Monthly Archives: February 2006

Ismail Kadare, "The Albanian Writers’ Union As Mirrored By A Woman"

An elegant prostitute represents freedom and mystery — a source of fascination for a writer trapped in rigid, hopeless, communist Albania.

(from The New Yorker, Dec. 26, 2005)

I’d heard that an architect in France had constructed a modern building with an all-glass façade designed to reflect the classical cathedral across the street from it, and that, since then, such appositions had become quite fashionable. Still, it was difficult to imagine any particular link between the Writers’ Union building, or the institution it represented, and the woman who lived across the way.

This has all the attention to detail and serpentine plot shifts of a memoir, not a work of fiction. It’s also very writerly, setting up its primary metaphor (prostitute=writers’ union) not only in the title, but the opening paragraphs as well. Hits you over the head with it. Then, once that’s established, it doesn’t refer to it again. Because that would surely concuss.
It’s pretty, and scary, and frustrating. The plight of writers torn between their duties to state and their yearning for intellectual pursuit and truth-telling is illustrated beautifully. Painful stuff. Good stuff.
It’s a long one. Read it here.
Kadare is Albanian-born (Gjirokastra, specifically), living in France. Here‘s an article on him.

* * *

I recently completed a longish project at work, and am ready to rededicate myself to the reading of short stories today. It’s too early for you to notice, but it’s International Fiction month at I Read A Short Story Today. Why do this?
1. I looked over January and found that pretty much everyone I’d read was American.
2. That site meter I added has a map function on it (showing where in the world visitors were sitting and viewing the site), and it got me thinking about such things.
3. The Olympics. (Love international hockey.)
4. International strife is the new iPod.
5. Manifest destiny.
In addition to this New Yorker International Fiction issue I’d been saving/neglecting, I’ll also be dipping into a couple translated collections I purchased recently. And. Please feel free to refer me to your favorite un-American stories, too.

Tahar Ben Jelloun, "Beauty Is a Fate Better Than Death"

How much stock should Salem place in his dreams?

(from The New Yorker, Dec. 26, 2005)

Salem dreams of his wife’s infidelity, but it’s his own transgressions he should be worried about. I think. While I enjoyed the oddly-paced prose, this story’s over-arching theme was lost on me. The mood, all paranoid and spooky, was reminiscent of some musical tragedy. A lyrical death is foretold, and then it comes.
Jelloun is Morroccan-born and living in France. Here‘s his le site officiel.

Meghan Kenny, "The Driest Season"

Cielle is the only one who knows her father is dead, but doesn’t know how to break the news.

(from The Iowa Review, vol. 35, #3)

An anxious, heartbreaking story. So much pain, confusion and tactile imagery packed into so few pages. It’s an engaging, quick read with no happy ending, because that would be utterly impossible. Unless it was all a dream sequence — a possibility than popped into my head — but, yeah, the author knows better than that. This story won first prize in the Iowa Review awards (see?).

* * *

Okay. That’s it for January here at I Read A Short Story Today. The month started out slow, but as soon as I got a few big projects off my back, reading time gently reappeared.
Here’s the month in numbers:

14 stories (11 by women, 3 by men)
14 stories by Americans (as near as I can tell; I’m not carding)
8 stories from literary magazines
13 stories set mostly in North America
2 stories with opening sentences about dead/dying parents
3 dead parents total
1 story with recently adapted in short film form
1 story also read aloud by the author
1 really excellent unreliable narrator (see “The Shared Patio,” by Miranda July)
2 with overt sexual themes
1 story mailed to me by its author (and which I got to belatedly)
1 dinosaur
1 magic pie-hole
1 hockey story

So: I’m reading more women, which was a conscious thing at the start of the month. Now it looks my my subconscious is hooked. I should make more of an effort to read international stories. I mean, I bought a New Yorker issue dedicated to that and everything. Most of my January stories were pretty short, too. I should get into a habit of settling down with some more substantial pieces.
Despite the fact that I’m more of a Borders guy, I went and purchased one of those Barnes & Noble discount cards. There was some deal going on and I got talked into it. It’ll end up saving me money ($17 for the card, 10% off per visit), but I think I’ll still go to Borders because I like the way they arrange their magazines. If you’re somebody I know and you need to buy periodicals or unused books, lemme come with you. It might save you money.
Oh yeah, I added a little site meter, at the bottom left there.