Monthly Archives: January 2006

Katherine Taylor, "Rules for Saying Goodbye"

Eleven steps toward breaking it off right.

(from Shenandoah, Vol. 55, #2)

Ten. Write a note on very nice paper. Make it simple. Dear Henry, I have loved you completely. Be too hurt to sign your name.
Short, clever, funny and kinda touching. I mean, was it a story? Yes! Just inside the chalk! Very cool. I wish I could find this online, but no dice. Looks like Katherine Taylor, who has always been very nice to I Read A Short Story Today, will be putting out a novel in 2007 also called Rules for Saying Goodbye. (At least that’s what it says here.)

Paul Simon, “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover”

Alison Smith, "The Specialist"

Alice is having trouble with her rabbit hole, but none of the doctors know how to help her.

(from McSweeney’s, No. 11)

The first one said it was incurable. The next agreed. “Incurable,” he sighed. The third one looked and looked and found nothing. He tapped her temple. “It’s all in your head,” he said. The fourth one put his hand in and cried, “Mother! Mother!” The fifth never saw anything like it. “I never saw anything like it,” he gasped as he draped his fingers over his stethoscope. The sixth agreed with the first and the seventh agreed with the third. He parted her legs and said, “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Alice sat up. The paper gown crinkled. Her feet gripped the metal stirrups. “But it hurts,” she said and she pointed.

At first you might be a little bugged by the fairy tale tone. It’s offputting, especially when you feel so bad for Alice. Her pain and her plight seem real, but the doctors are either befuddled (understandable), incompetent or exploitative. They’re less real characters, or at least their unreality is in plainer sight.
But once you learn to lie back and let the story impose its will on you, there’s a certain peace. Is there some sort of metaphor at work in a story about a woman who seems to have nothing but a frozen wasteland and “a cold, hard breeze” inside her? Yes, well there must be, right? Invasive scrutiny won’t help much, though, and that’s perfect for a story like this. Pretty, sublime, simple and ponderous.
Read it here.

Do you like coincidences? About a half hour after I’d put down “The Specialist,” I picked up my copy of Wholphin — the new McSweeney’s quarterly DVD series — and found that “The Specialist” has been adapted into a short film.
It’s called The Big Empty — which is a more appropriate title, although Miss Empty would have nailed it, if you ask me — and it’s directed by J. Lisa Chang and Newton Thomas Sigel. Alice is played by the pretty, sublime Selma Blair, one of I Read A Short Story Today’s favorite people who act. The Big Empty was less concerned than its source with Alice’s search for answers before meeting the titular specialist. It’s a movie, a 21 minute movie. So a cleverly arranged, spinning-camera montage summed up the first four pages in under a minute. This was fine. Overall, the film did well in capturing the story’s allegorical tone and fantastical sense of time and space. All changes were either forgivable or understandable, maybe even laudable.
Guest appearances include Richard Kind and Hugh Laurie (yep — House). Selma Blair was appropriately sad, confused and weary.
Read more about the film here, and about Wholphin here. Here‘s a picture of two actual wholphins. Here‘s one of Selma Blair. Here‘s Alison Smith. Look at this painting of Fig Newtons. Okay, I’ll stop Googling.

Pavement, “Gold Soundz”

Catherine Tudish, "Killer"

What’s ol’ Mrs. Wells mean her son’s a killer?

(from Tenney’s Landing)

“Killer” starts with Mrs. Wells hiding her meds and trying to tell the other people in the nursing home that her son’s a killer. Then she recalls the murder itself, when her son was only 8, and how his accidental shooting of another boy uproots the family’s already quiet, solitary existence.
Somehow all the ugliness in this story — the cold family, the young killer, the blood — doesn’t stop you from feeling sorta warm and peaceful. The action moves along at a gentle trot, rarely lindering on one scene or idea, but not glossing over them either. This is the kind of pastoral, small-town tale of intrigue and sadness Alice Munro often hooks me with. The images are so vivid, the mood so defined, the reader is content to row along with the current.

Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins, “The Big Guns”

Amy Hempel, "What Were The White Things?"

She’s supposed to see the specialist but she wanders into an art lecture instead.

(from The Dog of the Marriage)

Well, it was so simple and so content to return to its central image, it could have been a song. “What Were The White Things?” was the chorus. The verses were about the slides of paintings and the X-rays of the narrator. So it had rhythm.

Adam Prince, “The Triceratops”

One undergarment inspector wants to see his co-worker’s triceratops.

(Black Warrior Review, Vol. 31, #2)

There were so many times when I thought this story was teetering on the edge of wackiness and predictably weird humor. Maybe the word I’m thinking of is carelessness or thoughtlessness. But it never went that far, and so was a very pleasant, funny reading experience. It helps that it’s really short. Too long and the strings would have showed, it would have fallen into the abyss.
Here is a picture of the author, Prince Adam.

Donna Tartt, "The Ambush"

The only game Timmy likes to play is the daily recreation of his father’s death in Vietnam.

(from Tin House, vol. 7, #2)

Most of this story is intriguing and memorable. I loved the scenes of a battlefield on repeat. It’s crazy and morbid and probably exactly what a kid might do. And our narrator seems comfortably intoxicated by her new friend’s rebellious attitude and leadership. This story, more often than not, has an authentic knack for getting into kids’ heads. The ending didn’t ring as true, but by then the hooks were already in me and I was willing to look the other way.
Here‘s some kinda homepage for Donna Tart. Here‘s a link to the story. Looks like it was published in the Guardian (UK), before it was published in Tin House‘s All Apologies issue, which I purchased even though there’s a clown on the cover. It’s a hobo clown, but a clown nontheless. I’m always putting another book on top of it.

Neutral Milk Hotel, “Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone”

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, "The Lives of Strangers"

An American joins a pilgrimage in India, and finds herself drawn to an old, possibly cursed woman.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2002, on extended loan from the Lori Hill Library)

Leela studies the kaleidoscope of emotions flitting across the women’s faces. Excitement, pity, cheerful outrage. Can it be true, that part about an unlucky star? In America she would have dealt with such superstition with fluent, dismissive ease, but India is complicated. Like entering a murky, primal lake, in India she has to watch her step.
One thing this story does well (and there are many things) is juxtapose a common American mindset with an Indian one, and then let you guess which side is right. But the route is indirect, the comparison non-confrontational. The language is sometimes sharp and sometimes elaborate, at all the right times. And the names — places, people, foods — put you in a foreign place without making you feel like any more of a tourist than Leela. There are parts to make you worried, sad, angry and elated.
You should read it. Here‘s a link to Agni, where it was originally published.
Here‘s a link to the author’s web site.

Jack Rose, “Kensington Blues”

Gary Amdahl, "Visigoth"

An articulate hockey brute ponders his place in the world.

(from Visigoth)

At least that’s what I figure he’s doing, what with all his contemplation on violence and motive. He’s a smart dude, a guy with a handy vocabulary and a knack for history. He’s also beyond his own control sometimes. This is a nearly beautiful story. There are plenty of awkward parts, where the prose is confusing, skipping from one subject to the next thanks to the scatterbrained savant doing the narrating. Feels okay, being on edge in this story. Good stuff.
A good friend handed me this book, in shock at how much up my alley it seemed to be. Short stories. Goalie on the cover (excellent jacket). Even the word visigoth is relentlessly appealing. Some people just know you well.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “Red Right Hand”

Robin Romm, "The Arrival"

Things get interesting at a depressing beach retreat when a stranger washes ashore.

(from One Story, #67)

Here’s the first sentence:
“My mother’s going to die.”
This didn’t make me want to read on necessarily, but it was effectively blunt and discomfitting deep down. And I was sitting in a comfortable position, so onward I read, hoping this wasn’t going to be another entry in the Illness Story. Really, I could start a separate blog for that genre. It turned out not be only 40% typical I.S. (the chemo, the grouchy patient, the graphically described symptoms), and 60% mystery and intrigue. So I enjoyed the awkward situation the well-meaning family and dying mother are put in when some lady they don’t know washes up on their beach and acts like it’s maybe not all that weird.
Bear with me on this: I watch Lost. It’s about these people who are stranded on an freaky little island. They’re always getting killed, and all kinds of weird things happen all the time. But nobody really dwells on the situation. It’s like, everytime somebody goes out into the jungle and comes across a monster made of smoke or a polar bear or whatever, they don’t gorunning back to camp like “Holy crap, I just saw horse!” or “I just killed whatsisname.” And nobody asks like where you been or why you got so much blood on you. And if they do the characters are just like, “We’re safe now. I need to stare off into distance for a bit. Leave me alone.” It’s kind of annoying. Then tonight, some dude shows up and actually has the audacity to chide the castaways for their curiosity. If you ask me, they are sooo not curious enough.
“The Arrival” has got a little bit of that going on. Like, this woman Amy pulls herself out of the ocean wearing one shoe and a not-for-swimming dress. And the narrator’s like what the hell, but mom’s way too cool with it. And Amy? She’s like what like people don’t normally do this? It works here, though, because at least we have our curious narrator.

Belle & Sebastian, “Dress Up In You”

Dan Pope, "Drive-In"

Driving to the drive-in porn.

(from Post Road, #11)

An okay little story about some meatheads going to see Deep Throat at a drive-in porn theater. Did such things really exist? Certainly the sad-masturbation aspect of this story was pretty much inevitable. In real life it was probably happening every half hour. This was a short one, and that seems right. It’s familiar subject matter, though the setting was news to me.

Here‘s a link to Post Road.

Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins, “Handle With Care”