Monthly Archives: November 2007

Roy Kesey, "Scroll"

A painter creates a huge mountainous landscape but nobody wants it.

(from All Over)

Well, nobody wants the paintings on the artist’s terms, and it’s kind of sad but also it’s kind of what did you expect you would do with a nine-mile-long canvas? Just because it took you 34 years doesn’t mean it’s worth anybody else’s time. It would be nice if it did, of course. Hey look, I’m direct-addressing a character, haven’t done that in a while. Anyway, “Scroll” is a melancholy but kinda fun little number. Great ideas have been known to beget other great ideas and I would suspect a copy of Banvard’s Folly by Paul S. Collins is sitting on a Kesey shelf somewhere. That book, which practically spits sparks of literary inspiration on every page, features, among others things, the a chapter on a real-life long form painter named Banvard who, in the pre-motion picture age, actually found an audience for a while.

David Lawrence Morse, "Released"

The oarsman carries the sick out to sea, but who will carry out the oarsman when the sickness comes for him?

(from The Missouri Review, Fall 2007)

It was my father who was the oarsman, and the last there ever was.
We believed no one could die on our island; the gods forbade it, and disaster would follow. And so when the sickness came upon one of us, the oarsman would row away with the dying islander over the horizon: my father the oarsman and his father before and his father and on and on. No one knew where he went, and no one knew what became of the bodies, but the bark was always empty when my father rowed it back to shore. Some said he floated somewhere over the horizon waiting for the dying to die and then heaved the body into the sea. But most imagined there was a place, a watery grave, a shining coral garden among the darker waters, where the bodies could be released and remain. Some said the released didn’t die at all but lived in peace on the Island of the Blessed, and we would meet them in the end. As for my father, he laughed at such stories and would wink at me and tell the villagers of something called the East Stream, which carried the bodies away. “Ah!” someone would say. “The East Stream!” And while the villagers would laugh, knowing that Father was a sly one, I tried not to speculate. The mind can imagine anything, but that doesn’t make it so.

Ever since I read “Conceived” last year, I’ve tried to keep my eye out for more stuff by David Lawrence Morse. That story, about a village on the back of a whale, was a world unto itself. “Released” looks to reside in a place more like our own, but had no less of an impact on me. Another captivating and fantastic place to take a stroll through. I’m tempted to go into what Morse was getting at morally, or socio-consciously but I don’t feel like making a fool of myself today. Come back tomorrow. Also, read the story and tell me what you think. It’s not online but you should be able to pick up The Missouri Review at Barnes & Noble and such.

Stephen King, "Ayana"

Finally the story of his father’s miracle can be told.

(from The Paris Review, Fall 2007)

I didn’t think I would ever tell this story. My wife told me not to; she said no one would believe it and I’d only embarrass myself. What she meant, of course, was that it would embarrass her. “What about Ralph and Trudy?” I asked her. “They were there. They saw it too.”
“Trudy will tell him to keep his mouth shut,” Ruth said, “and your brother won’t need much persuading.”
This was probably true. Ralph was at that time superintendent of New Hampshire School Administrative Unit 43, and the last thing a Department of Education bureaucrat from a small state wants is to wind up on one of the cable news outlets, in the end-of-the-hour slot reserved for UFOs over Phoenix and coyotes that can count to ten. Besides, a miracle story isn’t much good without a miracle worker, and Ayana was gone.

I’m having trouble describing this one, why it worked. It was sort of hazy. Its intentions weren’t really evident except to tell a good story and make you think. Good enough.
Read the beginning here.

Update! Update! (12/11/2007)
Not long ago I sent a pdf of the above story to a guy named Peter Hansen in Denmark. He is a dedicated Stephen King fan who was having trouble getting a copy. In exchange, he agreed to write up his thoughts on the story. I’m extremely pleased to present the following epic:

On Stephen King
By guest writer Peter Hansen
a Stephen King fan from Denmark

I’ve just read ”Ayana,” a new short story by Stephen King, and which appeared in the literary magazine The Paris Review (thanks to Patrick Rapa for providing me a copy — of the story, not the magazine, I’m one of those King fans who just wants the King story, the rest doesn’t really matter).
However, I also just got the December issue of Playboy

I got the actual magazine, so there were other kinds of eye candy to enjoy, if you know what I mean. Oh, well…Where was I? Ah, yes. “Ayana.”

This isn’t an actual review, so I won’t detail too much of the plot. This is more my opinion and musings. If you find it too rambling and incoherent, I’ll say — so what? Deal with it.
I’m a big fan of Stephen King, see? Have been so for many, many years. Love his novels (the longer, the better), short stories, novellas, screenplays, non-fiction, etc. He never fails to please me.

Maybe I’m too easy to please, or too loyal a fan, but he has really never let me down. That also goes for his baseball writing, because even if I don’t understand baseball (I’m Danish, go figure!) King’s voice and force is still there, pulling me into the pages. King could write about the manufacturing of curtains, and it would still be a reading experience. No kidding.
Sure, some of his works are better than others (not to mention the movie and TV adaptations, but that’s another story for, perhaps, another day).
But all us fans know that he’s the man when it come
s to horror, suspense, but most importantly, a story well told, or, at least, honestly told. Even if a story is a tad unoriginal and predicting, King still delivers. As the covers of the good old NEL (New English Library) paperbacks informed us back in the days, words are his powers. Yup, couldn’t agree more.

I’m not alone on this, but King is really the King when it comes to short fiction. He has written lots and lots of them, and some of the best has been collected in his own collections over the years: Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and Everything’s Eventual. Not to mention some other more innovative collections like Creepshow (a comic adaptation of his movie screenplay of the same name; love the movie, by the way). More recently, there was The Secretary of Dreams, a limited “graphic novel” collection, containing some tales (picked by King himself) which have been richly illustrated, and some even done as comics. This being a limited edition only, it’s an item I don’t have in my collection. Being a fan and collector can often be frustrating. That’s also another story for, perhaps, another day.

So, as much as I love King’s fat, meaty novels (those that some critics claims overwritten; to hell with them), I have a special affection for his short fiction. He’s often more experimental with this particular form.
After his recent collection Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales (2002), King’s short fiction has grown more experimental than before. They are still typical King, yet they seem to be more focused on other stuff than things that go bump in the night. I’m fine with that. King could write a story (or a novel) about a banana running for President, and I would buy it and read it. And enjoy it.
Because King isn’t really just a horror writer, don’t you know?
King has always been literary, whatever you might think of the word, but he has become somewhat more subtle and, to some extent, more gentle in his approach, so
a great deal of this later stuff seems more literary than the older stuff. Again, it depends on your viewpoint. To me, King has been literary since Carrie (1977).

King’s short fiction output since that collection in 2002, has been regrettably short, but hey, he’s slowed down a bit, and he’s working on novels in between (plus, he’s got a regular column in Entertainment Weekly and is working on a musical/play with John Mellencamp. Wow!). However, the stories have, to me, at least, become more fascinating. There’s still some supernatural yarns, although they rely less on scares and more on deeper stuff.
I’m psyched that King still writes short fiction, especially since these will result in a future collection (untitled for now, but was tentatively titled Pocket Rockets, a neat, yet odd title, given what you associate that title with). I’m like a little kid whenever I read news about a new story or novella (always on Lilja’s Library, the best King site on the Net — ever!), and it seems more are emerging.
Bring ’em on.

One brand-new story is “Ayana.” (I finally got to the point, huh?) It’s one of the gentler tales, with supernatural elements, sure, but not relying on it, or delving into it. It’s a story that echoes elements from his early story “The Woman in the Room” (in Night Shift) and his 1996 serial novel The Green Mile. It’s a story about miracles. It’s a story that King apparently needed to write because of a death in his family; his mother-in-law. “The Woman in the Room” was King’s way of dealing with his own mother’s death from cancer, and it was sad and emotional. “Ayana” has a bit of the same feeling, but the approach and execution is different and lighter. Lilja reviewed it on his site and claimed it made him feel good. It also made me feel good, but I also agree with another gentleman who felt that King has covered the grounds before. But then again, he does that now and then, especially with his recent short fiction, and I’m still the pleased fan-boy.

Jane Avrich, "The Life of Cards"

A magician guesses you card and then tells you what it means.

(from Tin House, vol. 9, number 1)

Very short, and short on details, backstory, etc. But the characters work, even we’re in the dark about their situation. I like it.
This is from Tin House, from their Fantastic Women edition which packs more short stories (all by women) into one issue than I’ve ever known them to. Looking forward to reading more.

Roy Kesey, "Invunche y voladora"

Newlyweds with issues on their honeymoon in Chile.

(from All Over)

1. Llamas

As they wake in their rented cabin on the first day of their honeymoon in Chile, they realize, first the wife and then the husband, that they remember nothing of the wedding or reception. Neither mentions this to the other. The fire in the woodstove is dead, the cabin is very cold, and there are a dozen llamas gathered outside. No one told the spouses there would be llamas in Chile.

The llamas, their delicate necks, their long lashes, their great soft eyes–they stare in through the massive bay windows as the spouses shower and dress, make breakfast and eat. The spouses prepare to leave, and the llamas mass in some sort of spiraling formation. The spouses step out the door, and the llamas attack.

Does the wife scream out? Does she panic in any way? She does not. The husband screams slightly, however. The spouses take up thick sticks of firewood from the rack by the door, they wield their firewood mightily, and slowly they drive the spiraling, spitting, biting beasts away, bleeding about the face and head, the llamas and spouses, all of them bleeding. Later the cabin manager will apologize for the incident. It must have been something they ate, she will say.

Strange, beautiful and entrancing. This story has such a distinct version of reality, I almost believe in it. Or I almost believe this is what Chile is like, though I know I shouldn’t. There’s menace and wonder everywhere, but in manageable doses. The place and the situation will never be fully understood, not even by those inside it, one assumes. And the hurt, the mostly unspoken baggage the couple carries with weighed heavy on me, the reader. Once you get into the groove, the story, told in slideshowy vignettes, makes you wanna be there. And the ending — one of those classic future tense epilogues — doesn’t seem so strange by the time you get to it.
I bought the book at Barnes & Noble but you can read the whole thing here at The God Particle.
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Bruce McAllister, "The Boy in Zaquitos"

A man discusses his previous life doing horrible things for the government.

(from The Best American Short Stories 2007)
Some people — maybe one in one hundred thousand — can get infected by an epidemic disease and not get sick and die. They don’t even get the symptoms, but they can carry it and they can give it to others. They’re called “chronic asymptomatic carriers,” or CAC’s. You’ve heard of Typhoid Mary maybe, in health class or history. She was one. Not to the degree that the history books say she was, but she was. She didn’t even know she was one until they told her how many people she’d probably killed; but she was one and it drove her crazy to find out. It drove her crazy and the government dropped their case against her. That was about 1910, I think, and it was here in America, during an epidemic.
That’s how hard it can be on a person when they find out they’re a carrier. That’s what I’m saying, I guess.

What first looks like a spy/conspiracy story — it did originally appear in Fantasy and Science Fiction, after all — ends up being a touching and frightening story of phobia and anxiety. The story’s kind of a amazing at that, actually. And because it ran so much deeper than its situations, I don’t think it’ll hurt to tell you that the guy’s job was to carry diseases to which he was immune into foreign countries to kill many and destabilize the government. Great story. I think having something like this in BASS shows you the upside of giving Stephen King the keys.