The 2020 Short-Story Reading Challenge

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
19,278
Reaction score
2,892
Location
Vienna, VA
86. "How she remembers it," by Rick Bass

Like mrsmig, I'm not sure what the point of the story is either, although it reminds me of the types of stories that were popular in the late 1990s, where normal people are going about normal life with one thing out of place. I saw the dystopian element relating to the loneliness Lilly will feel later in life after she loses her father to the illness she hints at him having but neither know yet. That later loss, amid the starkness of many stories set in the American West, overshadows the childhood memories. Just a guess, though.


87. "The Sign," by Elizabeth Strout

I liked this story. An aging farmer who becomes a school janitor after a fire destroys his dairy business wonders how a student he recalls well is doing now as an adult and successful author. His curiosity leads him to the woman's brother, who stirs up long-held family secrets. In both families.


Thanks for suggesting the compilation, Lakey! Certainly worth the investment and I enjoyed the discussion with the group.
 

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
Thanks for suggesting the compilation, Lakey! Certainly worth the investment and I enjoyed the discussion with the group.
Glad you liked it! I’m going to dip into it next—as soon as I finish another eyeball book—so with luck there will be a bit more discussion soon.

In the meantime, I finished the last of the stories reprinted in Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. (An absolutely excellent craft text, by the way, if you like that sort of thing; the rich selection of short stories in it is just the icing on the cake!)

66. “Victory Lap,” George Saunders, 2013
As I read the first section of this story, I was thinking “I can’t follow this at all. Too experimental and disjoint for me. I have no idea what’s going on.” It seems with every Saunders story I read I start with this feeling, and then settle into the rhythm or whatever it is he’s doing and wind up thoroughly engaged. I really didn’t think that would happen this time—but it did. In the chapter of Writing Fiction that covers POV, this story has three of them, that of a young teen girl, of the boy who lives across the way, and of a man who tries to abduct the girl. Each is rather stream-of-consciousness (interesting because I happen to be rereading Mrs Dalloway at the moment). The girl’s is the most opaque to me, which is why I found the first segment of the story so difficult to follow. But the boy’s, and the abductor’s, are masterful—illuminating so well the warped perspective (and psychological damage) of each, from inside minds that don’t recognize themselves as damaged. I really admire that, when a tight perspective makes things plain to the reader that aren’t understood by the character in whose perspective they are shown. So, despite a rocky start, a terrific story.

67. “No One’s a Mystery,” Elizabeth Tallent, 1986
An interesting choice for a chapter on POV, because this brief story is nearly all dialogue. There are some in-POV sensual details in the beginning but no interiority at all. It is a conversation between a young woman (the first-person narrator, minimally) and the older, married man she is having an affair with. He has given her a diary for her birthday, and by way of speculating about what she will write in it, they are imagining their future together (or not). Hers is a romantic vision; his, a much more realistic perspective on what happens when an eighteen-year-old dates a guy who is not right for her. “ ‘I like yours,’ he said, ‘but I believe mine.’ ” It’s a good story, but too short. I don’t often feel satisfied when I read stories of this length—they end just as I am getting oriented.

68. “Reply All,” Robin Hemley, 2007
Absolutely HILARIOUS epistolary story. Totally ridiculous and great fun. It’s so delicious that I wanted to include a link for all of you to experience it, and while I didn’t turn up a readable copy of it online (though there may be one) I did find a YouTube clip of the author reading the story. Enjoy!

68/100 read, 26/50 from the last five years

:e2coffee:
 

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
19,278
Reaction score
2,892
Location
Vienna, VA
I need to read more George Saunders. Everything of his I have read has been great.


88. "Making it home," by Wendell Berry

Art Rowanberry returns home from World War II following his convalescence after being wounded. Electing to walk the final leg of his journey rather than stay in a hotel overnight to ride the bus the next day, he reflects on the changes in himself amid a rural Kentucky world that looks unchanged to him.


89. "Not a tear," by Wendell Berry

Young Andy Catlett recounts his father's account of the funeral of Dick Watson, Andy's grandfather's farm hand, as well as mentor and friend to Andy. This very short story (probably a non-rhyming poem I didn't recognize as a poem).


I'm making good progress today! This story concludes the Library of America Wendell Berry collection covering his novels and short stories taking place between the Civil War and World War II. The best of the bunch was the novel A Place on Earth, covering early 1945 to the end of the war in August. Lots of great scenes, relatable characters, and nice writing in that one! For the short stories, "Pray without ceasing" stuck with me for its writing and the power of forgiveness. I appreciate Berry's homespun folksiness that doesn't descend into the saccharine-sweet sentimentality of similar writers, such as Garrison Keillor, who write extensively about a particular place. Berry rejects the characterization of his writing as "nostalgic," as his characters suffer and suffer harshly (although presented in a sweet way). I can see Berry's point, but having read some of his essays and his projection of himself into Andy Catlett (I think so, anyway) the pre-WWII era is presented as a time when we "got it right," even if life was flippin' hard for those folks. I was hoping LOA would soon come forward with a collection of the rest of his novels and short stories taking place after WWII, but no indication of that yet. I'm picking them up one-by-one as they go on sale through BookBub and Early Bird Books, and once the local library re-opens for public browsing I'll eventually get through them all. My theory is that Berry views WWII as the fulcrum upon which everything changed in that part of the world. I will be interested to see how he presents post-WWII life compared to the writings about earlier times.
 

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
ChrisP, I have really enjoyed your survey and analyses of Wendell Berry, a writer I knew nothing about before you starting reading him here. Thank you!

More of the Nafissa Thompson-Spires collection:

69. “Belles Lettres,” Nafissa Thomspson-Spires, in Heads of the Colored People, 2018
It is evidently my day for snarky epistolary stories. This one is a correspondence between two educated Black women, the mothers of the only two Black children in an otherwise white school. One of the girls is rather a bully, the other her victim and, ultimately, nemesis. The letters start out superficially polite but with less friendly implications; they grow increasingly overt as the gloves come off and the two women go after each other. Subtext in the letters relates to the two women’s different relationship with their Blackness; there are class implications here as well, as the bully’s mother accuses the other of being “ghetto” while the victim’s mother’s reply is, more or less, damn right there’s a little ghetto in me, and I don’t start fights I don’t intend to finish. Her transformation at the end is rather abrupt, and I’m not completely sure I understand where it came from, but perhaps it is a concession to the power of the white principal to upend her daughter’s education if she does not capitulate.

70. “The Body’s Defenses Against Itself,” Nafissa Thomspson-Spires, in Heads of the Colored People, 2018
The victim, Fatima, is grown, reminiscing about her childhood and her battles with the girl who bullied her. This is a rather melancholy story about the way women are made to go to war with their bodies; Fatima suffers (like so many women) from disordered eating and undiagnosed endometriosis. There is a bit of healing in the story arc; the frame of the story is a yoga class in which Fatima feels herself silently competing with a woman in the class who reminds her of her childhood nemesis; toward the end, Fatima is injured, and the woman turns out to be a nurse, and is kind to her; one has the sense that in realizing that her competition with the woman was unwarranted and silly, she has maybe begun to forgive and find some sympathy for her nemesis as well.

70/100 read, 28/50 from the last five years

:e2coffee:
 

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
And still more Nafissa Thompson-Spires -- I have been tearing through:

71. “Fatima, the Biloquist: A Transformation Story,” Nafissa Thomspson-Spires, in Heads of the Colored People, 2018
Another story about Fatima's youth; this one explicitly examines the dual space that a middle-class Black girl must navigate, being too Black to fit in with her white schoolmates (in a familiar though no less cringey for being familiar, her white boyfriend tells her, "you're not, like, Black Black, though") and not Black enough to fit in with her Black neighborhood friends. Fatima sets out to create a Black identity for herself in this story, with mixed success. (In an interesting irony, the friend who is her guide into Blackness is albino!) I had to look up the word "biloquist," which means "a person who speaks in two voices." This is subtly different from being bilingual, and is a super interesting way to characterize the code-switching that Black people must do to move through the white world. Its root-association with "ventriloquist" carries a connotation of falseness, the projection of one or the other of the biloquist's voices on an artifice, an act. The great ambiguity for Fatima is that it is not clear to her which of these voices, if either, is her authentic or natural voice.

72. “The Subject of Consumption,” Nafissa Thomspson-Spires, in Heads of the Colored People, 2018
A fairly satirical story about a mixed-race couple -- Black man, white woman -- where the man is controlled entirely by the woman's obsessive need for rebellion, individuality, and attention. She drags him along from fad to fad; her current obsessions are fruititarianism and "detachment parenting." She is extremely eager to impress a reality-show producer who has come to film the family for a show pilot; the husband flees for the day and engages in ever-escalating acts of rebellion against her. There is a sense of him awakening or emerging from a cocoon as he becomes bolder and bolder in his defiance of her, before finally taking it to her directly. The dominant theme of this story is its critique of attention-seeking (white) privileged people, though there are quite a few other themes woven throughout.

73. “Suicide, Watch,” Nafissa Thomspson-Spires, in Heads of the Colored People, 2018
Another satirical story about an attention-seeking narcissist angling to boost her social media popularity.

74. “Whisper to a Scream,” Nafissa Thomspson-Spires, in Heads of the Colored People, 2018
Another social-media story, this time about a teen girl who records ASMR videos while struggling with her own identity and her mother's overbearing way of minimizing her. Although it doesn't really have a tragic ending, there is a broadly tragic feel to the story, like something terrible is going to happen soon after the story ends.

75. “Not Today, Marjorie,” Nafissa Thomspson-Spires, in Heads of the Colored People, 2018
This story made me think of some stories I read and commented on earlier in the year, with distasteful protagonists whose attempts at self-justifying were transparent to the reader. I'm very interested in this kind of unreliable narrator. This one is about an officious woman with an anger-management problem. It's heartbreaking, really, because you can feel her loneliness and her fear of loneliness; her sense that she needs to improve herself or she will lose the few friends she still has. But you also feel her fighting against that sense, not wanting to take responsibility, wanting to find a way to fix it (such as, through Jesus) that's easier than really confronting her own destructive behaviors. It's a really nicely set up internal conflict. And it's framed in an interesting way, craft-wise -- the present action of the story is just Marjorie waiting in line at the DMV, an experience that most of us can relate to as maddening. Everything else is in the story and backstory spins out in Marjorie's wandering thoughts and growing frustration.

Phew! Three more stories in this collection, I think.

75/100 read, 33/50 from the last five years.

:e2coffee:
 

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
I finished the Nafissa Thompson-Spires book.

76. “This Todd,” Nafissa Thomspson-Spires, in Heads of the Colored People, 2018
Another semi-satirical story, this time with an unreliable narrator who is an absolutely terrible person. She recounts relationships with three disabled men, and it’s clear that she fetishizes them and treats them in really gross, inappropriate ways. One of the many ways in which she dehumanizes them is that she refers to them all as “Todd” even though only one of them is actually named Todd (hence the title). In the next story, you find out (incidentally) that she has stalked one of them to the point that he’s brought legal action against her.

77. “A Conversation About Bread,” Nafissa Thomspson-Spires, in Heads of the Colored People, 2018
This, of all the stories in the book, is the one I connected to the least, or the one that did the least for me. It’s essentially a conversation between two anthropology graduate students about how to talk about Black experiences without fetishizing, tokenizing, or stereotyping. It’s a little too on-the-nose and didactic; too much lecturing and not enough story.

78. “Wash Clean the Bones,” Nafissa Thomspson-Spires, in Heads of the Colored People, 2018
Oh, such a desperately sad story. The protagonist is a woman at war with her own body, and that war parallels the violence that surrounds her—she has lost her brother to police violence, and she is a nurse in a hospital where she frequently encounters the aftermath of violence against and by Black men. She has nightmares, or perhaps waking nightmares (she refers to them as “terrors”) that bring these two wars together, in which she is visited by her brother and other boys whose trauma she has witnessed at the hospital, and they perform surgeries on her. She has a little baby, too, and perhaps some postpartum depression.

78/100 read, 36/50 from the last five years.

:e2coffee:
 

mrsmig

Write. Write. Writey Write Write.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 4, 2012
Messages
7,081
Reaction score
1,738
Location
Virginia
Still taking the occasional nibble from Daily Science Fiction:

45. "Planet Earth Just Blew And There's Nothing I Can Do" by Matthew F. Amati. The satire in this tale of rich people escaping from a destroyed Earth is a bit too heavy-handed for my taste. The twist at the end is rather neat, if a little smug.

46. "Literary Cocktails" by Preston Grassman. The narrator has just been released from The Scrublands, where memories are erased. A certain bar offers hope, of a sort. A clever little story with a special appeal for readers/authors.
 

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
19,278
Reaction score
2,892
Location
Vienna, VA
I'm getting started on "100 Years of the Best American Short Stories" anthology.


90. "The Gay Old Dog," by Edna Ferber

This story from 1917 follows Jo Hertz, a single man in his early 30s living with his three younger sisters in Chicago. Self-employed in the dying leather harness business, his fortunes take a turn for the better when the war breaks out and armies around the world suddenly need horse tack, and lots and lots of it. His sisters, now married and entering society, object to Jo's nouveau riche ways. Give this story to the halfway point; it starts out very old fashioned (think Jane Austen, girls sitting around waiting for men to take care of them) but at the turning point, well, that's the point. I'm not sure I totally get what this story is trying to say, but it ended much better than it started.
 

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
ETA: This is effing insane. I can’t get the post to include both paragraphs, even though when I edit the post, they are both there. I’m going to try splitting it into two posts and seeing whether that works. I’ve already been fighting with this far longer than my feeble thoughts about these stories are worth!

These two sci-fi shorts that mrsmig mentioned looked like quick fun, so I read them too.

79. "[URL="https://dailysciencefiction.com/science-fiction/future-societies/matthew-f-amati/planet-earth-just-blew-and-theres-nothing-i-can-do”]Planet Earth Just Blew And There's Nothing I Can Do[/URL]," Matthew F. Amati, in Daily Science Fiction, 2020
I agree with mrsmig that this one is a bit of a blunt cudgel. It’s cute, though, and while the voice is over-the-top, it’s executed with a steady hand and is amusing. My problem with the twist is that I immediately went to “how did the rest of the world pull this off?” and just felt it was impossible. (Also, what about the staff on the rich people’s ship, who must have been legion? Who decided which of the servant class would have to make that sacrifice?) So, while it’s a cute idea, it doesn’t hold up to thirty seconds of thought.
 
Last edited:

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
ETA: ... and here’s the second half of my post.

80. "Literary Cocktails," Preston Grassman, in Daily Science Fiction, 2020
Another cute idea, but this story felt unfinished to me, both editorially and conceptually. Editorially, there are mechanical errors (like “... but curiosity and defiance was something the state had never been able to take away.”) that just erode my trust in the author’s care. That matters because it makes me more likely to read the conceptual vagueness in the story as details the author couldn’t be bothered to sharpen, rather than something intentionally ambiguous or something I just don’t fully understand. I’m probably reading the story too critically; it’s probably not how Daily Science Fiction is intended to be read. But in the end, I don’t really understand what the narrator has experienced in the Scrublands, or what the real consequence of taking this drink is going to be. So it’s a cute idea—and nothing else. A cute idea without an actual story to explore it. The upshot, I think, is confirmation that flash fiction, and especially SF flash fiction, isn’t really for me.

80/100 read, 38/50 from the last five years.

:e2coffee:
 

mrsmig

Write. Write. Writey Write Write.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 4, 2012
Messages
7,081
Reaction score
1,738
Location
Virginia
Lakey, I agree with you that "Literary Cocktails" feels a bit undercooked, conceptually.

AND I hear you on the formatting difficulties. I posted something yesterday that had an inadvertent paragraph break in it, and try as I might, I couldn't get the thing to go away. It was a cut-and-paste job, so that may have had something to do with it. I finally just threw up my hands and said to hell with it.
 

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
Lakey, I agree with you that "Literary Cocktails" feels a bit undercooked, conceptually.
Oh! You stated that so much more succinctly and evocatively than my rambling paragraph. Yes, ^^ this. :D

:e2coffee:
 

mrsmig

Write. Write. Writey Write Write.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 4, 2012
Messages
7,081
Reaction score
1,738
Location
Virginia
Oh! You stated that so much more succinctly and evocatively than my rambling paragraph. Yes, ^^ this. :D

:e2coffee:

Given the title, perhaps it needed to be "shaken, not stirred."
 

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
19,278
Reaction score
2,892
Location
Vienna, VA
I don't usually have any formatting issues (shhhh! I'll jinx myself!) but especially on the tablet it can take ages to load, particularly when I edit a post. That's I think from the ongoing DDOS issues.


91. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," by Washington Irving

Maybe the Halloween stuff in the stores inspired me to read this, the familiar story of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane vying for the affections of the town sweetheart Katrina van Tassel against local beefcake Brom Bones, only to meet his end being chased by the Headless Horseman.

I had always thought of this story as a "brains versus braun," and thought it was unfair that Ichabod didn't win. In school, they taught us it was about the Puritan mistrust of all things wild (the multiple references to Crane's reading of Cotton Mather support this), but the Puritans were long gone by 1820 so it seems odd Irving would be making this point 100 years after Mather's death. Now that I'm paying more attention to social classes and their conflict, it seems to me it is more of a story about modern, cosmopolitan educated types threatening to displace an agrarian traditional can-do class that has little need for education and worldly concerns. That conflict is still ongoing, and always has been, I think.

ETA: Oh, good grief. If Ichabod is a fan of Cotton Mather then of course he's going to be in conflict with Brom Bones, as Bones represents the uncivilized wildness the Puritans mistrusted.
 
Last edited:

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
19,278
Reaction score
2,892
Location
Vienna, VA
92. "Brothers," by Sherwood Anderson

Not sure what to make of this one. The narrator recounts his conversations with an elderly man with dementia, who claims to know or be related to any figure currently in the news. The story drifts off into following an accused murderer (who the old man claims is his brother despite a cast age difference) currently on trial for killing his pregnant wife, before briefly following the murderer's office crush, then to the scene of the murder then back to the old man and the narrator. The rambling sentences and drifting focus add to the mood of the autumn bleakness and old man's madness. It's one of those stories I would have to study and let incubate to appreciate fully.
 

Friendly Frog

Snarkenfaugister
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 23, 2011
Messages
2,259
Reaction score
781
Location
Belgium
Just read 'Metamorfoses' by Judy Koot. Three stories only: Steenmeisje (Stone Girl), Nachtvlucht (Night flight) and Bloedhart (Blood heart).

A bit of a disappointment, this one. Just three stories and then they're not even full stories. More like vignettes. I was expecting more for this price. Each deal with a metamorphosis of some kind, which explains the main title. The worlds of each vignette do sound interesting, but you barely get a glimpse.

Also I didn't quite get the point of 'Stone girl'. A sculptor finally finishes a statue in a rare stone after a long year of work. A girl/bird appears at his window, claiming the stone's soul is hers. The sculptor tries to drive her away with angry words. She tricks the sculptor into destroying his work, and recaptures the soul, changes back into a bird and flies off. The sculptor moans he didn't get to ask her to stay, as this is apparently the next step in this sort of thing. (Heh?) Starts a new statue, hoping the next girl will stay. (Buh?) I didn't get it. Seems like there are less convoluted ways to score a magical girlfriend.

3/5 new anthologies or collections
 
Last edited:

Tocotin

deceives
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 3, 2008
Messages
1,478
Reaction score
407
Location
Tokyo, waiting for typhoons
I'm trying to finish Sologub's anthology, and so I read four short stories of his today and got thoroughly depressed. He is very good, and so terribly effective!

The first of these, "A Little Man", was a grotesque, nightmare-is tale about a short guy who married a lady who is very big and tall. He wants her to be smaller than him, and he manages to obtain a very expensive, mysterious potion from a creepy Armenian guy. It doesn't end well for anyone, the wife is not harmed though. This story decidedly has Gogol vibes, a la "The Nose".

The second one, "The Glimmer of Hunger", was another sad story about a guy who is searching for a job, and when he seemingly manages to find one, he snaps at the unreasonable demands of his future employer, a rich young lady who wants to publish a journal. It's very short and depressing, as usual with Sologub, but it is a great character study, with the most vivid one being the main character's landlady.

The third one – OMG! I remembered it; I'd read it very long ago in translation. It is a long, detailed, terrifying story, seemingly fictional, but in fact about a real historical event, the Khodinka Field Tragedy, which was a stampede that occurred during the coronation festivities of the last tsar of Russia Nicholas II (who got to be called Nicholas the Bloody after that). Sologub's story, titled "In the Crowd", centers three children who go to a (fictional) Opalikha Field – the names alone are enough to invoke a feeling of dread; Opalikha comes from "opala", which means falling out of grace with a ruler/tsar – because it is the anniversary of their (fictional) town of Mstislav, and whoever goes there, will receive a gift. That's it. The story starts in the afternoon of the previous day, and is one long nightmare whose last sentence is simply "Death". It's almost physically uncomfortable, but at the same time it's tightly packed with wonderful character descriptions of various people in the crowd – some of those are just a voice, some just a smell – and the way it builds up the atmosphere, while giving a whiff of solemn fin-de-siecle symbolism in places, is worth studying.

So after this trauma, I read one more story, "The Search", a bittersweet tale about a little boy who is unjustly accused of theft at school. Everything turns out well, the boy's one consolation (apart from being proven innocent) is that he'd got a new shirt from his mom in the morning, so he didn't have to feel embarrassed when they searched him, but the whole thing leaves a nasty aftertaste. The mother tells the boy to treat it as a good experience, and says at the end, "Who knows what's in store for you when you grow up? Anything can happen here."

I have two more stories left, but I had to take a break from my good friend Sologub. AND! I started a new collection of short stories by Katherine Mansfield, and read the first story, "At the Bay". It was wonderful. Nothing much happens in it, it is just a string of sketches about various people (and animals) during one beautiful summer day at the sea, from dawn till dusk. It deals with one family (including servants), and the way the interactions, thoughts and observations of all those people were described, felt very fresh and candid, honest even. There's an exploration of motherly love, of youth, of marital love, of death (it's fine, no one dies!) – and I'm using the word "love" for lack of any other – and of many other things. The language is vivid and original; but the characters! They simmer, they live! I think I will name my new Zandalari troll after one of them. Or a goblin. Anyway, highly recommended!

:troll
 
Last edited:

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
19,278
Reaction score
2,892
Location
Vienna, VA
93. "The Devil and Tom Walker," by Washington Irving

Reading "Sleepy Hollow" reminded me of another Irving story we read in high school, from where I got the idea that Irving was writing from a Puritan worldview. My teacher was half right. Tom Walker, a pinchpenny married to an equally pinchpenny wife, meets the Devil in a swampy woods, and the Devil proposes a deal: Captain Kidd's treasure in exchange for Tom's soul. After an initial refusal (a very dark Tarantino-ish comedic refusal and aftermath) Tom agrees and the Devil states additional terms: Tom must do the Devil's work by becoming [ominous music] a banker. As much as this story resonates in recent years with the housing bubble, (here's what my teacher either didn't know or didn't tell us) in 1824 when the story came out banks were hugely controversial. Irving here might or might not be reflecting any Puritanical mistrust in the woods, swamps, and untamed areas, but he was for sure leaving no doubt on his loyalties on the banking issue!
 
Last edited:

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
Folks, I'm really excited about this one: Today's Kindle daily deals email tells me that Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Other Stories is on sale (in the US, at least) for $2.99. I absolutely adore this collection--it's a touchstone for me, a fine example of clear, deceptively straightforward writing that nevertheless creates intense moods and oodles of subtext.

If you're only familiar with the title story, well, that one is always worth reading again anyway (as I did earlier this year, mentioned upthread). But the rest of the collection is also superb, and covers a lot of ground. There is the kind of moody, creeping horror that Jackson is famous for, but there are also stories that look at the stifling confusion of being a young woman in the post-war era (the book is a rich source and inspiration for my stories set in this time period); stories that look at race relations; there is even some humor.

My favorites include "The Daemon Lover" (I think we might have talked about this story in this thread last year?), "Afternoon in Linen" (A recent New Yorker fiction podcast features Kristen Roupenian talking about this one, and it's definitely worth a listen), and "The Tooth" (this story is like a personal gift to me from Ms Jackson; it contains so many minute details organic to the time and people I write stories about). "My Life With R.H. Macy" is a hilarious account of a soulless job in a department store. There's another comical story, too, whose name is not coming to me even as I look at the table of contents, which has some resonance for us as writers; it's about a literary agent who runs a sort of scam operation where she suckers hopeful authors into editorial services.

Anyway I can't stress enough that if you aren't familiar with these stories (even if you are), do jump on this offer -- it's the best three bucks you'll spend today, for sure.

:e2coffee:
 

mrsmig

Write. Write. Writey Write Write.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 4, 2012
Messages
7,081
Reaction score
1,738
Location
Virginia
Lakey, I feel like I read that collection some years back, and enjoyed it. I should check it out, though - even though yesterday I bought the PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2019 anthology. The spouse and I are going to the beach next week and I knew I'd want some light, quick reads.

After ignoring it for a bit, I dipped into today's Daily Science Fiction feed. It wasn't half bad:

47. "Familiar Ground," by Shannon Fay. A woman oppressed by her family's expectations has a startling epiphany. An interesting story, although I found the writing a little uneven. There are some lovely turns of phrase coupled with some clunky stuff. Normally I'd shrug it off (every sentence can't be stellar) but in a super-short work, it's hard to overlook.
 

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
Back with yet another interesting short-story related deal: Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, on Kindle for $0.99.

I read this collection a couple of years ago. It contains stories, journal excerpts, and (if I recall correctly) an excerpt from an unfinished novel. What is most fascinating about it, if you're into writing short stories, is what it shows about Plath's process. In the journal excerpts, she sets exercises for herself to capture the quirkiness of her neighbors in the English countryside, deliberately to improve her skills at characterization. These become even more interesting as they are set beside some of the short stories that came out of the observations. The book is arranged (by Ted Hughes) roughly in reverse chronological order, meaning that as you approach the end, you encounter short stories from the early 50s that are recapitulated a decade later The Bell Jar.

Really, what I love best about this book is not just the content, but what it shows of how hard Plath worked at writing, how consciously she set herself to thinking about it and improving at it. It's inspiring to me.

It also contains one of my all-time favorite short stories, "The Fifty-Ninth Bear," which I now really badly want to read again, and I might have to collect my copy of this book the next time I visit the house where it's currently stashed, so I can do so and talk about it here!

:e2coffee:
 
Last edited:

Chris P

Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Nov 4, 2009
Messages
19,278
Reaction score
2,892
Location
Vienna, VA
94. "Haircut" by Ring Lardner

Small town hijinks and intrigue ends up going too far in this very voicey series of character studies of the patrons of a barber shop.
 

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
I started the Story Prize anthology that was one of the kindle deals I mentioned earlier this year — I know both ChrisP and mrsmig read it too and commented on these stories upthread.


81. "The Book of Miracles,” Edwidge Danticat, 2004
I rather agree with Chris’s assessment that the story doesn’t quite come together, though I think all its disparate elements are beautifully rendered and the moment of connection between the daughter and the mother at the end is rather sweet, and rather unexpected given the general level of anxiety and discomfort in the story. The POV character shifts through a lot of anxieties through the story, about her own memories associated with death, about her husband’s past as a brutal prison guard in Haiti, about her lack of connection with her daughter, about whether her religion can really offer any meaning or comfort. It’s curious to me that neither the daughter or the husband are named. The husband’s name has reasons to be obscure—it’s presumably not the same name he used in Haiti—but Anne must call him something, think of him by some name. The elision of the daughter’s name carries meaning too, I think, as though the only identity she has in Anne’s eyes is that of being Anne’s daughter, and so if they can’t connect on that axis, they can’t connect at all.

81/100 read, 38/50 from the last five years.

:e2coffee:
 
Last edited:

Lakey

professional dilettante
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 20, 2017
Messages
1,483
Reaction score
774
Location
New England
Two more stories from the Story Prize anthology — I think I liked both of these better than either ChrisP or mrsmig did.

82. "The Postman’s Cottage,” Patrick O’Keeffe, 2005
I loved this story; I love the rather “once upon a time” narrative voice that made it hard to guess when the story was set (from the 60s through the 80s, I eventually decided); I love the character voices; I love that it’s about a middle-aged woman, the compromises she has had to make and the truths that she has or has not allowed herself to admit throughout her life; and I loved the combination of factors that force her to face those truths—the physical and emotional distancing of her grown son, her sudden intense connection to a young man who reminds her both of her son and of her past, and the prospect of a new marriage and a new chapter in life waiting for her at the end of a journey (I even love that it takes place on a train). I noticed that ChrisP’s description of this story focuses entirely on its prologue, the relatively short opening section that describes the disappearance of a young man. For me, the story was much more about Kate and the subtle way in which the existence (and disappearance) of Eoin reverberates throughout her life.

83. "My Podiatrist Tells Me a Story About a Boy and a Dog,” Mary Gordon, 2006
I rather enjoyed this story. The book’s little intro to it is a quotation from Mary Gordon about how writing short stories gives you license to play with voice in a way you cannot do when you are committed to a novel-length work. (I myself have written here on AW a theory that short stories allow you more intensity in both form and voice because you do not have to sustain it for longer than a few thousand words; a conceit that might become tedious at novel length can be exciting in a short story.) I read this story as all about that kind of narrative play. There are two distinct voices, that of the narrator and of the podiatrist. Each is strong and entertaining (for instance the narrator in a wee burst of jealousy remarks that the podiatrist doesn’t share his interesting stories with his other patients, which seems unlikely, while the podiatrist’s story about the dog is almost certainly apocryphal for all its detail). And it’s a very short little story, a ten-minute or twelve-minute read, so it works as a little flavor-burst of narrative fun that, as Chris notes, probably does have some symbolic content as well (though none jumps obviously at me).

83/100 read, 38/50 from the last five years.

:e2coffee:
 
Last edited:

DanielSTJ

The Wandering Bard
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 3, 2017
Messages
5,408
Reaction score
363
Age
31
Location
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Oooooo, I messed up and joined this earlier in the year but I want to join again.

Realistic and reasonable goal. Let me see. 25-30 stories methinks. That'll not too much for a late entry, right?

I might read some of the ones mentioned in this thread. I'm always open to a good short story- and suggestions! :D
 
Last edited:

Happy Thanksgiving

Autumn image for Thanksgiving