Alison Smith, "The Specialist"

Alice is having trouble with her rabbit hole, but none of the doctors know how to help her.

(from McSweeney’s, No. 11)

The first one said it was incurable. The next agreed. “Incurable,” he sighed. The third one looked and looked and found nothing. He tapped her temple. “It’s all in your head,” he said. The fourth one put his hand in and cried, “Mother! Mother!” The fifth never saw anything like it. “I never saw anything like it,” he gasped as he draped his fingers over his stethoscope. The sixth agreed with the first and the seventh agreed with the third. He parted her legs and said, “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Alice sat up. The paper gown crinkled. Her feet gripped the metal stirrups. “But it hurts,” she said and she pointed.

At first you might be a little bugged by the fairy tale tone. It’s offputting, especially when you feel so bad for Alice. Her pain and her plight seem real, but the doctors are either befuddled (understandable), incompetent or exploitative. They’re less real characters, or at least their unreality is in plainer sight.
But once you learn to lie back and let the story impose its will on you, there’s a certain peace. Is there some sort of metaphor at work in a story about a woman who seems to have nothing but a frozen wasteland and “a cold, hard breeze” inside her? Yes, well there must be, right? Invasive scrutiny won’t help much, though, and that’s perfect for a story like this. Pretty, sublime, simple and ponderous.
Read it here.

Do you like coincidences? About a half hour after I’d put down “The Specialist,” I picked up my copy of Wholphin — the new McSweeney’s quarterly DVD series — and found that “The Specialist” has been adapted into a short film.
It’s called The Big Empty — which is a more appropriate title, although Miss Empty would have nailed it, if you ask me — and it’s directed by J. Lisa Chang and Newton Thomas Sigel. Alice is played by the pretty, sublime Selma Blair, one of I Read A Short Story Today’s favorite people who act. The Big Empty was less concerned than its source with Alice’s search for answers before meeting the titular specialist. It’s a movie, a 21 minute movie. So a cleverly arranged, spinning-camera montage summed up the first four pages in under a minute. This was fine. Overall, the film did well in capturing the story’s allegorical tone and fantastical sense of time and space. All changes were either forgivable or understandable, maybe even laudable.
Guest appearances include Richard Kind and Hugh Laurie (yep — House). Selma Blair was appropriately sad, confused and weary.
Read more about the film here, and about Wholphin here. Here‘s a picture of two actual wholphins. Here‘s one of Selma Blair. Here‘s Alison Smith. Look at this painting of Fig Newtons. Okay, I’ll stop Googling.

Pavement, “Gold Soundz”

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