Monthly Archives: November 2009

Kurt Vonnegut, "Confido"

A man invents a machine that tells you what you want to hear.

(from Look at the Birdie)

Actually, you don’t always want to hear it. It can be kinda meanspirited to people you like. The name Confido is meant to invoke Fido, like a dog. But this is weirder than a pet. Spooky. As is the case with a lot of Vonnegut stories of a certain vintage, this one was funny and simple, a lark, a laugh.

Rebecca Makkai, “The Briefcase”

A prisoner escapes his place in the chain gang only to watch another man get captured to take his place.

(from The Best American Short Stories 2009)

He thought how strange that a political prisoner, marched through town in a line, chained to the man behind and chained to the man ahead, should take comfort in the fact that this had all happened before. He thought of other chains of men on other islands of the Earth, and he thought how since there have been men there have been prisoners. He thought of mankind as a line of miserable monkeys chained at the wrist, dragging each other back into the ground.

Not sure what to say except I loved this simple, smart story. There’s something wonderfully old-fashioned about this one. It’s so good they put it in The Best American Non-Required Reading 2009, too. You should read it.

Jill McCorkle, “Me and Big Foot”

A woman kinda tired of being lonely but mostly tired of being pitied for being alone, invents a boyfriend.

(from Going Away Shoes)

There are no tire tracks leading in or footprints leading away. No license plate or inspection sticker. The front bumper is a two-by-four. A wet note penned on a coffee-stained napkin is under the wiper: You, cute looking owner of the little scrappy dog, please don’t tow or complain. I need you. Please. I’ll be back soon.

This one was brilliant, with a sort-of unreliable narrator but she lets you in on her scheme/craziness. Because we get all our info from her, we can’t really trust that her ruse (a secret-super-stud boyfriend who’s always out of town) is working, but that just makes this one more fun. Recommended. Read it here.

Kevin Killian, "Spurt"

A guy drives drunk home from a wake and ends up meeting strangers in a motel for sex.

(from Impossible Princess)

This was a real clunker. Amazing that a story with this much sex and danger and whatever was so uninteresting. Just really hamfisted. I need a break, Killian. Impossible Princess is a great name for a book, though.

Kevin Killian, "Zoo Story"

This guy really likes cats.

(from Impossible Princess)

Every night, a guy sneaks into the zoo to get turned on by the big cats. And think about the 1982 Nastassja Kinski movie Cat People. And then, to nobody’s surprise, he takes things too far and pays for it.

Ha Jin, "The Bane of the Internet"

Two sisters, one in Brooklyn, the other in China, correspond via email.

(from A Good Fall)

The one back in China’s recently divorced from an abusive husband. She keeps hitting her sister up for money, this time for a car. She threatens to sell her organs if she doesn’t get the loan (or is it a donation). Funny, strange little story. The title really doesn’t fit.

Kevin Killian, "Too Far"

An American pool salesman meets members of a one-hit-wonder band in England.

(from Impossible Princess)

A little over-thorough and obvious, but kinda funny, this could easily have been ripped from the pages of a gay Penthouse Forum. Another co-author, this time Thom Wolf.

Kevin Killian, "Young Hank Williams"

A mother takes her son to a healer to cure the strange growth on his back.

(from Impossible Princess)

Presumably the kid is the young Hank Williams. Somehow he’s a month old but remembers the incident enough to narrate the tale of the healer’s fake-out methods and showmanship. Told in short sentences and fragments, and humorously implausible, this is one weird story. And it’s got a co-author? Derek McCormack wrote this four-pager with Killian. Not a normal scnaerio, and not a normal story, but it worked out fine.

Ha Jin, "A Good Fall"

A Chinese monk is let go from his temple in New York City.

(from A Good Fall)

There’s a certain type of simplicity in the title track to Ha Jin’s latest collection. It’s not like an allegory. More like, maybe, young adult fiction? I’m not trying to demean the story — I really enjoyed it — it’s just that the narrative is so straight-forward and explanatory. Maybe it’s just the right mood for a story about a monk going through simultaneous crises of money, pride, illness and identity. Even though the guy’s problems are very much in the real world, there’s this oddly earnest serenity.