The 2020 Short-Story Reading Challenge

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Lakey

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I did it! I reached my total short-story goal today, although I am still a smidge behind on the recent-story half of my goal, so I will get two more in over the next week.

99. “Two Truths and a Lie,” A.E. Stout, in Virginia Quarterly Review, 2020
A young woman struggles to figure out how to fit in to normal life in the workaday world. The story is slightly confusing and I found some of it a little too on-the-nose; I would prefer the metaphors to be a little less explicitly spelled out. For example, at one point the protagonist looks at the famous Hubble Telescope picture of the Eagle Nebula called “Pillars of Creation,” and she muses:
How do you put yourself in perspective next to a Pillar of Creation? It was almost too overwhelming to comprehend. And those images were breathtaking, were unreal and too real all at once. She thought about the depth of silence in space. No sound. No vibrations. If only she could feel that quiet inside. She longed for an embracing darkness, a comfortable emptiness. She stared at the photographs, willing them to uncork her, somehow, to dislodge her from her stasis, to shake her loose, but to no avail. She could not cross that abyss this morning. Maybe never.
My preference would be to cut that back, let the same point be made but with a little more work for the reader to do to connect the dots. Still, I liked the story enough to read it twice, to try and figure out the parts that confused me. At the end, the protagonist returns to the office from which she has been fired (or, maybe not; by story’s end it’s not quite clear what parts of it are reality), and though it is broad daylight, the place is deserted, and she sits alone at her cubicle.

100. “Mirror Girls,” Kira Bell, in Southeast Review, 2020
This story is pretty great; if you only follow one link among all these lit-mag stories I’ve posted, let it be this one. It is a magical-realist extended metaphor about two young women, identical twins. One day, one of them begins to grow and the other begins to shrink. I don’t think I want to say more than that; I’ll need to read it again and give some thought to the myriad ways the metaphor can be interpreted. I just really appreciate the cleverness and the cleanness of it. (One rather odd thing that comes up early is Bell’s choice of the word “lover” to describe the narrator’s current and past partners; I happen to love that word, and get to use it often enough in my stories that take place in 1950, but it’s odd to see it in a modern context—odd enough that it must have been a deliberate, considered choice.)

100/100 read, 48/50 from the last five years.

:e2coffee:
 

Chris P

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Congrats on the 100 Lakey!
 

mrsmig

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Congratulations on reaching your 100-story goal, Lakey!

I'm closing in on 100 myself - still plugging away at the BASS anthology (and Chris P, I did get the 2019 BA Science & Nature Writing anthology - looking forward to starting it).

91. Halloween, by Marian Crotty. A lesbian teenager gets advice on a love affair from her grandmother. I liked Crotty's writing - lots of interesting details - but the story and its characters didn't stick with me. I had to refresh my memory about its plot before posting here.

92. Something Street, by Carolyn Ferrell. Parthenia, the wife of a well-established black comedian suspected of sexual abuse reflects on her life. I really liked this one. One can't help likening the husband to Bill Cosby, but the story is deeper and far more complicated.

93. This Is Pleasure, by Mary Gaitskill. Quirky publishing executive Quin has been accused of multiple instances of sexual harassment, and his friend Mary is forced to examine her relationship with him. The story is narrated from both Quin and Mary's POV. This is another excellent, complex story and one that struck close to home for me (a long-time theatre associate was similarly accused earlier this year, and I still struggle with my feelings about our friendship).

94. In The Event, by Meng Jin. Musician Chenchen, a recent arrival in San Francisco, tries to plan for every conceivable disaster - earthquakes, nuclear attacks, etc. - but misses the one that will strike closest. An interesting story. You can read it free in Threepenny Review.
 

Chris P

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mrsmig: Congrats on getting closer to 100!

I considered starting a non-fic reading thread, but that would get me too spread out on reading challenges. Besides, non-fic is too broad of a category; it could include blog posts, op-eds, news stories, etc. I've been posting interesting science and nature links in the Science Fact part of the Sci-Fi forum.

I've been plugging away at the Wendell Berry collection, but the stories are getting so much the same I'd be listing them just to list them. I've got one more of his novels on my Kindle to get to, and I'm keeping an eye out for one (Hannah Coulter--which is reputed to be his best) to go on sale. I haven't yet gotten the newest Pushcart Anthology, and for some reason (probably covid) the Caine Prize didn't publish their usual collection; only the five shortlisted I posted on last summer. I might skip the BASS for this year, and see if I can access the ones that look promising from mrsmig's lists :)
 

Friendly Frog

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Almost there, folks! :e2cheer: You can do it!


I have just finished Robert J. Sawyer's collection Time. Twelve stories.

What I haven't come across a lot yet in other collections are the short introductions before each story which include all the awards and nominations the story gathered. I didn't recognize the author's name (I got the book in a story bundle, I think), even though I at least recognized one story from before, but he managed to use the introductions well to sell himself without bragging. If I were an editor, I'd make sure to remember his name for later. And for the writer in me, it's always interesting to learn about other writers' motivations for writing a particular story.

Just Like Old Times begins with an unreliable time travel technology getting reworked as an alternative for executions. Interesting concept: time travel technology always seems so competent, it is nice to see it not work usefully (at first) at all. So interesting concept and a chilling execution (hah, pun!). I can see why this has won loads.

If I'm here, imagine where they sent my luggage is hilarious flash fiction, and not just for the title. There's more humour to be found in The Right's Tough, in which a space ship, returning after centuries to Earth, finds Earth has changed into a government-free society ruled by internet reviews and thus receives not quite the heroes' welcome they had had in mind. Another, somewhat different unexpected welcome features in The Shoulder of Giants, in which a space ship that has travelled centuries to reach its destined new colony planet, only to wake up to a fully colonised world where no one remembered they'd be coming too. Awkward!

There's even a nice riff on Well's work The Time Machine, named On the Surface, in which the Morlocks learn to use the time machine for their own purposes.

And Forever, with its dinosaur civilisation surviving the asteroid (or won't they?) certainly ticks my dinosaur-loving boxes. There is a surprising number of dinosaurs an fossils featuring, if sometimes but briefly, in a number of stories. I certainly approve. Even Identity Theft revolves around a legendary fossil bed. On Mars!

Relativity and E-Mails from the Future are IMO the weakest in the bunch, not because they're bad but because I have seen the concept similarly explored elsewhere already. That said, there is some really nice diversity in this collection: sci-fi, paleontology, crime, fanfic, flash fiction, even a novella, etc... I really liked this one and certainly would recommend it to others. :)

5/5 short stories collections or anthologies with authors I hadn't read before. I made it!
 

mrsmig

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Still plugging away at the BASS 2020 anthology:

95. The Children, by Andrea Lee. A beautifully written story with a fair amount to say about colonialism (it's set in Madagascar in the early 2000s), but with a distracting subplot about a serial killer. I just never really connected with it.

96. Rubberdust, by Sarah Thankam Mathews. A shy, bookish girl finds friendship, but only by joining in the tormenting of a classmate. I liked this one, although there's a weird breaking-the-fourth-wall section toward the end that put me off a bit.

97. It's Not You, by Elizabeth McCracken. A young woman checks into a hotel, intending to spend the night drinking herself into a stupor over a broken relationship. Instead, she encounters the host of a famous call-in show. I loved the dry wit of this story, and the fact that it took some surprising twists. You can read it free at Zoetrope All Story.

98. Liberte, by Scott Nadelson. To be honest, I couldn't remember this story and even after backtracking through the book to refresh my memory, I still couldn't quite remember what the point was. Anyway, a Jewish woman artist is attracted to an anti-Semite doctor/author.

99. Howl Palace, by Leigh Newman. An offbeat Alaskan woman puts her house up for sale. I liked a lot of this story, but it seemed to run on a bit, and by the last few pages I was skimming just to finish it. You can read it free at Scribd.

And finally:

100. The Nine-Tailed Fox Explains, by Jane Pek. A creature of Chinese myth narrates her story of lost love, extending into the current century. I really liked this one. The writing is elegant and the juxtaposition of mythological creature and contemporary American managed to be both humorous and deeply thoughtful. You can read it free at Witness: Black Mountain Institute.

I'm a few more stories into the anthology, but I think I'll save them for the 2021 thread. ;)
 

Friendly Frog

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I hope you like it!

I've just noticed that the anthology I read not too long ago for this challenge, Fiction River presents: Time Travellers, is part of the 5$ level reward in a new kickstarter project. So if people were interested, feel free to check it out. There's a good number of other short stories and novels part of the same kickstarter project.
 

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