Tough times in the tough Russian prison/military system, which is tough.
(from The Atlantic Monthly‘s Fiction Issue)
What’s that you say? You don’t have a copy of The Atlantic Monthly‘s Fiction Issue (shame on you) but you’d still like to get the same high, the same rush of adrenaline one gets from reading “Tell Them, Please Tell Them” by Maximilian Schlaks? Don’t fret, just follow these simple steps:
1. Remove your socks and shoes.
2. Get behind a UPS truck.
3. Clutch the bumper tight with both hands, and bend the knees.
4. When the truck begins moving, attempt to water ski with your bare feet on the unforgiving asphalt.
It’s something like that.
Not because it’s poorly written, or tedious in a way that suggests a lack of talent or effort on the author’s part. Quite the opposite: So tireless is the hideous detail, so uncompromisingly grueling is the life of the characters Schlaks has created only to torture into submission or insanity, that you read on only because it’s well written. There’s really no other reason. (Not even “I have this blog…” is a good excuse.)
See it’s about these two people drafted into the Russian army in a cold hellscape where torture, insanity and cruelty are frequent occurences slipped into a daily planner already booked with rotten food and lots of lack of sleep. And once that boulder starts rolling, Schlaks gets into a pattern of out-bleaking himself, piling horribleness onto terribleness until the end comes like sweet, merciful disembowlment. Yeah, wooo!
Ok, that’s the last bit of fiction in the The Atlantic Monthly‘s first ever Fiction Issue. There were eight stories total, by Joyce Carol Oates, Nathan Englander, Shira Nayman, Charles Baxter, George Singleton, Mark Jacobs, Adam Haslett and Maximilian Schlaks.
So. Let’s review:
Stories set at least partially in New York City: 3
Stories which allude to New York City as a place of escape and opportunity: 2
Stories accompanied by pictures of turtles: 1
Stories with Jewish persecution plots (or subplots): 3
Stories with sci-fi elements: 1
Stories with references to street hockey: 1
Stories featuring enormous robots: 0
Stories told in the first person: 5
Stories with alternating narrators: 1
Stories whose endings are foretold by their subheads: 1
Stories where comedy was a priority: 0
Stories about writers: 0 (Is that right?)
Not bad, you guys!