The 2021 Short-Story Reading Thread

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Lakey

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Listened to the New Yorker Fiction podcast while doing some chores today.

56. Alice Munro, “Axis,” New Yorker (2011)
I just love Alice Munro more and more with each story. This one does some remarkable jumping about in time — I’m always so in awe of writers who can do this without losing cohesion — in telling the stories of two women who went to college together. There are so many layers of meaning here, delightful overloaded metaphors, just the kind of story I really enjoy.

57. Sheila Heti, “My Life Is a Joke,” New Yorker (2015)
Such a weird funny little story, in which a woman comes back from death to share some thoughts about death and love and humor and about being witnessed so that other people can attest to the fact that you lived. I linked to the text of the story but it’s really worth going off and listening to the podcast because the story is read by Otessa Moshfegh and her discussion of the contents of the story is the best part.

57/144 read, 38/72 from the last ten years.

:e2coffee:
 
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Chris P

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43. "The Other Child," by David Kelly Lawrence. The narrator meets a mysterious toddler half brother from another mother when their mutual father dies. They become friends, and the narrator takes the boy in when his mother dies. This story, on the perfectly short side although not flash, has a compelling quality I can't describe. I don't quite know what the story means, or why the writing caught my attention, but it's one of the few stories I made it a point to go back and re-read a couple days later. It was even better the second time.

44. "Summertime," by Mohit Manohar. In London for the summer, Sandeep seeks out male companionship and romance with Russ, who he's met via a dating app. Their date goes famously, with Sandeep growing ever more enamored with Russ as the day continues. I saw the ending coming well before the halfway point, unfortunately because almost the exact thing happened to a friend of mine back when the internet was just getting started in the 1990s. Still, the story is well written and Sandeep likeable.
 
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Lakey

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I'm reading George Saunders's collection Tenth of December.* Folks, this is an outstanding collection. I am becoming a little obsessed with George Saunders. After reading his A Swim in a Pond in the Rain just a couple months ago, I can completely see in his stories the operation of all the principles he analyzed in that book. He is just masterful with voice, hugely vivid with characterization, and super economical.

I'm enjoying watching themes unfold across multiple stories, so I'm going to wait to write about the stories individually here until I have finished the collection.

This is another short-story collection, like the Alice Munro collection I read earlier this year, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery and Other Stories, and Grace Paley's The Little Disturbances of Man, that I can see myself coming back to reread many times in the future.

:e2coffee:

* The collection contains two stories I read last year but I'm going to count them against my target anyway -- I tend not to count rereads that occur close together, and then to count them when I come back to the story a year or more later. My target is arbitrary so it doesn't really matter!
 
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mrsmig

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Thanks for the recommend. This has been on my TBR list forever, along with A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.
 
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Lakey

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Thanks for the recommend. This has been on my TBR list forever, along with A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.
I would love for you to read them, and to talk about both of them with you.

:e2coffee:
 
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Chris P

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Tenth of December is one sale at Amazon for $2.99.

Yes yes, it is an excellent collection.
 
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Chris P

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Oh dear, the Caine Prize has announced their shortlist, and all five stories are linked for free reading on their website.

With re-reading War and Peace, the 2021 book challenge, two unread fiction compilations, and a Science and Nature Writing compilation, beta reading a member's book, and lovely weather reprieve for a long holiday weekend just begging to be out and about in, I need to get on the ball here.
 
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Animad345

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Hey guys! Joining very late!

Lockdown reading...

'Interpreter of Maladies' (1999) by Jhumpa Lahiri. I'd read her later collection 'Unaccustomed Earth' but not this one, which was her first published work and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

1. 'A Temporary Matter' - I think this is the best one of the collection.

2. 'When Mr Pirzada Came to Dine' - A story about Partition and its absolutely devastating effect on the populace of India (now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) but rather than during the time (1947) when India became India, East Pakistan and West Pakistan, this is set during the turmoil when East Pakistan became Bangladesh (1971).

3. Interpreter of Maladies - The titular story and a fascinating one at that.

4. A Real Durwan - A clever character study, but ultimately very sad.

5. Sexy - A startling insight into a character's motivations within an affair.

6. Mrs Sen's - It's from a child's POV about Mrs Sen. Powerful, but my issue is that we hardly find out anything about the child himself.

7. This Blessed House - Considering the premise, unexpectedly good!

8. The Treatment of Bibi Haldar - Fascinating, but I had very mixed feelings about the ending.

9. The Third and Final Continent - The final sentences made me cry and I still don't know why. I suppose it's because to an extent I relate to the immigrant experience, even though I was born and brought up in the UK and it's my parents that were immigrants to here from India.
 
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mrsmig

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Tenth of December is one sale at Amazon for $2.99.

Yes yes, it is an excellent collection.
Oh, thank you! I snagged it immediately.
 

Chris P

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I'm sure I've read Interpreter of Maladies, at least the story, and I think the whole collection. But, aside from remembering I liked it and just a few fuzzy memories of that plot, I can't remember any details.

This was a disappointing year for the Caine Prize shortlist. The writing mechanics were fine, but the stories mostly bogged down in tropes of "Africa and land of struggle, death and misery," or were essays or memoirs posing as stories. Yeah, death is everywhere in Africa--common, sudden and much more in the open than in the West--but this year's collection doesn't seem to break out beyond that as an observation.


45. "Lucky," by Doreen Baingana. Abandoned by all but one teacher in their boys' boarding school, the students fend for themselves and take cover when the rebels--who's rebelling against whom, anymore?--sweep through their village.

46. "The Street Sweep," by Meron Hadero. Getu, a young Addis Ababa streetsweeper who befriends Mr. Jeff, a western NGO worker, attends a going away party for Mr. Jeff, hoping for a connection to a job. Getu however learns another side of the NGO world, and decides to play the game his way. A thought-provoking story, even if there's not much to it, particularly if you are familiar with NGOs in Africa and how they operate.

47. "The Giver of Nicknames," by Remy Nagamije. The Black Namibian narrator witnesses the son of a White, super rich colonial-era family raping one of his classmates in the school locker room, and immediately informs the headmaster. A circle of denial, witness blaming and gaslighting ensues. This was initially the most promising of the stories, but tried too hard with too many Douglas Coupland-ish pop culture puns and by not sticking to the most interesting of the too many subplots.

48. "This Little Light of Mine," by Troy Onyango. I read this story this morning and I've already forgotten it. Confined to a wheelchair and home-bound after an accident and left by his wife due to his disability, the narrator searches for connections via a dating app, only to be jacked around and ripped off by the people he meets. The story is notable for the description of utter loneliness and despair, but doesn't progress either forward or backward.

49. "A Separation," by Iryn Tushabe. While attending college in Canada, Harriet learns of the death of the grandmother who raised her in Southwest Uganda after her mother died of a snakebite when Harriet was a child. Harriet reflects on her family during a grieving run in the rain, before getting lost and asking a kindly South Asian family to give her a ride home.
 
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Lakey

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Animad, very glad to have you back reading with us. I read Interpreter of Maladies when it was new and only remember it in brief flashes. I did reread “A Temporary Matter” last year—what a sad story, sadder for the glimmer it gives you that there might be some hope for the couple, and then, nope.

ChrisP, I’m sorry the Caine Prize was disappointing for you this year. I have enjoyed your summary of these stories every year—they are among the interesting things I would love to read except that there is too much other interesting stuff to read.

Meanwhile I finished Tenth of December and have put together a little to say about each story in it.

58. “Victory Lap,” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)*
I read this one last year; I think it was in the Burroway/Stuckey-French textbook Writing Fiction. As I recall, I had some trouble with the opening of it; Saunders’s stream-of-consciousness style stories can be bumpy to get into. Reading it again, I would still say that the opening section is the most confusing. It’s a great story, though, and really does show you what strong voice and stream-of-consciousness can do when deployed skillfully. There are three voices here; a teenage girl, the boy who lives across the street from her, and a man who attempts to kidnap her. The boy’s is the most compelling, I think — the life that Saunders has imagined for him, with his father who is strict beyond all reason, and the effect that upbringing has had on the boy, just snap off the page.

59. “Sticks,” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)
The first three stories (and a couple of the others) have in common a theme of fatherhood, of how fathers love and scar their children. This one tacks onto that the ephemeral nature of a certain kind of memory, another recurring Saunders theme. In this one, a man decorates a pole in his yard to commemorate holidays, events, the life of his wife when she passes; when he’s gone, his children sell the house, and the new owners just remove the pole without a thought to it.

60. “Puppy,” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)
Same, with an added dimension of class. Also points out that what you see of people in your brief encounters with them is far from the whole story.

61. “Escape from Spiderhead,” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)
One of the longest (“The Semplica Girl Diaries” might be a little longer) and best stories in the collection, this is the first of the bunch that goes into the kind of science-fictiony territory that Saunders often traverses. A man who has committed a murder serves his sentence in a laboratory as a sort of guinea pig upon whom technicians run tests of behavior-altering chemical compounds. The story is disturbing in all the ways you might expect such a story to be disturbing, but it is about redemption at its heart.

62. “Exhortation,” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)
A much briefer story with a similar theme; a foreman gives what is meant to be an inspirational speech to his team of workers, whose job is unspecified but, it is strongly implied, involves inflicting some kind of torture on others. For all we know, they might be the technicians of the previous story…

63. “Al Roosten,” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)
This story about masculinity and confidence features a character with a rich interior life; like many Saunders characters, he fantasizes liberally about conversations and events that never happen. In a moment of semi-passive defiance, he does something mean and jealous and petty that, he comes to realize, could have profound consequences for the victim of his prank. He is too weak-willed to do anything about it. It’s very sad, and it reminds me of other stories in which characters impulsively do very mean things, like when Olive Kitteridge draws in Sharpie all over one of her daughter-in-law’s sweaters. (I think I thought of another example in the moment but it’s gone now.) It’s such an interesting idea, and I’m tempting to find ways to play with it myself. I keep saying I’m interested in unsympathetic characters but I haven’t yet found the nerve to try to write one as a protagonist.

64. “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)
What a weird and distressing story, another of Saunders’s speculative ones. This epistolary story starts out as a caring father’s lament over not being able to provide for his family as he would like, with some envy and anxiety about his daughter attending a school full of rich kids who take things for granted that he cannot possibly give her. It goes into pretty dark territory, though, as it becomes clear (very gradually) that one of the trendy things the rich people have that the narrator’s daughter covets are “SGs,” Semplica Girls, young women from desperate third-world circumstances who are strung up from trees—alive, joined by microfibers that run through their brains for unspecified reasons—like paper dolls, human lawn ornaments with no function other than to be admired and envied by the neighbors.

65. “Home” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)
A story about a traumatized veteran and his relations with the lower-class and higher-class elements of his family. I have to admit that I found this story’s portrayal of war trauma and of class tension a little on-the-nose and tropey (though there is also a terrific dark humor to it). But when I read a few comments about the story on the internet, it seems to have really resonated with people who have experienced military trauma, so who am I to judge?

66. “My Chivalric Fiasco,” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)
Probably the most comical story in the bunch, about a man who works at a medieval-style theme park, and witnesses his boss raping a coworker. The boss buys both the man’s and the coworker’s silence with a promotion. But along with the man’s promotion to a performing role at the park comes a drug that inspires a certain chivalry and nobleness in him, intended to make him better at improvising his role. Instead, it inspires him to stand up for his coworker’s honor, with disastrous consequences.

67. “Tenth of December,” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)
Another story I read last year, I think in the Story Prize anthology. Very moving story about a man with a degenerative illness who is about to kill himself but takes an opportunity for redemption instead. It’s also typical of Saunders’s more stream-of-consciousness work. It’s really technically perfect in that way.

67/144 stories read, 48/72 from the last ten years

:e2coffee:

* Many of these stories were actually first published a bit more than ten years ago. But I’m using the collection’s publication date anyway to determine whether they fall within my cutoff for that goal; the tremendous reception and many awards won by this collection show that they were still fresh and relevant and the height of excellence within the last ten years, and are thus within the spirit of what I set that goal for: reading contemporary stories that reflect what makes for an excellent short story today.
 
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Animad345

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Thank you so much guys. I have very much missed this particular thread when AW was down and I'm so pleased to be back on it :)

I've bought volume 1 of Roald Dahl's compiled short stories. I've read several of his collections and loved them, but not all, so I'm really looking forward to sinking my teeth into them as soon as I get the chance...
 
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Chris P

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58. “Victory Lap,” George Saunders, in Tenth of December (2013)*
I read this one last year; I think it was in the Burroway/Stuckey-French textbook Writing Fiction. As I recall, I had some trouble with the opening of it; Saunders’s stream-of-consciousness style stories can be bumpy to get into. Reading it again, I would still say that the opening section is the most confusing. It’s a great story, though, and really does show you what strong voice and stream-of-consciousness can do when deployed skillfully. There are three voices here; a teenage girl, the boy who lives across the street from her, and a man who attempts to kidnap her. The boy’s is the most compelling, I think — the life that Saunders has imagined for him, with his father who is strict beyond all reason, and the effect that upbringing has had on the boy, just snap off the page.

I read this one yesterday. You are exactly right about being hard to get started on! I kept getting distracted by real-life things and losing the momentum. But once I got where I could read uninterrupted from the start it was really good. The strictness of Kyle's father was creepy! I dated a woman once who, when she was a child in Texas, her father wouldn't let them wear shorts in the summer until it was 75 degrees at 8 am for three days in a row. There was also a cultish feel to all the rules of Kyle's home, and where everyone is supposed to find the rules fun and playful. I had an idea of where Saunders might go with that, but it didn't pan out going that way (except perhaps so tenuously I might be reading too much into it).

What I can't decide is if the entire story is a hero fantasy of Kyle's. He saves the day by breaking all the rules, and his mother's "We're amazed by your good judgement" comment shows vindication all around. What doesn't add up is that the interior thoughts of Allison, except for her noticing of him, don't really focus on him enough to sound like a hero fantasy.

I'll need to re-read Sticks. I didn't get that one much at all the first time through.
 
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mrsmig

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Pleasantly surprised by my Daily Science Fiction story for this morning, Cavesong by Jennifer R. Povey. While the style is a bit pretentious in the beginning (a new paragraph for nearly every sentence), it actually has a developed character and some mystery.

10. Cavesong by Jennifer R. Povey
 
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Chris P

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Working through the George Saunders anthology. I'm starting to see some themes, such as economic classes coming into contact and the lack of understanding between the two. One of the best trainings I've ever had was for a food pantry I was volunteering at, run by a large faith-based charity. The training had a session on understanding the culture of poverty, the idea being that it's usually fairly priviledged (I refuse to learn how to spell that! So there) folks providing services to the needy, without much understanding of the people they were serving. There is a whole culture around money and those with and without have nearly completely different understandings and priorities. This comes out in a few of the stories.

51. "Sticks," by George Saunders. Very short story, pretty much how Lakey describes it. Yeah, I read this one twice and didn't get it beyond an explanation of a childhood memory and progression of events.

52. "Puppy," by George Saunders. A well-to-do family goes to buy a puppy for their daughter, but are apauled (I give up, some words I'll just never learn how to spell) at the living conditions of the seller's family. This one fits the "culture of poverty" training I had.

53. "Escape from Spiderhead," by George Saunders. I agree with Lakey that this is probably one of the strongest in the collection, although I liked "Al Roosten" too. Lakey summarized it well, but to me it's a twist on the Trolley Problem, where the main character is asked by his captor/the experimenter to choose between two equally bad outcomes (there's the same number of people on each track, so to speak) to see if they can obliterate a perceived reward my might have by sparing one of the victims over the other. I hadn't thought about it as redemption, but it is, only this time it's a hero fantasy acted out on for redemption.

54. "Exhortation," by George Saunders. A manager of some sort sends what is supposed to be an inspirational email to his team, laden with veiled threats about not being happy to be working for these folks all the time. I felt this story was a bit of a throw-away.

55. "Al Roosten," by George Saunders. Al overcomes his self-consciousness in a bachelor auction, only to be put in close contact with the brash, blowhardy local car salesman celebrity. It's a combination of hero fantasy turned sour (imagine Walter Mitty with a huge self-defeating guilt complex), followed by redemption fantasy from the person he's humiliated by. Hero fantasy yet again. I rarely see it, and Saunders has done it well.

56. "The Simplica Girl Diaries," by George Saunders. Written as a diary, the diarist faces money troubles and social inadequacy due to hard financial circumstances (there it is again!) until he wins a modest amount in a scratch-off lottery ticket. The family splurges on a yard makeover, including four Simplica Girls (SGs), lawn ornaments the nature of which is only revealed in small bits (so I won't give any spoilers). This story went on waaaaaaaay too long, and I eventually found the voice tiresome. As well as actual lines he's used in other stories ("Don't say 'like'"). I felt much of the story was world building around the SGs fluffed out by a story, although executed much better than most world building I've seen.
 
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Lakey

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My favorite thing about this thread is when we read the same stories and get to talk about them.
Working through the George Saunders anthology. I'm starting to see some themes, such as economic classes coming into contact and the lack of understanding between the two. One of the best trainings I've ever had was for a food pantry I was volunteering at, run by a large faith-based charity. The training had a session on understanding the culture of poverty, the idea being that it's usually fairly priviledged (I refuse to learn how to spell that! So there) folks providing services to the needy, without much understanding of the people they were serving. There is a whole culture around money and those with and without have nearly completely different understandings and priorities. This comes out in a few of the stories.
It definitely does. I saw themes around fatherhood, class, and insecurity coming through the strongest in these stories, often all at once. I feel like the collection is a good illustration of the notion of a short-story collection having a cohesion to it, even if the stories aren’t literally connected.
51. "Sticks," by George Saunders. Very short story, pretty much how Lakey describes it. Yeah, I read this one twice and didn't get it beyond an explanation of a childhood memory and progression of events.
I found it very touching, with the theme of fatherhood in mind. I read in it an implication that decorating the pole in the yard was the only way the father could express his tender emotions, and found that particularly affecting around the mother’s death. I was also moved by the summary destruction of the pole by the new homeowners at the story’s abrupt end; how an item that carries so much weight of memory for the narrator is to someone else a piece of trash to be discarded without a thought. It’s interesting that it doesn’t do anything for you because the more I think about it the more ideas spin out for me — how intimate your relationship to your home is, especially your childhood home; is there anything more intimate that people just up and sell to a total stranger and never see again?

54. "Exhortation," by George Saunders. A manager of some sort sends what is supposed to be an inspirational email to his team, laden with veiled threats about not being happy to be working for these folks all the time. I felt this story was a bit of a throw-away.
I think I liked this story better for having just read A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, in which Saunders has an entire chapter on omission, on the things one doesn’t say in a story. That, combined with the story coming right after “Escape from Spiderhead” gave me a very strong and almost visceral awareness of the conspicuously omitted element from “Exhortation”: The work that the team is doing inside that room, so unpleasant as to cause lasting psychological damage.

56. "The Simplica Girl Diaries," by George Saunders. Written as a diary, the diarist faces money troubles and social inadequacy due to hard financial circumstances (there it is again!) until he wins a modest amount in a scratch-off lottery ticket. The family splurges on a yard makeover, including four Simplica Girls (SGs), lawn ornaments the nature of which is only revealed in small bits (so I won't give any spoilers). This story went on waaaaaaaay too long, and I eventually found the voice tiresome. As well as actual lines he's used in other stories ("Don't say 'like'"). I felt much of the story was world building around the SGs fluffed out by a story, although executed much better than most world building I've seen.
Totally agree this story is too long and the voice gets tiresome; honestly I found the drawn-out reveal of the nature of the SGs a little too coy as well. Not my favorite in the collection. (The nature of the narrator’s work is omitted from this one, too, though we know the rich neighbor thinks it’s utterly without purpose, and we also know that the narrator is a supervisor of some sort who has to threaten his employees through some unpleasant work. Is it the same narrator as in “Exhortation”?)

:e2coffee:
 
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mrsmig

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I started Saunders' The Tenth of December last night, and the first story, "Victory Lap," was just what I needed on the heels of finishing the sometimes brain-bending (and often depressing) 2019 BA Science & Nature anthology. I loved how Saunders developed the personalities of his three POV characters through their internal monologues. I didn't have any difficulty getting into it; as I've no doubt mentioned in the past, Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo is one of my favorite books, and he employs a similar style in that novel. I was less drawn in by "Sticks," perhaps due to its somewhat melancholy tone (and my state of mind having just finished the aforementioned anthology).

Since Lakey and Chris P have already encapsulated the stories in this collection, I'll just give my reactions as I move ahead. (And I'm not reading their summaries/analysis until after I've read the subject story.)

11. "Victory Lap," by George Saunders.

12. "Sticks" by George Saunders.
 
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Chris P

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I finished Tenth of December. Good stories, and I've always admired Saunders's writing. However, I tend to burn out on an author when I read entire collections, so I would probably more more charitable had I encountered each one singly rather than parts of an anthology. His style gets familiar to the point of making it seem like he's a one- or two-note writer, which he certainly is not, or if he is now, won't be forever.

57. “Home,” by George Saunders. Another one fitting the themes of class conflict. It also reminded me of the novel Cherry by Niko Walker, which I read last year or so, about an Iraq veteran who turns to drug dealing after returning. Much of the same flavor and humor, so perhaps there is something about that experience many writers relate in the same way? Which begs the question: when does relating shared experiences by a particular group who were part of it cross over into tropes and stereotypes? Fore example, addiction recovery, prison, and even Peace Corps memoirs and fiction all have their own particular flavor. How does the writer balance writing for that audience, knowing outsiders won't completely understand, while maintaining an appeal to outsider readers?

58. “My Chivalric Fiasco,” by George Saunders. The theme of being controlled/actualized by a drug has parallels in the Spiderhead story, so despite the interesting set up I thought it was too similar. The reversion into King Jamesian was amusing, but went on too long.

59. “Tenth of December,” by George Saunders. The most famous of the collection, and for good reason. The hero fantasy comes on strong with this one, but still a classic story I think will be anthologized for many years to come.
 
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Chris P

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Continuing back through the PEN/DAU 2020 Best Debut Short Stories.

60. "Cats vs Cancer," by Valerie Hegerty. Possibly more of a memoir (I know nothing about the author and what she's experienced), a woman undergoing cancer diagnosis and treatment gets a second cat, and finds some help along the way.

61. "The Water Tower and the Turtle," by Kikuko Tsumura. A retired man returns to live in the rural community of his youth in Japan, and learns the struggles of fitting in to an entirely new life.

62. "Failure to thrive," by Willa C. Richards. William, a volunteer curator at a Milwaukee museum, drives to Florida in winter to collect the skeletons of a woman and child to be returned to the museum, taking his with Alice and few-week-old daughter Tess with him. This story has a squick factor of "moderate" on the sexuality. The sexual violence is the point, as William thinks he's having this hot stud sex when he's actually a power-driven abuser.

63. "Gauri Kalyanam," by Kristen Sahaana Surya. An Indian woman named Papa and her two young children flee her abusive husband to hide in the slums, and Papa considers a life of sex work to survive.

64. "Dog Dreams," by Sena Moon. Jimina wants to spend the evening on her own, but a phone call from a friend she's fallen out with convinces her to meet in a Seoul cafe. The former friend is as needy as ever, and launches into the same old story about a mutual ex-lover, insisting it will be different this time.
 

mrsmig

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I finished The Tenth of December yesterday afternoon. What a great collection - although I admit there were times in long, free-association passages where my brain started skidding ahead. I love Saunders' writing, but I completely understand Chris P's comment about a certain sameness when you're reading a collection by a single author.

I'm not going to synopsize these stories since both Lakey and Chris P have already done so, but I will talk about my reactions to each.

13. "Puppy," by George Saunders. This one hurt my heart - for the puppy, the kids, for everyone involved.

14. "Escape from Spiderhead," by George Saunders. This was one where my brain kept trying to skim ahead. I liked it, and I thought it built well, but I had trouble focusing. Probably more me than the story.

15. "Exhortation," by George Saunders. Chris P is right in that this is a bit of a throw-away, but I giggled nonetheless. And like Lakey, I felt it connected somehow to the previous story.

16. "Al Roosten," by George Saunders. Oh, this one, this one. Such a sad sack story (as so many of Saunders' characters are). I wanted to hug the protag and shake him simultaneously.

17. "The Semplica Girl Diaries," by George Saunders. Like Chris P, I felt like this was laying ground for a longer work. I found the idea of the wired-together women intriguing, but kept asking myself why. The SF element felt a bit shoehorned into what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward story about Keeping Up With the Joneses.

18.. “Home” by George Saunders. Another one where I had trouble focusing. I generally do most of my reading at night, in bed, and I may have been too sleepy to get it.

19. “My Chivalric Fiasco,” by George Saunders. I liked this one, and was amused by the switchover into heightened language (although I agree with Chris P that it maybe went on too long).

20. “Tenth of December,” by George Saunders. Yep, I remember this well from The Story Prize anthology some of us read last year. I enjoyed revisiting it; the ending is just so lovely.
 
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mrsmig

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I was browsing through last year's thread and decided to read a story that was linked there:

21. "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," by Amy Hempel. Beautiful story with a gorgeously written ending. I confess to being yanked out of the story briefly by a minor detail (Bob Dylan's mother did NOT invent white-out; Mike Nesmith's mother did), but I still enjoyed the hell out of it.
 
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Lakey

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I was browsing through last year's thread and decided to read a story that was linked there:

21. "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," by Amy Hempel. Beautiful story with a gorgeously written ending. I confess to being yanked out of the story briefly by a minor detail (Bob Dylan's mother did NOT invent white-out; Mike Nesmith's mother did), but I still enjoyed the hell out of it.
Oh, I remember this story. I read it last year for a short-story writing class, and as I recall, it was in the syllabus for the purpose of illustrating the power of omission, to get us thinking about how you choose what to include or not include in a story. I remember the class having some discussion of the fact that what the narrator’s friend is dying of is not mentioned or specifically named. I also have a feeling that someone told me this was the first story Amy Hempel ever had published, if you want to feel inadequate. I ought to read it again.

I’ve fallen a bit behind on my short-story reading pace since finishing Tenth of December. Time to pick it up again!

:e2coffee:
 

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I too am falling behind. I'm working through one of my Reading Challenge novels that's good but slow going. I also have a non-fic compilation to get through and another non-fic to be passed to me once someone else is done with it. That in addition to all the other things I need to read.

Too much to read is a great problem to have.
 

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You guys are falling behind? I'm still trying to catch up!
 

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I'm starting to catch up! 100 stories in a year is about two per week, we're 7/12 of the way through the year, and if I weren't lazy at the moment I'd calculate if 65% is anywhere near 7/12. I'm probably ahead a bit, although I've just finished the last compilation I have on my shelf/ereader (for now, that is!).

Final stories from the PEN/Dau Prize, Best Debut Short Stories of 2020.

65. "Bat Outta Hell," by Damitri Martinez. The narrator Julian relates a story from his teens about his cousin Jay buying a motorcycle and raising hell in a haze of drugs and homoerotic escapades. Very well written, the story nevertheless follows the trope of the "out of control bad boy who nevertheless is the heart and soul of the family they can't live without." The revelation for me from this story is that such a trope is about the codependent sickness of the family, rather than what I always thought was some sort of wish fulfillment or adoration of the bad boy by the writer.

66. "Madam's Sister," by Mbozi Haimbe. Cephas watches as the sister of the wealthy lady he works as a guard for returns to Zambia from London, all glitz and First World glamor, while Cephas walks five miles to and from his own family's multiunit house in a cholera-prone slum to save on bus fare. Coveting the sister's natural hair blond weave for his wife, Cephas learns that all that glitters is not gold.

The next story in the collection, "Don't go to Strangers" but Matthew Jeffrey Vegari failed to pull me in after ten pages, so I skipped it. It seemed to be a floating POV story regarding people at a party, two of which are struggling to conceive a child.

67. "The Good, Good Men," by Shannon Sanders. Miles and Theo, the two oldest children of a small-time local jazz bassist in Washington, DC, relive childhood memories of their parents before their father walked out on them.
 
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