Monthly Archives: September 2007

Michel Faber, "Finesse"

A dying Castro-esque dictator needs the help of a surgeon he once imprisoned.

(from Vanilla Bright Like Eminem)

Rumours that the dictator was ill were unfounded. He’d never been fitter. Nevertheless, the dictator considered it wise, from time to time, to confirm the robustness of his health by having X-rays made of his chest. On this occasion when the great man asked if the X-rays showed anything unusual, his personal physician hesitated to reply.
“You have a big heart,” said the physician at last.
“I know that,” smiled the dictator. “But how big?”
They stood in the dictator’s office. The physician hugged the folder of X-rays unhappily to his breast.

Well, on one hand I was really into this story. The situation was interesting, its main characters made for excellent adversaries. The doctor and the dictator found their usual positions of power reversed (though neither could afford to be completely honest with the other) making for interesting exchanges. Not slick, but very well written.
On the other hand, I’d have enjoyed something resembling a conclusion. Maybe that means I should be reading genre fiction or something. Certainly a resolution is not something Faber has any interest in.

Jim Gavin, “Smelly Gary’s Luau”

Two toilet fixture salesmen hit the road.

(from Zyzzyva, Fall 2007)

This story is ripe with depressing details of Cheetos, toilet talk and uncomfortable interactions between sad men. Funny but not very challenging. I’m not sure why the title or the ending are what they are. But that’s okay. It’s fun. The story kept me in the moment.

Michel Faber, “The Eyes of the Soul”

A company drops by to install a HD TV into a single mother’s window, replacing her view of urban decay with a blissful garden vista.

(from Vanilla Bright Like Eminem)

This isn’t a what-would-happen-if story. It’s a This Happens story. The characters barely have a chance to react before the closing credits. This isn’t a story, really. The author came up with an invention and installed it in a story collection. Eh.

Michel Faber, “The Safehouse”

A homeless man finds his way to a peculiar shelter.

(from Vanilla Bright Like Eminem)

In a way, having a character like this as your unreliable narrator seems a bit too easy. Drugs, drink, psychosis — this guy’s so unreliable we can’t really work around him to figure out what’s going on. But what we do know is intriguing and puzzling. Our protagonist checks into what at first looks like a soup kitchen but maybe it’s a kind of limbo, where lost souls are gathered and tended to. It’s convenient (for the writer) that the staff at this odd place don’t explain anything to its inhabitants (or the readers). But that’s not a complaint. Things are supposed to be hazy here in limbo.

Michel Faber, "Andy Comes Back"

A guy who spent five years in a shrieking, incoherent state suddenly regains his lucidity.

(from Vanilla Bright Like Eminem)

Well we never really get any questions answered (like, you know, “why?”) but this is an interesting story anyway. Kind of a thinkpiece, like: What would happen if a guy lost five years and his family finally got him back. I picked this one out of the contents because it made me think of a Secret Stars song.

Michel Faber, "Serious Swimmers"

An ex-addict, her estranged son and their social worker go swimming.

(from Vanilla Bright Like Eminem)

She wished the social worker could die somehow and take the knowledge of Gail’s humiliation with him; he deserved to die anyway, the parasite. But the social worker remained alive and at the wheel, noting Gail’s comeuppance in his little black book of a brain, and then — Jesus Christ! — Ant went and did it again when they were almost there, by asking Gail, “What was that little drink you had back there?”

It’s sort of a simple situation but so visual and moving. I found myself rooting for this mother, and wondering how someone who seems so caring and smart and selfless could have become a heroin addict in the first place. But, you know, it happens. Cool, cool. story.
I feel like I’ve come across a ton of stories about swimming recently.

Jim Shepard, "Proto-Scorpions of the Silurian"

The family can’t deal with his brother’s erratic behavior.

(from Like You’d Understand Anyway)

It’s a crappy rainy morning in Bridgeport, Connecticut and I’m home from seventh grade with a sore throat and my parents and brother are fighting and I’m trying every so often to stay out of it. Jonathan Winters is on Merv Griffin, doing his improv thing with a stick.
My father’s beside himself because he thinks my mother threw out the Newsweek he’s been saving to show my brother. It had some war casualties on the cover. “You couldn’t find your ass with both hands and a banjo,” he tells her, though she’s not looking.
“Go take a shit for yourself,” she tells him on her way through to the living room. He slams drawers in the kitchen. When he gets like this he stops seeing what’s in them. We have to double-check everywhere he’s looked to find anything. All of this is probably going to make my brother go off and we all know it, but none of us can stop.

Well, it’s more of a scene than a story, but it’s an interesting scene. Kinda complicated, hard to comprehend completely. That’s fine. I don’t have to be a know-it-all. Read it here.

Pinckney Benedict, "Dog"

A dog has holed itself up under the trailer to die.

(from Town Smokes)

Eldridge heard the noise before Broom did. Broom was watching cartoons on the little black-and-white tv on the floor in the living room and he had the sound up pretty high so he missed it.

The noise that Eldridge heard was a squeak, a high squeak and a scratching sound. He was coming out of the bathroom when he heard it, walking in his bare feet, just a towel wrapped around his waist. He figured at first it was the floor of the trail — it was an old trailer that he and Broom lived in and beginning to rust out a little, starting to settle down uneven on the cinder-block foundations. Then he heard it again when he was a little ways down the hall toward the biggest bedroom and he knew this time that it was something that was alive.

“Dog” was was
inelegant but so visceral and descriptive, I was able construct a lucid mental picture of the scene. Who these guys are and why they share a trailer, or are even friends, is never explicitly stated, but their shared dilemma seems to unite them. Suspenseful and strange, this story kept crept along but kept my interest, maybe even worried.
Read it here.

Jim Shepard, "The Zero Meter Diving Team"

Three brothers are at ground zero during the Chernobyl disaster.

(from Like You’d Understand, Anyway)

The drama surrounding the emotionally estranged brothers is well told, but I most enjoyed the description of the fear and bureaucracy that let the disaster become a disastrophe. Reminded me of the story of the Morro Castle, a little. Besides the funny parts, and the familial melodrama, this story seemed to be teetering on some other point but it lost me there. Sounds silly, but I think this could have been a lot more fun.