Monthly Archives: May 2006

Joy Williams, "The Girls"

The girls don’t like the new houseguests, or any of the houseguests ever.

(from The Best American Short Stories 2005)

The titular characters in this absurd, freaky little story are wonderful monsters. They’re like those two creatures from Nothing But Trouble on the inside and, maybe, like Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie on the outside. They’re so spectacularly petty and ridiculous that this story made me laugh out loud. The overall meaning of all this, and there was one, is a little muddy in my mind because, well…
People of earth, reading is hard. It’s not easy. I started this story, this short, short story, some four days ago, picking it up only when I was essentially too tired to read. I would get through a page or two at best before surrendering. But I liked the story, I like it. It’s just, reading is hard work. If I thought it was easy, I don’t think I’d have a web site where I’m all proud of doing it, especially not in the short bursts of reading I recount here. My point? I need to set aside more time in my day for the purpose of reading, in the same way I reserve certain hours for going to work.

Oh yeah, in case you’re interested, here are some signs I saw recently, whilst on vacation.

Silkworm, “Developer”

Peter Levine, "The Appearance of a Hero"

Three well-off, fratty tennis players aim their frustration at losing their fourth at his replacement.

(from The Missouri Review, Winter 2005)

Stylish and smart. I’m not sure what the points were all adding up to, but it’s a swift and exciting story to read. Levine captures misdirected anger well — and it almost justifies the worldview of its hotheaded narrator. Well, more like it make it reasonable that people think that way.

‘s a link to the Missouri Review.

Jim Shepard, "Love and Hydrogen"

Two crewman hide their love for each other aboard the Hindenburg.

(from Love and Hydrogen)

Awesome. A heartbreaking and funny love story.
Also, this is a Doomed Story. What’s that? A Doomed Story is where you know the characters are travelling aboard some vehicle or working in some building that is slated for disaster by history. Maybe it’s a power plant you already know blew up, or ship that sank, a bridge that collapsed, a balloon that popped. Like Titanic. Or David Foster Wallace’s really excellent story “The Suffering Channel,” wherein overprivileged interns and magazine editors spend an inordinate amount of time working on a 400 word story (about a guy who poops art). By the way, they’re employed in the World Trade Center and it’s Sept. 10, 2001. (Here‘s my write-up on that.)
My short story “Pompeii Comeback Volleyball Geezers of the Year” — about a ragtag group of elderly volleyball players who defy their ages to contend for the national championship, only to get obliterated by the giant volcano under their feet — would also be an example of a Doomed Story.

David Lawrence Morse, "Conceived"

They live on the back of a fish, but somehow she’s not happy.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006)

Who knows what she would do in such a situation? Thrash and flail the sea, flinging our meager posts and provisions miles across the deep? Perhaps, but Ceta is the gentlest of beasts, and also the wisest—she would see the futility in such aggression, knowing with a beast’s instinctual wisdom that there’s no cure for calamity once it has lodged itself inside.

Man. Best story I’ve read in a long time. These people live, somehow on the back of a fish (or they think it’s a fish, although some signs point to whale or dolphin) that’s big enough for huts and other amenities. It’s a benevolent creature. It doesn’t seem to dip below the surface. So life should be sort of carefree for the nigh-scientist of the group, but his lover, Osa, she thinks there’s something better out there. Beautifully angsty and mysterious.
Yes, there are small tributaries to Waterworld here, but that doesn’t bother me one bit. No, this wasn’t written by
Hack. Here’s an interview with David Lawrence Morse about “Conceived.” Wish I could find a link to the story proper, because it’s awesome.

Camper Van Beethoven, “She Divines Water”

Neela Vaswani, "The Pelvis Series"

Eve develops a friendship with Lola, the super-smart chimp she’s studying.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006)

Fascinating story about learning and language arranged in pleasant mini-chapters. Made me wonder how much of this was true about the way these chimps can communicate. Are they really this logical and coherent? Or was this sci-fi? Very cool either way.

(I read this on the Explorer of the Seas)

Cracker, “Happy Birthday to Me”

Paula Fox, "The Broad Estates of Death"

Harry and his new wife drive to visit his sick father.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006)

I didn’t get, or maybe just didn’t care for, the way this story shifted perspectives from the angsty Harry to Amelia who has little insight into the apparently complicated relationship between her husband and his father. All she ends up contributing is her Debbie Downer perspective. Maybe I just wasn’t feeling like tuning into the subtlety.

(I read this on the Explorer of the Seas)

Lydia Peelle, “Mule Killers”

Looking for love when the mules became obsolete.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006)

Cool, strange little story told by a gender-unknown narrator, telling the story of her/his father sorta-kinda courting his/her mother. The storyline runs astride with the tractors essentially putting mules out of work and, so, to death. Hard to explain the vibe here. I enjoyed reading it.

(I read this on the Explorer of the Seas)

Edward P. Jones, “Old Boys, Old Girls”

Life in jail and outside jail is tough on Caesar.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006)

Okay, now I’m two stories into the latest O. Henry and I’ve been wowed more with substance than with style. For the most part, “Old Boys, Old Girls” is written rather utilitarianly, executing its task with certainty and poise. It does, occasionally, dabble in poetic language, mostly to describe angst. But mostly it deals in the real: hookers, jail, violence, murder, and such. Real urban trials misdeeds. It’s so winding and gritty and deliberate; I felt like a nicely shot indie film would do the story justice.
Turns out, according to those ending notes, this is the continuation of some of Jones’ older works and characters. I can see why he would want to revisit this world. Makes me want to dig up the older stuff (“Young Lions”/Lost in the City).

(I read this on the Explorer of the Seas)

Jackie Kay, “You Go When You Can No Longer Stay”

They had a comfortable relationship until one of them started reading Martin Amis.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006)

On one hand, this story was right on. The heartbreaking parts rang true and clear. These moments were nice. But some of the prose was so awkward, so repetitive, it made me stop. I mean, this was a story narrated by someone who had trouble expressing herself, putting her thoughts, and her partner’s mindset, into words she herself can understand. But there were times when I felt like it was the writer who was clunking, and this was distracting. That said, this story had some memorable quirks and situations. The Martin Amis thing was funny.

(I read this on the Explorer of the Seas)

Dennis Lehane, "Until Gwen"

Dad picks you up from jail, and even brings you a hooker, so try to remember where the diamond is.

(from The Best American Short Stories 2005)

Your father picks you up from prison in a stolen Dodge Neon, with an 8-ball of coke in the glove compartment and a hooker named Mandy in the back seat.

That’s the first line in this entertaining, dark, extrovert of a story where everybody’s a villain. It’s in second person. Sometimes it’s just really fun to read about jerks with guns and jewels and hookers and coke.
Looks like it’s gonna be a movie. Now, I would say the camera should be entirely from the son’s perspective, to keep true with the story’s second person angle. You might say, that’s first person. I disagree.

Frankie Ford, “Sea Cruise”