Monthly Archives: July 2013

Mario Benedetti, “The Night of the Ugly Ones”

53405Two ugly people hook up.

(from Blood Pact and Other Stories)

Our chance is to climb into the night, the deep of night, total darkness. Do you follow me?


You’ve got to understand–total darkness–where you can’t see me and I can’t see you.

I’ve never read Benedetti before, a Uraguayan poet, journalist, and novelist who was crazy prolific (he died in 2009).

This story is brief and powerful. Here’s the first sentence, which I love: “We are both ugly, and not a common ugly, either.” I didn’t think it needed to be split into two parts, which was odd for a story of this length and scope, but it didn’t really bother me–just stood out.

You should listen to it here. It’ll only take you ten minutes and it’s worth your time.

Steve Almond, “Skull”

89138A guy has a few too many beers and reveals a secret to his friend.

(from The Evil B.B. Chow and other stories)

I remembered now what had always creeped me out about Zach, which is that he had a tendency to say a little too much when he was sloshed. One night, back in high school, he’d mentioned that he was sort of attracted to certain short-haired breeds of dog. “Not enough to do anything,” he assured me. Still, it had pretty much killed the evening.

I like Steve Almond’s stories. They’re easy to read. They’re fun. People are bullshitting; they’re drinking and talking about sex. They’re wondering why they can’t quite make things work, get their shit together. It’s all fun and funny, but there’s always a turn, too, a point at which the drinking/sex-talk/banter turns into a real human story, a search for love and connection. I love this about him.

Read it here.

And be sure to read the comments. Here’s my favorite: This story is just too fucked up for words. Not in the least bit erotic or arousing, just completely fucked up. This criticism is coming from a complete perv. I can handle just about anything as far as erotica is concerned. I can get turned on by a wide veriety [sic] of bizarre sexual practices, but this is beyond the pale.

Ellen Gilchrist, “Victory Over Japan”

1037457A third-grader befriends a boy who was bitten by a squirrel in order to write an article about him for the school paper.

(from Victory Over Japan)

When I was in the third grade I knew a boy who had to have fourteen shots in the stomach as the result of a squirrel bite. Every day at two o’clock they would come to get him. A hush would fall on the room. We would all look down at our desks while he left the room between Mr. Harmon and his mother. Mr. Harmon was the principal. That’s how important Billy Monday’s tragedy was.

This is the title story in the collection, which won the National Book Award in 1984. I found a signed first edition at my parents’ house, which is pretty cool.

I like this story a lot, though I’m not quite sure what it’s about. It centers around the narrator’s obsession with a boy who was bitten by a squirrel, but it’s also about her mother’s maybe-affair with the preacher and her father, who is overseas at war–where she hopes he will stay–and a bunch of pornography found in a basement, among other things. I’m not certain what it all adds up to, though I didn’t feel this way while reading it, only thinking about it after. Anyhow, you can read some of it here.

Lydia Peelle, “The Still Point”

9780061724732A man running from his past joins up with a traveling carnival.

(from Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing: Stories)

Last night, I left the bus late, ended up at the grandstand, where most of the crowd had gathered for a beauty pageant. It was part of some festival going on in conjunction with the fair: the Corn Festival, the Harvest Festival, the Illinois Pride Festival, I don’t know what. The girls, in their elaborate dresses, all looked incredibly earnest and downright scared, as if this was the most important event of their lives. The winner cried as they crowned her, touching her frothy pink dress and piled-up hair.

Life has definitely gone to crap for Cole. He’s lost his family and the home they shared; he sells junk out of old people’s attics; he’s sleeping with a woman who is in a relationship with someone else, a woman he doesn’t like very much, anyhow. Despite these things, the story isn’t a total downer. Peelle describes the world of the carnival with such precision and detail that it comes fully alive. It also seems like she knows what she’s talking about, like maybe her brother spent a summer working as a carnie or something? Or she interviewed some carnies? I don’t know. This story originally appeared in Epoch and was anthologized in Best New American Voices 2009. You can read some of it here. Gillian Welch interviewed her for BOMB here.


Liz Moore, “Shy-Shy”

glee-on-the-simpsons_556x505You are a shy girl being sent to summer camp. Should you be yourself or somebody else?

(from Tin House, vol. 14, number 4)

There is a lake that shoulders the place, a small unimportant lake named after a woman who was important to somebody.

I liked this story. Let’s do bullet points:

  • Second person is an amazing way to hook a reader. So accusatory. So insistent. It’s very much the opposite of choose-your-own-adventure. You are powerless, fated, stuck in the timequake. And you can’t say you’re not because I’m the narrator and I say you are.
  • “Shy-Shy” is sticks us in a 12-year-old brain and feels a bit like a morality tale in that way. Childhood lessons tend to be pretty black and white. Lisa Simpson has endured trials smilar to those our protagonist “L” experiences in this story.
  • I’m not on some kind of Groening kick. It’s just a coincidence that I talked about Futurama yesterday. 
  • I don’t want to spoil anything, but, well, it’s nice to see a kid do the right thing as sort of happens in “Shy-Shy.” Sure, such magnanimity only seems to come from the top of the schoolyard heap, but yeah. 
  • Liz Moore is awesome. I need to read Heft, don’t I?
  • Okay. Sing it.