Monthly Archives: April 2007

Benjamin Percy, “Somebody is Going to Have to Pay for This”

After years of working the beat alone, David finds he doesn’t really mind having a partner.

(from The Paris Review, Spring 2007, #180)

This is one of those deceptively simple (or deceptively not simple) stories you end up overanalyzing in your head for awhile. Is there some sneaky symbolism in the men’s job, the daily emptying of fire hydrants? Is Stephen a friend to David, or something more? And there are a bunch of tiny moments that seem to make points even if the overall story would rather not be so overt. The piece has a very visual style. Its images are gentle and memorable. The characters are less excruciatingly described but end up feeling just a fleshed out. A sweet story.
Here is Benjamin Percy’s site.

Nathan Ihara, “Lobster is Tender Meat”

It’s not easy dating a crazy lady.

(from Opium, issue 3)

Yeah, but our narrator’s crazy too. The story moves fast, rarely stopping to spend two sentences on any one moment or thought. So, there are time when the evidence doesn’t quite add up for you the way it does for our bruised and impulsive narrator. So we have to take his word for things, or accept that his word is all we’re gonna get. Not a bad little story, certainly held my interest.

Alix Ohlin, "Local News"

A TV reporter ponders her future while investigating an apparent arson case.

(from Babylon and Other Stories)

Swiftly paced and often surprising, this story was sort of a page turner. There were times when it did a decent impression of an honest to goodness mystery, although that never quite paid off. The real guts of the story, or the world in which our heartbrokenish and drivenish reporter lives, is unexplainable. We don’t know why somebody burned down the waterbed store. We’re not sure why. We’re also not sure why our otherwise reliable narrator would do the thing she does at the end. see, not all mysteries need to be solved.

Rumaan Alam, "Fleet Week"

A guy with issues picks up a sailor.

(from American Short Fiction, Vol. 10, issue 36)

A fine story, but i can’t help but feel I missed something. Like, there were clues about our narrator’s dark past but I couldn’t put it all together. All the pieces might have been there, but the guy’s secret remained unsatisfyingly obscure. The author’s intention? The author’s fault?
My fault? Maybe. I read this story only a few pages at a time over the course of several days. If I’d read it in one session, I might’ve put all the pieces together.

Primo Levi, "Censorship in Bitinia"

A fascist system finds that peopl have a nasty reaction to censorship duties.

(from A Tranquil Star)

Difficulties were encountered, however, in recruiting the necessary personnel: first, because the work of a censor is, as is well known, arduous and subtle, requiring specialized training that even otherwise highly qualified people lack; and, second, because according to recent statistics, the actual practice of censorship can be dangerous.

Awesome, awesome, awesome. What starts off as only a only bit Orwellian ends up going at least as far off the deep end as Animal Farm. I can’t explain too much without ruining the surprising end, but suffice I will say it’s satisfyingly ridiculous.

Kurt Vonnegut, "Bagombo Snuff Box"

Eddie works up the courage to check in on his ex-wife. Then he just wants to brag.

(from Bagombo Snuff Box)

Well, obviously I was trying to pay tribute to my favorite writer of all time. As I’m sure you heard, Kurt Vonnegut passed away yesterday. Well this selection, the title story from his “uncollected short fiction” collection, isn’t quite up to snuff. I mean, it’s interesting enough, and has a decent twist, but KV would go on to write novels that completely rock my world. This story’s just so-so. Sigh. This is some tribute, eh? What I want to say is the world’s a little darker without Kurt Vonnegut out there.

Primo Levi, "Bear Meat"

Climbers swap stories in a high altitude shelter.

(from A Tranquil Star)

After we had eaten, we started to drink. Wine is a more complex substance than one might think, and, above two thousand metres, and at close to zero degrees centigrade, it displays interesting behavioral anomalies. It changes flavor, loses the bite of alcohol, and regains the mildness of the grape from which it comes. One can take it in heavy doses without any undesired effects. In fact, it eliminates fatigue, loosens and warms the limbs, and leads to a fanciful mood. It is no longer a luxury or a vice but a metabolic necessity, like water on the plains. It is a well-known fact that vines grow better on a slope: could there be a connection?

Loved this story. I’d actually starting reading it when the New Yorker published it a couple months ago, but the I lent the issue out to somebody before finishing it. With very few words, Levi really draws you into the world and culture of climbers. Everything is mysterious, but sensible, harsh but logical in this place. Except for the people, who are sentimental, mirthful and humbled by the mountain.
You should
read it.