Monthly Archives: May 2007

Michael Chabon, "Werewolves in Their Youth"

Paul’s the only friend werewolf Timothy Stokes has.

(from Werewolves in Their Youth)

I had known him as a bulldozer, as a samurai, as an android programmed to kill, as Plastic Man and Titanium Man and Matter-Eater Lad, as a Buick Electra, as a Peterbilt truck, and even, for a week, as the Mackinac Bridge, but it was as a werewolf that Timothy Stokes finally went too far.

A good friend and I had a long discussion on the length of that first sentence. Is it too long? Would only, say, three items have been sufficient? Is sufficient enough? I’ve given it some thought and I currently feel that the sentence’s span is appropriate for the purposes of the story. My newspaper instinct tells me, however, that first sentences should be short, punchy teases. This is not a newspaper article, it’s an interesting and memorable story of one school outcast slowly recognizing his kinship with the biggest outcast. Or maybe it’s about a kid one rung up on the social food chain taking solace in the fact that there’s somebody with a lower standing than him. It’s a good one. A long one. But appropriately so.
What? What is this, this Google Books thing? It looks like the whole book is available
here for your reading pleasure. I bought it for $10.80 at Barnes & Noble, which is also a good thing.
This is Michael Chabon’s site, and it’s kinda empty.

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See Also
Hey, have you seen this Hay Relay thing on the Guardian? It’s ten authors writing ten chapters of a story, published over ten days. I’ll write it up when it’s done. It starts here with Beryl Bainbridge. Rose Tremain, Thomas Keneally and Dave Eggers have also submitted chapters so far.

Eddie Chuculate, "Galveston Bay, 1829"

Four Indians set out to see the Great Lake.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007)

On their second day, Old Bull’s party began to see many wolves and coyotes in the distance, slung low to the ground, throwing backward glances. The animals appeared in the midafternoon as mirages through a heat-wave gauze that rose off the plain and made things shimmer and seem not as they were. One stopped and sat on his haunches and looked behind him. He licked his chops, then looked right at Old Bull before slinking away. Something extraordinary was happening, plainly, but Old Bull was unconcerned. There were many days to cover before reaching this Great Lake he had heard so much of. They were Old Bull, Red Moon, Sandman, and Whiteshield. Other than strips of dried meat wrapped in skins and an extra horse each on a side rope, they carried no excess baggage. Their horses were lean and muscled and born to run. But this wasn’t a war party or a scouting trip. This was plain-and-simple joyriding, an adventure, and who wants to be bogged down on an adventure?

This one sorta took my breath away. Certain images just stick with you, but the mood even moreso. It’s as if possibility hangs over every twist and turn on the road the party takes. There’s an uneasy mix of fear and wonder, will the next person or place on their path bring danger? Discovery? Beautiful. I wanted to get lost in this story. Read it here.

Justine Dymond, "Cherubs"

An American couple attends a wedding in a French mansion once occupied by the Germans and then the Americans in WWII.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007)

When the cook heard the American tanks and motor cars rumbling up the muddy road from the west, she ran out of the kitchen, through the courtyard, and past the barn, waving her apron, surrendering in delight. This is what Béatrice tells us. In this moment that she tells us, we fear revealing any pride—those Americans, those Americans not unlike us, except separated by fifty-some years.

America’s standing in the world has fallen far in recent years, but don’t you sort of suspect it was never so lofty as we’re pretending? That our rep was hardly as pristine and awe-inspiring as we’d have liked. In a way, this is a story about coming to that realization. Wandering around in a classic, old-world French time warp, our narrator longs to know the truth about what happened here all those years ago, even though it soon becomes clear that there’s little to romanticize. Spectacular story, gentle, careful. Read it here.
Here‘s more info on Justine Dymond and a photo of her holding one crazy freakin’ cat.

Carol Taylor, "A Debt To Pay"

Diamond Don knows he’s done for.

(from Bronx Biannual, #2)

Kind of a short, blunt story about an aging pimp who crosses the sister of a mysterious and reputedly ruthless assassin named Black. The “surprise” ending doesn’t have a real punch to it, but the overall style and pace are nicely done. Reminded me of Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead a little.

Charles Lambert, "The Scent of Cinnamon"

Miriam and Joseph meet by mail and it’s love right away.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007)

Dear Mrs. Payne,

I have been given your name by the Reverend Ware, vicar of the English community here. I am a blunt man, and I shall come straight to the point. Ware tells me that you have recently lost your husband and are without means. He has suggested to me that you may be interested in marriage with a man who can provide you with the security and affection you require. He has indicated to me that I may be such a man. I have every reason to trust Ware’s judgment in these matters, above all because he knew you as an unmarried girl and speaks highly of your breeding, modesty and intelligence. For my part, I offer you a man of thirty-seven years, of which nineteen have been passed outside his own country. I have a farm that would comfortably contain an English county. I am fit, healthy and, if Ware is to be trusted also in this matter, of sufficiently pleasing appearance to make my appeal for your hand appropriate and possessing of some possibility of success.

I enclose a photograph. The dog’s name is Jasper.

I look forward to receiving your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Broderick

So, M. Night Shyamalan is writing short stories. I kid, but this twist is quite Nightly — not predicted (by me, anyway), but weirdly tidy and built on a familiar foundation of established lore. And it’s quite captivating. You know things are spooky and weird, but you feel so happy for the couple that your curiosity is like Joseph’s — muted by a desire to not ruin everything and just stay happy.
I swiped that excerpt from One Story, which also has an interview with Lambert about the story. Here‘s Charles Lambert’s site.

William Trevor, "The Room"

Nine years after her husband was accused of murdering a girl he was seeing, Katherine starts an affair of her own.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007)

In a way, reading this story was like canoing through diced ham. It was a trudge, a battle, a strenuous task. The plot, more of a gradual revelation, was always interesting, but the telling was slowed by Katherine’s abstract ponderings. Everything crept along, details were doled out sparingly, in a way that frustrated just slightly more often than it tantalized. Still, the complexity of the characters and the sorta-mystery kept me reading.

Can Xue, "Meteorite Mountain"

Little sister lives on a mountain now.

(from Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers)

Uh. Well, the mountain is magic I guess. The people there rely on sweet potatoes and sudden appearances of water. They’re not saying why these things are provided for them, but they seem to know the answer. Our narrator is as puzzled as we are, although she does end up gaining some insight while I continued to read in the dark. The story is entrancing in its oddness, not making sense the way, say, foreign sitcoms sometimes don’t make sense. You know the formula, you know about people and the laws of nature, but these things are not enough. Su freakin’ rreal.

Wells Tower, "Retreat"

Alan visits his brother in the wilds of Maine.

(from McSweeney’s #23)

Matthew steered the truck through a narrowing vasculature of country roads that wound into high-altitude boondocks, past trailer homes and cedar-shake cottages with reliquaries of derelict appliances and discarded automotive organs in their yards.

Awesome. This story runs like a classic car, smooth, finely tuned, familiar curves, real muscle under a shiny coat. The characters, all three of them, are more easily known than understood, sometimes saying things that are surprising but exactly right. The mysterious Mr. Tower remains one of my favorite writers, but I don’t want to give the impression that you’re conscious of the writer when you’re reading it. The story is beautifully told, but so gently guided as feel organic, free range, true.
Truer than most, at least.

Karl Taro Greenfield, "Silver"

An American takes a job at the Hong Kong office of his floundering conglomerate and joins the soccer team.

(from The Paris Review, Spring 2007)

He took a deep breath, leaned forward, then back again. “Um.”
I kept quiet.
“Yes.” Then he hit his own forehead, as if trying manually to jog his memory. “So, yes, you are the most senior staff member to play ever.”
I shrugged. Was he trying to tell me that I wasn’t welcome?
He seemed to be waiting for a response. From me? Good luck.
“So. We will be honored if you will join our football club.”
We stood up and shook hands.
On his way out, Silver had a lengthy exchange in Chinese with my assistant after which she came in and explained that I would be the most senior employee ever to join the football club.

You know, this story kept elbowing me, leaning in and whispering “Our narrator isn’t a bad guy the way we’re all bad guys. He’s like bad for real.” But still, with each jab, I didn’t believe it. “The man is a just a cool customer,” I countered. “A realist. A dude who knows the score.” And when the narrator revealed his final bad guy move, the final one of the story anyway, I was surprised. But that’s my fault. I had been warned. Excellent, excellent story. Although I’m not sure the time frame really adds up — this soccer season with weekly matches lasts a bit too long, perhaps — this story was otherwise tight and entrancing.

Sam Lipsyte, "Peasley"

The man who killed the idea of tanks in England can’t remember why he did so.

(from McSweeney’s, #22)

Of course he can’t remember much of much. The story winds in and out of the old man’s redundant thoughts, mostly fond wartime memories. As short as this was, its ideas seemed properly exhausted by the end. This one didn’t make me think much once the last words were read.
Love the magnetic spines on this collection.