Monthly Archives: July 2006

Louise Erdrich, "The Plague of Doves"

Her great grandmother and grandfather met in in the fields while try to shoo the doves away.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006)

He dreaded going to the outhouse, because some of the birds had got mired in the filth beneath the hole and set up a screeching clamor of despair that caused others of their kind to throw themselves against the hut in rescue attempts. But he did not dare relieve himself anywhere else. So through a flurry of wings, shuffling so as not to step on the birds, he made his way to the outhouse and completed the necessary actions with his eyes shut. Leaving, he tied the door closed so that no other doves would be trapped.

Love this story. Love the idea that inexplicable romantic circumstance is a family tradition. Love the bizarre politics and otherworldly setting. Love the dove infestation. Makes me think of Futurama, where abandoned houses always seem to have owls scurrying around inside. Love the future.
Read it

Steve Almond, "Moscow"

Visions of a naked woman, the Kremlin and freshly made hershey’s kisses dance in his head.

(from My Life In Heavy Metal)

She told him: “I am completely naked.”

This story was sort of a story, but more like a thinky, cinematic series of images and contemplations. Really abstract at times. It’s a strange thing. Brief and captivating. I can’t quite figure out why a person he doesn’t know answers the phone naked, but that’s alright.
Read it here.
This is the same Steve Almond.
This is not the same Steve Almond.

Dave Eggers, "Naveed"

If Stephanie does it with James, she’ll have to do somebody else soon after.

(from How We Are Hungry)

Because James would make 13 total, and her future husband would make baker’s dozen jokes.
But 14 is a good number. No jokes about 14. It’s a short short story. Funny too.

George Saunders, "Bohemians"

Which crazy old immigrant lady is the one you can trust?

(from In Persuasion Nation)

In a lovely urban coincidence, the last two houses on our block were both occupied by widows who had lost their husbands in Eastern European pogroms. Dad called them the Bohemians. He called anyone white with an accent a Bohemian. Whenever he saw one of the Bohemians, he greeted her by mispronouncing the Czech word for “door.”

This is my last story in the Saunders collection (I read “Commcomm” when it came out) but I read “Bohemians” a couple days ago and my initial thoughts have evaporated. All that remains is a sort of general impression, which is that Saunders got a little after school special on me. But hell, Tin Man always had a heart, how long could he pretend not to? Of course, I really enjoyed it.
Read it here.
This is George Saunders’ web site.
This is the wrong George Saunders, but he seems like a fun guy.

Ann Beattie, "Find and Replace"

Ann’s not too happy Mom found a new man to live with.

(from Follies)

“Ann!” she said. “Oh, are you exhausted? Was the flight terrible?”

It’s the subtext that depresses me: the assumption that to arrive anywhere you have to pass through Hell. In fact, you do.

A cool, quiet little story about moving on. This world is a comfortable place to be in. Complicated but not soo much so, charming but oddly blunt. There’s a little bit of meta haunting this thing; the title refers to the narrator’s using real life in her fiction by changing the names. f course, this character’s name is Ann, so it’s not a courtesy she extends to herself, or to us, I guess. Anyway, I can take meta in small doses, I guess. I liked this story. Read it here.

Lara Vapnyar, "Puffed Rice and Meatballs"

Katya figures there are some stories you tell and some you save for yourself.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006)

Now as I was typing that description, I nearly shuddered. Because this is not some creative-process-exploring meta story, or at least it isn’t in any overt way. People of earth, I’m moving away from my distaste for meta and into full-blown disgust. I just saw Lady in the Water and, well, there’s this character named Story stringing everybody along and blah blah blah barf. Listen: “Puffed Rice and Meatballs” is sort of a story about storytelling, but it’s not a story about writing, so yay, parades, strike up the band.
What’s it a story about for real? Well, how’s this for vague? It’s about things. About how what you own (which sex organs, what clothes, what foods) can change who you think you are. It sounds lame when I say it like that, but it’s not. This story is strange and sharp and thoughtful.

Kim Yong Ik, "Gourd Dance Song"

Even cruel village men and lusting village boys are rooting for the local songbird.

(Short Story International, #59)

“Look at me with a skyward gourd on my back.
Look at me with a good luck on my back.”

Well, they’re rooting for her to a degree. They want to possess her, her body (a little) and her voice (a lot). Now, to my eyes, they’re a little too into their amorphous Gourd Dance tradition. So much so that they would limit Lotus’s potential and clip her dreams just to have her around to sing the song they’re really digging. Also, most of the people in this charming, near-parable talk in that awkward, grandiose style I’ve come to expect in translated texts, like: “Did you stumble again? Were you watching the far mountain.” This is not terribly distracting, however. The distance in time, place and mindset is already apparent. If they talked like me I’d call shenanigans.

This story was published December, 1986. Of course it’s not on the web. I wonder what became of the Korean-born Kim Yong Ik.

Mary Gaitskill, "The Little Boy"

An older woman limps down memory lane and through an airport.

(from Harper’s Magazine, June 2006)

I dunno. I just don’t see the point. All this blunt melodramatic angst tangled up in pretty phrases. Nicely, even smartly, composed but not that interesting. Like P.O.D. Like lots of music I can’t stand.

Tsunami, “Old Grey Mare”

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, "Wolves"

An older woman befriends an imaginary wolf.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006)

But she could have said something. Once she would have. She would have said the word after him: wolf. Then they would have begun to play with the word, with the wolf. It would have run back and forth from his chair to her chair, changing the color of its fur as they changed their descriptions of the beast they had brought alive, a jagged scar suddenly appearing on one side of its nose as they invented its story, its near-disastrous encounter with an elk, its wheezing after it was caught in a rock slide and lay for two days in rain and snow, the time in the cave without food, the small animal that returned to its den only to find the hungry wolf there, the wolf sleeping with his head pillowed on the carcass of the dead animal, sleeping in the cave until his ribs healed.

By I Read A Short Story Today standards, this is a long story. But not so long that it should have taken me a week to finish, which it did. I would put it down when I was tired, pick it up when I was tired. This is a terrible way to read a heavy story like this, and so I found myself re-reading passages read in a previous session. And I’d invariably notice something new in those sentences I’d missed the first time around. The writing is so pretty, so contemplative. Idiosyncracies are tougher to convey through writing than outright strangeness, I’ve noticed, but this story treats them as equal mysteries. Very, very cool.

Elisa Albert, "Hotline"

She answers the depression hotline and indulges a regular.

(from How This Night Is Different)

Tonight, when it rings, Miranda is reading a magazine on a couch worn down by expectation. Behind her the wall stands indignant with amateur artwork: vines like telephone cords with sick-looking leaves and absurdly colored flowers, people’s names, quotes. There are unidentifiable swirls and waves that look like whoever painted them just did so for the sake if it, giving up on anything concrete before they even started, not knowing what they wanted to say.

I wonder if I was supposed to wonder about whether or not the narrator was correct in assuming the caller was getting off to the sound of her voice. She takes it as a given; I thought the guy might just be lonely. Regardless, it’s a funny, sneaky story. Read it where it was originally published, in Pindeldyboz.