A prepubescent girl surprises herself with her actions.
(from Ninth Letter Spring/Summer 2013)
In your memories of childhood, aren’t you mute, and isn’t this odd? I can never remember what I said, or to whom, or in what tone. One remembers the things done to one, the accusations, threats, perhaps the presents given, or some tickle of praise–but never, really, one’s response.
I liked this story a lot. It’s categorized as fiction, though it reads much more like nonfiction, particularly in certain instances (like the above passage). The story is about a young girl who is taken by her sister to her sister’s boyfriend’s house, where much older people sit around kissing, drinking, and watching TV. The girl ends up doing something inexplicable to herself and the others, which I won’t give away here.
I like the prose in “The River” very much. It’s smart and a bit challenging in places, yet totally readable. I’m really interested in stories about childhood, whether the narrator is looking back on her childhood or experiencing it in real time, and this story is able to capture so much of that TV-and-babysitter era.
I’m a big fan of Ninth Letter. Each issue has a unique and interesting design; it’s a literary magazine as well as an art project. The art never gets in the way of literature, though. I think you should subscribe.
After her husband threatens to leave, a woman drives the family car into the Atlantic Ocean.
(from Georgia Under Water)
When the breakers hit, the car nosed up, then down. Angling down, it lost ground–that is, from our point of view. It came back toward shore–a good two waves’ worth. Everything seemed about to be okay; the car easing back to the beach, the windows rolled down. She could get out. I knew she wouldn’t leave her purse.
“She won’t leave her purse,” said Sid.
This story is told from the perspective of a twelve-year-old girl. It begins, “In the good days, my family lived in a condo, on the twenty-third floor of Pleasure Towers in Ormond Beach, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.” Over the course of the story, we see the family–a boy, a girl, and their parents–fall apart. Or they were always falling apart but the narrator has just now realized it. Things have just now hit the point at which they can no longer be ignored, when mothers drive their cars into the ocean, when children hang from balconies and ask for sips of their father’s drinks. Everything is wet and hot and sweating profusely and Sellers captures this feeling of disintegration so well.
This collection was published in 2001 and I’m not totally sure it’s still in print, but it’s excellent. The last story in the collection, “Fla. Boys,” is one of my favorite stories of all time.
After silence overtakes a city, the people begin to miss noise.
(from Best American Short Stories 2008)
That the city’s whole immense carousel of sound should stop at one and the same moment was unusual, of course, but not exactly inexplicable. We had witnessed the same phenomenon on a lesser scale at various cocktail parties and interoffice minglers over the years, when the pauses in the conversations overlapped to produce an air pocket of total silence, making us all feel as if we’d been caught eavesdropping on one another.
This story is divided into twenty-five parts, which suited it well. I wanted to give it a chance even though it’s not my kind of story–I’m so literal that I couldn’t quite get over how the logistics of this silence worked. One other problem with stories like this: they all seem rather predictable. I mean, after the people embrace silence, what is there for them to do but crave noise again?
That being said, I liked it okay, and wanted to finish it once I was a few pages in. I think I’ve pretty much ruined it for you but you can read it here, anyhow.
A 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.
A 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.
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.
A man has to find a new way to live after the death of his wife.
(from I Want to Show You More)
Those last days it was his job to squirt dropper after dropper of morphine down her throat. The hospice nurses would turn away when he dosed up the medication, or leave the room–avoiding the conversation he was not permitted to begin.
Neil is taking his four children to the lake cottage for the first time after his wife’s death. The children complain and discuss landmarks and I began to wonder what the story was about. I became much more interested when memories from Neil’s past were filtered in; his memories of his wife are engaging and vivid. Quatro’s writing is solid, clear and easy to read.
This story isn’t online but you can read a review of the collection here. And here’s the soundtrack the author made at largehearted boy.
An elderly woman attempts to deliver a letter to the post office.
(from I Want to Show You More)
Sometimes she forgot and said she didn’t know where the sweater came from, and when she said this, it was as true as when she told the story about the dead son. She wasn’t always sure if the thing had actually happened or if it was just something she read in a book. When she told the story, she felt she had not even known the boy in the jungle; she told it without emotion, as if describing a scene from a stage play, the boy who stepped onto the booby trap just an actor who was now carrying on another life somewhere.
This story authentically captures the perspective of an eighty-nine-year-old woman who sets out on a walk to the post office. She is carrying an anti-war letter in her pocket and keeps feeling for it to remind herself of her mission. There are some really beautiful moments here, particularly when the woman thinks of her son: “She felt certain that, were she able to kiss his cheek, she would remember how to feel sadness and grief, love and longing.” This sentence makes me happy to be able to feel–how lucky we are to feel. That being said, I was a little underwhelmed with the story as a whole. I felt like something was missing.
This story was originally published in The Antioch Review. If you have library access, you can read it at JSTOR. Otherwise, you can read a small portion of it here.
A single mother makes a disturbing discovery while snooping in her daughter’s room.
(from If a Stranger Approaches You)
Abigail was a good daughter, an A student, had never been in any trouble…
But Mona also knew how wrong things could go when they went wrong. She’d been a teenager. She’d come dangerously close to the edge of something, herself, at that age.
This is more flash fiction than short story. It’s a brief series of events–a mother snooping, finding something, and confronting her daughter. The story ends with the daughter wailing. I’m still not quite sure what was found. I’m a little underwhelmed by “Mona,” particularly as the first story in a collection. It’s told very simply and there’s no resolution. I want to know what the thing is, at least, and why the daughter is wailing over it. I don’t know. Just a little unsatisfied with this one…
A man gets married so he doesn’t have to spend his nights alone.
(from The Dark Side: Tales of Terror and the Supernatural)
It began last year, in a very strange manner on a damp autumn evening. When my servant had left the room, after I had dined, I asked myself what I was going to do. I walked up and down my room for some time, feeling tired without any reason for it, unable to work and even without energy to read…
Henry-Rene-Albert-Guy de Maupassant, often credited with being the originator of the commercial literary short story, was born on August 5, 1850 in France. He was super prolific. He attempted to kill himself in 1892 and died in Paris the following year. I include the bit about attempting suicide because writers collect information like this. Why do we love to hear about those that killed themselves? Or maybe it’s just me.
Anyhow, this is the first story by Guy de Maupassant that I have ever read, or remember reading, and it feels very modern. It’s creepy and ghostly but also true-to-life. The writing is lovely. I’m not going to say any more about it because it really is just about a man who cannot be alone. Haven’t you ever felt like this?
You should listen to it here. I love this podcast: Bedtime Stories: Classic Tales for Sleepy Grownups by Parker Leventer. She used to do these terrible voices but someone must have told her to stop, and, thankfully, she did.