Monthly Archives: May 2013

Jean Thompson, “Smash”

dndmA man gets into a car accident on his way to work.

(from Do Not Deny Me)

I wondered if the woman who hit me was At Fault, in the way these things are reckoned, hitting from behind being one of the criteria of Fault. I knew she had been worried about the looming possibilities, including my own injuries. If I had been damaged, or even inconvenienced, if I was some unpleasant and litigious type–and I very well might be, I couldn’t yet say–there could be a lot of trouble.

Jean Thompson is amazing. This is a pretty short short story, maybe 2,500 or 3,000 words, and yet Thompson is able to perfectly capture the after-effects of a traumatic event. The man loses the ability to speak, forgets who he is. And then we see him come back to himself. In this brief story, we feel  we know him, his life, even though so little has been told to us.

Today on my way to the post office, I saw a young man riding his scooter. He abruptly changed lanes and I thought something along the lines of, ‘He is being very careless.’ About three minutes later, the car in front of him stopped suddenly and the man didn’t have time to brake. He slid onto the pavement, hitting his head. He was able to walk away but he was stunned and possibly badly injured. I don’t know. Anyhow, this story feels appropriate for today. You can read some of it here.

Harold Brodkey, “The State of Grace”

3542A boy has an isolated, impoverished childhood in St. Louis.

(from First Love and Other Sorrows)

So I was thirteen and Edward was seven and he wanted me to love him, but he was not old enough or strong enough to help me. He could not make his parents share their wealth and comfort with me, or force them to give me a place in their home. He was like most of the people I knew–eager and needful of my love; for I was quite remarkable and made incredible games, which were better than movies or than the heart could hope for. I was a dream come true.

“The State of Grace” is unremittingly bleak. Everything is overlooked, second-hand, not nearly enough. It is something I’ve gotten called out for in fiction workshops. Life isn’t so bad, they say. There is laughter and happiness in spite of the bleakness. This story rejects that idea. It’s about a young, highly intelligent boy who has no support network at home or school. The majority of it centers around the narrator’s relationship with the much-better-off child he babysits for, Edward. Perhaps I like “The State of Grace” so much, in large part, because of Richard Ford’s smooth, Southern voice.

This is my introduction to Brodkey, and was written when the author was 24 years old. It was his first published story. There are so many lovely sentences that made me pause and think, that made me wish I had written them. You should listen to it ASAP.

Karen Russell, “Vampires in the Lemon Grove”

vampiresinthelemongroveEternity is a long time stay in one place sucking lemons and pretending everything’s benissimo.

(from Vampires in the Lemon Grove)

I study her neck as she says this, her head rolling with the natural expressiveness of a girl. She checks to see if I am watching her collarbone, and I let her see that I am. I feel like a threat again.

These aren’t the emo glitter-suckers of Twilight or the gnarly, ravenous virals of The Passage. The vampires in this lemon grove are kinda old-school: worldly but trapped everywhere they go, civilized but driven by embarrassingly brutish apetites, imortal and unhappy. There are some twists, of course — Clyde and Magreb abate their thirst by sinking their fangs into lemons — and Russell’s uniquely suave and thoughtful prose takes the myth into interesting philosophical places. I’d almost forgotten how confident and lovely her sentences are, how comfortable they are in their own skin. I know what I mean.

You can read the story here.

Christine Sneed, “Alex Rice Inc.”

A college professor’s world is upset when a famous man enrolls in her class.

(from portraits of a few of the people I’ve made cry)

She is sweating and nervous and giddily irritated. Seeing Alex Rice for the first time, she feels her face redden. He smiles at her and nods, and though she has trouble believing it, he seems a little nervous too, or else dazed.

I really liked this story. It reminded me of the time James Franco visited the University of Texas when he was premiering his movie, Sal. During the Q & A, a girl stood up and asked if he might come to UT, which was a little embarrassing. Franco was pretty lovely, though, and I liked Sal, which got bad reviews, but I’m off topic. The story feels incredibly real, and the narrator’s vulnerability is palpable. The reader can put herself in the narrator’s shoes, imagining this man in the front row with all of his wealth and good looks, his bodyguard waiting outside. Teaching is hard enough without having to deal with beautiful famous people trying to be regular people.

This story inhabits a fully-functioning world. I think I just might be a big fan of Sneed, after all. “Alex Rice Inc.” isn’t online, but here’s an interview with the author.