Monthly Archives: November 2014

Amelia Gray, “Death of a Beast”

Museum-of-the-WeirdA woman watches a squirrel die and reads about a girl who ate her own hair.

(from Museum of the Weird)

The squirrel was no longer shaking, June noticed.  Its tiny paw still hovered over its breast but the beast simply stared in through the window.  June understood dramatics, having recently worked at a dinner theatre, but the performance was a little too compelling.  The spirit and knowledge in the eyes was gone, and the squirrel was dead.

Just a funny little convergence of sick, funny things. The drama queen squirrel conking out with its hand on its chest. The story about the girl with Rapunzel Syndrome, eating her own hair until surgeons had to remove a ten-pound-hairball from her stomach so she should eat. And then the end which is a bit ominous, but mostly goofy. Why knows why anybody does anything, I guess. I know I’ve read this story before, but I couldn’t find it anywhere on the site. Read “Death of a Beast” here, if you please.

I read some more Amelia Gray:

“The Darkness” — An armadillo tries to pick up an angry penguin at a bar. — Ray pecked at his highball glass in anger. “Well,” he said, “imagine that, except fifteen times worse. That’s what the darkness was like.” — It’s a kooky little thing, more like a riddle than a joke. You can read it here.

“The Cottage Cheese Diet” — I dunno. Somebody eats cottage cheese and his/her mind wanders. Sometimes the short ones really bug me. Read here.

Joy Williams, “Georges & Susan”

51gxyPklz+LG., who is dead and obsessed with Susan Sontag, makes a pilgrimage to her childhood home in the desert.

(from Tin House, vol. 16, number 2)

She hated the desert but no matter, the desert had her in her formative years. The desert is irreducible and strange and it is not merry, it is never merry. Not even the baby roadrunners and javelinas know how to play. It is work work work. Hopeless living work. G. pictures her as a little girl — he carries a snapshot of her in his mind — a little girl ferociously unhappy and intense, kicking rocks in the desert.

Actually, I’m not sure G. is dead. We’re told flat-out that he is, but we’re also told soon after he farts that dead people don’t fart, so. There’s a lot I’m not sure of after reading this story. Actually, I read it twice, to try to make sense of G.’s dim, ghostly existence. It’s possible many of the answers I seek could be learned by consulting a Susan Sontag scholar; this story’s strangenesses could very well be references. I saw her speak once, but read very little of her work, and have only a faint understanding and admiration for who she was. As usual, hamfisted Googling has produced only strange hints at a clearer picture.

Hey: Nice to see javelinas making a cameo.

Amelia Gray, “A Javelina Story”

Collared_peccary02_-_melbourne_zooA clerical error puts a small pack of javelinas in charge of a hostage negotiation.

(from Museum of the Weird) 

The domestic hostage situation had been underway for three and a half hours, and the pack of wild animals heading up the negotiation project was making little progress.

A javelina, is a cute, furry little pig, apparently. The fact that these “skunk pigs” are doing police work, however poorly, could be a joke about cops being pigs. Very on-the-nose, once you know what a javelina is — though that just doesn’t seem like Gray’s style. I was hoping the piggies would be able to resolve their appointed task, once the gunman started interpreting their animal behavior as smart gamesmanship. But that’s crazy. Pretty much everybody in the world of “A Javelina Story” is crazy. This is, I’m betting, about as goofy as Gray gets. Still grim, though. Couldn’t find the story online, but I like what The Collagist had to say.

I also read “Dinner,” about a woman who’s served a plate of hair on a first date. It’s gross and strange. I read it twice. I think we’re talking about social obligation or maybe sexual obligation. Hard to say, really. Might only be about a plate of hair. It’s a funny one, and it stuck with me.

Amelia Gray, “Waste”

Museum-of-the-WeirdA guy who picks up medical waste for a living is invited to a special meal by his neighbor on the other side of the duplex.

(from Museum of the Weird)

“Pig to pork,” Olive said. “When does the change happen? At death, it’s a dead pig. At the market, it’s a pork product. But when does the grand transformation take place? After the animal’s last breath? When it’s wrapped and packed?”

“It would be horrible to be wrapped and packed.”

Olive shrugged. “Some might think so. The pig might think so, if it wasn’t well on its way to becoming pork. But it’s lucky, in a way. Not everything gets to transform.” Her collarbone ducked in and out of the neck of her hospital gown as she talked.

Roger returned his sandwich to its plate. “I’m going to have the rest of this at work tomorrow,” he said.

She unlocked her side of the connecting door for him. “Think about it,” she said. “The pig gets to become pork. The rest of us simply go from live body to dead body.”

I read Amelia Gray’s novel Threats last year and was totally pulled in by its persistent despair and prevailing grossness. It was just so beautifully horrible. Maybe better than anybody else I’ve read, Gray knows how to set sad, people-shaped meatbags stumbling through modern life, barely seen, never understood.

“Waste” is exhibit B. Trashman Roger trudges through his grim, stinking daily routine and pins his hope for sweetness on Olive, who seems to like him while also barely acknowledging the things he says and does. This story takes some pretty unexpected turns, which I won’t spoil here. But I’ll say this. The only thing less reliable than an unreliable narrator or the person in whose you never thinking you never have any insight as all. Olive, you are something else. (Here’s an opening excerpt, for whatever that’s worth.)

threats_headerThis is a library book so I’ll probably try to fly through it. I also read the opening story, “Babies,” a two-pager about a woman starts giving birth every night in her sleep. It was like some sick male nightmare about a sick female fantasy. Or something like that. I think it was a horror story. Read it here and tell me different.

And now I just read “Unsolved Mystery.” A detective is trying to track down a serial killer who removes a rib from his homeless victims, and wonder whether calling the unsub “God” is disrespectful. Or too respectful. This is another short one, and I wish it went longer because this seems like the kind of detective story I could get into. Fast-paced, gruesome, intriguing. Too fast-paced, I guess.

[I’m supposed to read 71 more stories this year, as per my personal goal.]

Elizabeth McCracken, “Thunderstruck”

51vAWyA+csL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_After 12-year-old Helen is caught sneaking out of the house, her parents suddenly decide to move the family to Paris for five weeks.

(from Thunderstruck)

She never really got her bearings in the city, no matter how she studied the map. Paris on paper always looked like a box of peanut brittle that had been dropped onto the ground, the Seine the unraveled ribbon that held it together.

“What’s your favorite thing in Paris?” Wes asked.

“My Family,” she answered. That was the truth.

Well this is the end of Thunderstruck, and it’s a heartbreaker. I guess I should have expected that of the title track. It’s long and sad, fast-paced and full of surprises. I’m not gonna spoil the biggest, saddest surprise but it’s the one that’s gonna stick with me. I’ve seen all kinds of “scariest stories” lists recently, and I’m sure I’ll be referring to them soon, but I think I stumbled into the right kind of story to read on Halloween. What happened to Helen is my nightmare, either happening to me or to somebody I know.