 3:26 to read. I decided to use the stopwatch function on my cell phone and time my own reading experience. Took me 3:36.13. So I’m a little slow. But basically, the Opium people got it right. Very impressive and useful. It’s strange, but sometimes you’re reading under the gun.