Monthly Archives: January 2008

Steven Millhauser, "Cat ‘n’ Mouse"

The cat wants to catch the mouse. The mouse outwits the cat every time. How could this ever end?

(from Dangerous Laughter)

The mouse crashes through, leaving a mouse-shaped hole. The cat crashes through, replacing the mouse-shaped hole with a larger, cat-shaped hole. In the living room, they race over the back of the couch, across the piano keys (delicate mouse tune, crash of cat chords), along the blue rug. The fleeing mouse snatches a glance over his shoulder, and when he looks forward again he sees the floor lamp coming closer and closer. Impossible to stop—at the last moment, he splits in half and rejoins himself on the other side. Behind him the rushing cat fails to split in half and crashes into the lamp: his head and body push the brass pole into the shape of a trombone.

Kick ass. This is basically a blow-by-blow retelling of the epic battles between Tom and Jerry (not so much Itchy and Scratchy). There’s some occasional meta stuff, wherein the two immortal enemies ponder to pointlessness of their situation, but mostly this is just matter of fact storytelling. Cat builds a thing. Mouse turns thing against cat, with humorously brutal results. Awesome. Awesome. Read it here.

Primo Levi, "Bureau of Vital Statistics"

An office dedicated to assigning causes of death is no place for a man with qualms.

(from A Tranquil Star)

This is a what-if-heaven-was-a-bureaucracy stories — believe it or not a legit and not uncommon literary genre. In this one, there’s an unsettling feeling that even these people who run the world, in a sense, don’t know everything. Like why the elevators sometimes don’t work, for one.

Connor Kilpatrick, "Yuri"

Two guys who work at a crappy warehouse become friends.

(from McSweeney’s #25)

This story is dirty and moody, but kinda scattershot. The point and the plotline were lost on my. Though there were memorable moments, it coulda used some kinda conclusion. There’s nothing wrong with making the readers feel like they read a whole story. That would have been nice. So: Not satisfying but worth the time.

A.L. Kennedy, "How To Find Your Way in Woods"

Two ex-lovers reunite for no good reason.

(from Indelible Acts)

I liked how she doesn’t know why she invited him to her place in the woods, and how he doesn’t know why he accepted it. I didn’t like the stilted back-and-forth mindgames the two played with each other, but once they started treating each other a little more civilly, the plot started feeling more lucid. This story brought to mind a very specific memory of a particularly excellent place. So, for personal reasons, I ended up liking this one.
A.L. Kennedy’s home page.

Alejandro Zambra, "Bonsai"

Emilia and Julio were in love once.

(from Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2008)

This story is a heartbreaker. It’s beautiful, it lures you in with spectacular moments in which to lose yourself. It warns you from the very first line, that you may not like where things are going, that Emilia is going to die. It’s a promise you forget the more you learn and like about her. Surely someone like her can never die. And she does. And it breaks your heart. It’s a kick to the gut.
More about this story and Zambra here.

Roddy Doyle, "Black Hoodie"

Three kids shoplift as part of a school project.

(from The Deportees)

Every age has these levels of getting it and not getting it, where you understand how one aspect of the world works — love, money, social structure — and not others things — sex, the stock market, history. I always enjoy the type of narrator, like the one in “Black Hoodie,” whose worldview is at once sensible and ill-informed. He still has his youthful idealism, though Doyle tricks you into thinking that was long gone with the opening passage. The author’s own knack for optimism triumphs over the story’s otherwise serious circumstances and one may be inclined to call this a cop out. C’mon people, every once in a while the good guys win. If you can call them good guys.

Roddy Doyle, "The Pram"

Every day Alina feels eyes on her as she goes out to walk the baby around Dublin.

(from The Deportees)

A classic-style, old world ghost story, with slow building tension and spooky, unexplainable mystery. It’s so strange whose worldview wins out. There’s the prim and yuppie-ish O’Reilly family (power mom, smarmy dad, privileged kids), and there’s the trapped Alina, whose only power over the kids seems to be her spoooooky immigrant status. She knows her story’s a fake, right?

Roy Kesey, "Martin"

A psychiatrist details the case of a patient who thinks he’s a guitar string.

(from All Over)

Well, I’m pretty sure sure Martin is a guitar string, so it’s a shame his doctor’s too smug to realize it. Very funny story.

Neil Smith, "Bang Crunch"

A young girl gets a disease that makes her age very quickly.

(from Bang Crunch Stories)

Ever since you began to speed-age, your range of emotions has narrowed into the yellow line on a highway crossing the Prairies.

At first, when I read the name of the main character, Eepie Carpetrod, I was bummed that I was entering some zone of endless preciousness. But this is a lovely story. Fast and crafty and fantastical without feeling like it’s some lame and irrelevant otherworld. Also, looks like the name is an Edward Gorey reference.