Monthly Archives: August 2008

Merritt Tierce, "Suck It"

A waitress describes the dirty druggy ugly secrets of working in a fancy-ish restaurant.

(from New Stories from the South 2008)

This one’s pretty great. I mean, it’s rugged and harsh and real and gritty and all that. Very swiftly told, too. We’re never really told why our narrator, an older waitress, is so willing to have sex with everybody, even if she hates them. That would’ve been interesting. (And novel.) But what we got made for a good read.

Octavia Butler, "Speech Sounds"

Girl meets boy in a world where illness has ruined the speech/reading center of the human brain.

(from Wastelands)

From a sci-fi standpoint, it doesn’t get much cooler or more intense than this. Nobody can talk or write or read, so communication between two people is pretty much impossible. Government and a whole bunch of other things break down right along with it, as humans become angry grunting monsters. It’s actually kind of brilliant the way Butler creates a reality that should be so different from our own, and yet it’s really jut an exaggeration of the current state of things.

Ehud Havazelet, "Bill and Arlene"

A rocky relationship between two likeably flawed people.

(from Tin House)

Awesome. I’m usually not blown away by, oh, let’s call them “relationship stories” — ones written to the tune of “Jack and Diane” — but Havazelet scores big points for subtlety. The narrator, who puts action above thoughts until the very last moment, always knows more than he’s telling. So we have to guess, a little. Figure it out for ourselves. Sometimes these people are tough to read, because sometimes people are tough to read.
I found this really weird interview with Havazelet.

Daryl Farmer, "Skinning Wolverines"

A teacher in Alaska remembers the time he let the hated principal die.

(from Hayden’s Ferry Review)

Took me a second to get into it, but eventually “Skinning Wolverines” got its hooks in me. It’s kind of a tale of blurred morality set in a frozen, lawless nowheresville. Everything’s harsh, even the people to some degree. Gary, the principal who snow-mobiled out onto the thing ice and drowned, was certainly a disagreeable guy, unlikable even. But none of his many, many crimes seem to be as cold and terrible as the one committed by our narrator Henry and his friends. The more I think about it, the more I like this story.
Here‘s Daryl Farmer’s homepage.

Austin Bunn, "The Ledge"

A cargo ship looking for a new trading route to India encounters an mysterious ledge at the end of the world.

(from One Story #68)

Slowly, as the world reaches focus through a looking glass, the mist thinned and revealed itself as a great spume of ocean. One league away, the curve of the horizon straightened to a line, to a drop. Like the edge of an enormous table. Clouds bent over this line and disappeared.
This is a spooky period sailing story, painted with authentic-sounding 15th Century terminology and imaginative descriptions. Like a Decemberists song (a specific one — you know which), it’s engrossing. And a quick read. Lately, thanks to an article on the BBC site I’ve been thinking about real life flat Earth societies, so this story came along at just the right time.
This story is from 2006, back before I let my subscription to
One Story lapse. I’m not sure why, I guess a couple stories disappointed me, but mostly I just wasn’t reading them when they came in and they kind of piled up. Now I think I’m going to resubscribe. Here‘s the One Story interview with Austin Bunn. And, look, One Story has a blog now. I’ve been out of the loop.

Stephen Tuttle, "Amanuensis"

A beloved science teacher disappears in the snow. But was he really beloved?

(from Hayden’s Ferry Review #42)

Really enjoyed this spooky, funny story. It might be about mob mentality, or the untrustworthiness of memory, I don’t know. I loved the third person plural approach. They — the townspeople — are so quick act, to move and think in unison. Dumond, the departed teacher who made science fun for so many of the kids in town, seems to have been the only one with any sense of personality or individuality. Like Dumond says, snowflakes are not as different as they appear.
Awesome. You can download the story here. You could also go out and buy the thing. It’s pretty and the paper’s so smooth and it smells nice. Then look up “amanuensis” and tell me why that’s a good title for this story.

Katherine Mansfield, "Bliss"

Bertha’s unusually happy today.

(from Bliss)

Kind of a beautiful, if strange, little story. The build up is excruciatingly drawn out. Bertha is so feverishly, inexplicably happy — you know she’s due for an explosion, or an implosion. But is she high on life and/or her carefree rich lifestyle? Is she feeling something more than just admiration for her new friend Miss Fulton? It’s a hazy road leading up to the simple conclusion, and I don’t want to give it away here, but I liked the ambiguity of the ending. Not regarding the action, but how Bertha feels about it.
I read it
here, on Google Books.
I was inspired to seek out some Mansfield after reading
this post on the Guardian books blog.

Sana Krasikov, "The Alternate"

A guy meets up with the daughter of the woman he used to love back in Russia.

(from Zoetrope All-Story Summer 2008)

Victor’s a creepy old dude whose marriage seems sorts of petty and angry and whose intentions for meetings up with the much younger Alina are instantly suspect. We don’t end up with any real reason for being suspicious of Victor, but I still don’t like the guy. The story, however, was worth the time.

John Hughes, "Vacation ’58"

The Griswolds drive to Disneyland.

(from Zoetrope All-Story Summer 2008)

Obviously, this is the story that would become the Chevy Chase comedy “Vacation,” and most of its major plot points were already familiar to me from seeing the film about a hundred times. But the differences were noteworthy. Told from the son’s perspective, the adventure has a touch of that A Christmas Story nostalgia vibe to go with all the mayhem. The whole thing is wacky, even wackier than the movie, but Hughes (who wrote the screenplay) really sells it by keeping the pace fast and the jokes sharp. More stories should be this fun to read.