Monthly Archives: January 2009

Louise Jarvis Flynn, "Everybody’s Fine"

Two sisters and baby brother gather at the fortified super-house of their sister Nell.

(from Zoetrope All-Story, Winter ’08-’09)

Who likes to read about rich people? It feels like an outdated thing, stories of mundane little moments in the life of privileged wasps. “Everybody’s Fine” could have used a bit of humor, a hint that somehow at some level these people knew they were ridiculous. It’s not that it’s not well-written — it was — I just didn’t care a whole lot about what happens to Percy, Nell, Sue, Dalton, et. al. I guess I’m the snob.

Mary Miller, "Even the Interstate is Pretty"

Two very different sisters are hanging out downtown.

(from Big World)

My sister is inside watching a movie and bleeding. I don’t bleed anymore. It’s not something I thought I’d miss. My mother refers to the whole situation as my apparatus. When I’m quiet she asks if it’s because of my apparatus, and sometimes, in the middle of a conversation, she’ll put her hand on my arm and say: just because you don’t have your apparatus doesn’t mean you’re not a woman.

Loved this story. It’s funny and dark and sad and confused. And quick. The dialogue serves real function, nudging the plot and getting the most out of every word. I get these characters, I feel for them, I puzzled over them. Yes! Stories should make you think! To thinking!

You can read a slightly different version of this story here, or you can wait until February when Big World comes out Short Flight / Long Drive, the good people who publish Hobart. They sent me an advance copy and I am grateful.

Brandi Wells, "Bicycles"

Living next to a bicycle thief is not so bad.

(from Hobart #9)

Who is our narrator? A woman or a man? I think it’s a woman. I like her interactions with Mike, both put up with each other in charming ways, simple stuck-together ways. It’s a sweet and respectful little set-up. Good stuff.

This is Brandi Wells’ web site. This is her other site. She kinda scares me.

Gary Lutz, “Devotions”

A guy recounts he failed marriages.

(from Stories in the Worst Way)

Okay, what the hell did I just read? The guy lists his ex-wives — the one he got along with, the drunk, the one who used to live above him — but it’s all vague and puzzling. I like that the upstairs neighbor follows him around the apartment, but in general I don’t know what’s going on. That’s cool though.
You read it here and tell me.

Joyce Carol Oates, "Pumpkin Head"

A recent widow is visited by the strange younger man at the co-op.

(from The New Yorker, Jan. 12, 2009)

She wondered if the strange glistening to the air had always been there but in her previous, protected life she hadn’t noticed it.

What a surprising string of moodswings this story is. The initial horror gives way to intrigue. Will there be romance? A philosophical argument? We’re so wrapped up in Hadley’s head that Anton’s agenda is, appropriately, a shock. More horror. This is like a thoughtful little Halloween chapter. An indie short wherein Michael Myers tries to explain himself a little, not that it helps his case. And not that Anton is a monster. In a modern horror story like this one, though, he’ll have to do.
Read it here.

Ben Greenman, "Helpmate"

A husband recounts a lifetime of anecdotes and infidelities in a letter to his wife.

(from Correspondences)

As with “Hope,” I’m having trouble summing this story up, or figuring what exactly I am taking from it. It was a thoughtful and entertaining thing to read, and that’s plenty, but that hardly explains “Helpmate” or why it’s effective. It feels right that somebody, an asshole, perhaps extraordinarily so, would reach a breaking point and write a letter like this. It’s not like the guy’s apologizing for his assholiness. In fact, the whole exercise is hilariously self-serving and the wife, once she gets past the heartache, will have good reason to say good riddance.
You can listen to Greenman reading this story here.
Hotel St. George Press has a crazy web site, a big old Clue house.

Ben Greenman, "Hope"

Thomas keeps writing love letters to his dreamgirl.

(from Correspondences)

He keeps writing to Yamila, despite the fact that in many ways he’s moved on. Despite the fact that he doesn’t send the letters. I’m not sure who’s telling this story, some kind of historian, a person who has a lot of the information but definitely not all of it. Puzzling and touching. I think I’m going to like this collection.

Michael Martone, "An Accident"

An insurance adjuster (I think) goes to the scene of a train vs. truck accident.

(from Double-Wide)

Sort of a gentle, quiet story. But most of all, a jumbled one, skipping through time and space. Sometimes the leaps were a little, not jarring, but off-putting. Because the piece is so short, you kinda feel like you’re getting all the info at once. Read it here.

Stuart Dybek, "Death of the Right Fielder"

After the right fielder stops throwing balls back, the players go out there and find him dead.

(from The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Fiction)

Yeah, and then they bury him right there where they found him. They don’t even know why he died. You should read this story.

Gary Lutz, “Pavillion”

A guy travels around lecturing about his “new angle” on family starting.

(from Stories in the Worst Way)

I came up with a new angle on how to start a family, an entirely new way of going about the business of it, and went from place to place—parking lots and boardwalks, mainly—to talk up the talking points. I had pass-outs, outgivings—‘literature’ was the word people liked. There was a fifteen-minute presentation and a forty-five-minute presentation, and, for some reason, the longer one always went over better. People wanted to stand through such things.

What a funny, messed up little story. Which is something, I gather, you can say about everything Gary Lutz does. I’m not sure how this “new angle” works, but it’s kinda gross and insane. Good stuff. Lutz gets a lot of things done with very few words, and leave some of the weirdest stuff to the imagination.
The Believer and Bookslut have both interviewed Gary Lutz.