Monthly Archives: July 2009

Nick Arvin, "The Accident"

A couple seems on the verge of a break-up when they witness a car accident.

(from The Normal School, Spring 2009)

“We’ve not broken up,” I said. “Have we? We haven’t.”

I was very surprised that the small bio in the back of the magazine described the author as somebody with considerable experience. This story, while certainly interesting, seemed, at times, overwritten. As I read, I noted moments that called for tweaking, tightening, obfuscating. Many of the moves were telegraphed. Which is not to say I didn’t like it. I rarely finish reading something I’m not in some way engaged with. This story, with its vivid description of a dark, lonesome highway, will stick with me. I wonder if that kind of scene is as frightening for the average reader as the car crash.
There’s a pic of John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, because I couldn’t find the magazine cover anywhere online and this story just put “The End of the Tour” in my head.

Kenneth Calhoun. "Nightblooming"

A bunch of old jazz players hires a young drummer for their next gig.

(from The Paris Review #189)

The sun tilts though the trees and everywhere are shafts of dust. We’re just a speck in the grand whirling scheme, but at least we’re making noise.

I spend at least some of my time at work reading and editing music criticism. I like it, It’s a dance about architecture, yes, and the dance is difficult. This Calhoun guy, in his description of the band’s gig, nails it, makes you hear it in your head, or picture it. And he write about his characters with the same technical beauty. Like some jazz, this story zigs a little when you might expect a zag, but it’s not pretentious. Really, comparing anything to jazz it lame, but I’m not going to delete that cause you get me.
Read this story here.

Jill McCorkle, "PS"

The final letter from the divorced woman to the marriage councilor.

(from The Atlantic Fiction 2009)

But I did like how you always had the daily paper and People magazine in your bathroom, except sometimes when I started reading, I forgot that I had to go back in there and hear what a difficult person I am. Remember that time you had to come and get me and I told you I was feeling sick? What I was actually doing was reading about David Koresh and thinking how Jerry’s new religion was getting on my nerves, but at least he wasn’t that bad. Not yet anyway. Of course, I wanted to know what to be looking for in case the turn he’d already taken got worse.

Liked this one. A straightforward premise made a little jagged here and there by each revelation. I mean, yeah, it’s a tiny bit schticky but that’s cool cause it’s funny, too. It doesn’t really feel “literary” (or whatever you want to call it when the narrator starts working the metaphors) until the final page which really works for an exercise like this.
Read it here. Read an interview with Jill McCorkle here.

Garth Nix, "Punctuality"

The Emperor takes his clone-daughter Ilugia to see the Punctuality Drive.

(from The New Space Opera 2)

Look, I like nerds. (I’ve been called one, though I believe myself better filed under “dork.”) But the nerdery in this story is just lame. The Star Sapphire Throne? The Sixth-first Empress of All Known Space? It’s all so ’70s and… uncool. My god. I’ve crossed over.

Téa Obreht, "The Laugh"

Oh crap, hyenas.

(from The Atlantic Fiction 2009)

I was torn. On one hand, the tension was brilliant, like a decent slasher flick. The dark, the quiet, insanely open outdoors, the cramped empty house, the unseen killer, the flashlight darting around. I genuinely thought this story would have some non-flashbacking action. And it kinda does, a little. I don’t wanna give things away. Anyway, here’s the other hand: It’s clumsy, it’s awkward, it expects you to believe somebody forgot his gun wasn’t loaded, maybe even expects you to forget it. Which, no way. But, hell, it’s a good monster story.
That’s a pic of wildebeests I screencapped from the Africam.

J.G. Ballard, "Manhole 69"

Three guys are given an experimental surgery that eliminates their need to sleep.

(from The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard)

And then the people go crazy and everybody’s stiff and plain and there’s no mistaking this for a modern story. Just so silly and stiff. It needs some fun, some more personality, though it is certainly interesting. Know what else it needs? A new title. I read this on the Peter Pan to New York to see Superchunk and I wondered if anybody caught a glance of the title at the top of the right-hand pages. Way over the top. Nobody would name a story “Manhole 69″ these days unless it was, you know, supposed to be dirty. Ridiculous.
So, there’s a pic I took of Superchunk. There was no architect designed this view.

Craig Hartglass, "Pigs"

Over the years, a customer’s obsession with an aloof bank teller simmers.

(from One Story #120)

He remembered the very beginning, when she started at the bank, how her black hair filled the booth with a fiery charm that managed to cut through the meanness of her personality, her flagrant disregard and dismissal of him, and his own wondering: was it his lack of height or the gap between his teeth or the bump in his nose or his messy work clothes and boots or something altogether different?

It took me a few pages to realize just how much this story had on its mind. It’s weird to think of a storyline only advancing during/focusing on one man’s visits to the bank. Because that’s, what, 30 minutes a week? Over years? It’s a good excuse to see the teller’s incremental changes, like she’s under a strobe light. But, surely something was going on in the life of our “protagonist.” Or maybe not so much. This story left me thinking.
Read an interview with Craig Hartglass here.

John Burnside, "The Bell Ringer"

A woman in an unhappy marriage takes a bell ringing class.

(from the O. Henry Prize Stories 2009)

And she develops a crush a young man in her class. Also her husband’s sister confides that she’s having an affair. This was a mostly plain and unexciting story, well written but full of small action. Except for the end which is a fun surprise. Fine, fine, fine. But it’s summer. Give me some of that good time reading.

J.G. Ballard, "The Concentration City"

Physics student Franz M. hops a train and heads west, hoping to end up anywhere but the city.

(from The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard)

Up, down, east, west — the city must have an edge, right? I suppose this story could be called ominous, dark, dystopian, etc. I’d also add “kooky.” What a funny little nutball of a story. It has a surprise ending that solves nothing, an inconsistent narrator, a loony-tunes mood, a truly memorable existence where free space is the hottest commodity in an endless urban maze controlled by some kind of totalitarian authority. Yes. This is good.
Read it here.