Monthly Archives: May 2010

David Means, "The Knocking"

A man is driven mad by his noisy upstairs neighbor.

(from The Spot)

Upstairs, he stops for a moment, just to let the tension build, and then he begins again, softer at first, going east to west and then east again, heading toward the Fifth Avenue side of the building, pausing to get his bearings, to look out at the view, to taunt me, I imagine, before going back into motion for a few minutes, setting the pace with a pendulous movement, following the delineation of the apartment walls—his the same as mine, exactly the same—and then there is another pause, and I lean back and study the ceiling and hear, far off, the sound of knocking in his kitchen, until eventually, maybe five minutes, maybe more, he comes back and begins again persistent and steady, without the usual aggression, as if he had forgotten me, set me aside, put away his desire for vengeance, offering a reprieve from the nature of his knocking.

To the guy downstairs, every sound from above is a kind of knocking. Hammering a nail, sweeping a floor, these are just different breeds of knocks that pound away at his head. And for a while we sympathize with him. What could the upstairs guy be trying to accomplish, pounding away so cruelly? Then, well, we learn more about the downstairs guy. All the world loves an unreliable narrator. Good stuff.
Read it here.

Seth Fried, "Life in the Harem"

A guy wonders why the king assigned him to the harem.

(from Tin House issue 43)

One night, I was simply dragged from my bed by two of the king’s guards. I tried to imagine what crime I could have committed, but the only thing that came to mind, as the guards pulled me through the darkened corridors of the palace, our progress lit by the glow of their lamps, was a beautiful spring afternoon two months prior, which I had spent staring stupidly out a window.

So funny and strange. Stories like these, with insane kings and lavish harems — they’re fun for a lot of reasons, but especially for their historical ambiguity. When/where could these events have possibly taken place? Nowhere/never, right? I mean, the issues are real, and these are recognizably human characters, but since we can’t really place them in history, their plights become as simple and timeless as allegories. And, like I said, fun.
Read an excerpt from this story, here. Also: Seth Fried has a blog.

Ingo Schulze, "Cell Phone"

A man in a rented bungalow is terrorized by rowdies. Rowdies. I was never a rowdy.

(from One More Story)

Until the events of this story, the narrator had never shared his cell phone number with anybody but his wife. He hesitantly betrays this direct loveline when he shares the number with a neighbor who is also having his fence and mailbox torn up by punk kids. It’s an innocent act, sharing the number, but it does threaten his connection with Constanze. I like this simple little still waters story. Learned a new word in this story: feuilleton. It’s the the gossip/criticism part of the newspaper, according to Wikipedia.

Ken Kalfus, "The Joy and Melancholy Baseball Trivia Quiz"

Funny/weird/sad/pretty/implausible baseball fun facts.

(from Thirst)

If this is a story, it’s a bunch of stories. Each has a little question header like “Who hold the record for most bunt singles in a season?” which is followed by a couple pages surrounding this supposedly true thing you’ll never hear again. Baseball, being so old and so tangled in statistics and whimsy and drama and patriotism and family bonding and civic pride, really lends itself well to joy and melancholy. See “Home Run Kings” by Refrigerator, or this story, or almost every movie about baseball (especially if Kevin Costner’s in it). My Baseball Prospectus-reading SABR-metric nerd friends would dig this story. I did too, even though hockey is way more my thing.

David Foster Wallace, "Another Pioneer"

A narrator recalls a story a friend told him he overheard one passenger tell another in the row in front of him on a plane.

(from Oblivion)

This is an amazing parable within a story, unnecessarily, so unreliably related and so devoid of facts it’s kinda worthless to our narrator’s presumed audience. But to the reader it’s just brilliant. Layered, funny, unique in unique ways. I’ve been thinking about David Foster Wallace recently because summer’s coming up and I’ve got this kind of mild Alexander the Great complex when it comes to Infinite Jest. I miss it. And I’ve been listening to the audiobook of David Lipsky’s Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, about spending a week on the road with DFW just after Infinite Jest came out. It’s tough to think of the guy in that weeklong conversation leaving like he did.
Looks like you can read “Another Pioneer” here. No paragraph breaks, so, good luck.

Big thanks for Mike My Brother, who saved this site from the curious abyss of Blogspot’s befuddling new FTP policy, not that I know what that even stands for.