The 2021 Short-Story Reading Thread

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mrsmig

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Ah, that's a shame, I was keeping my ears pricked for that one since you mentioned it earlier up-thread. No need for me to go and hunt it down then.

Congrats on reaching your goal so speedily!
I went in hoping to learn more about Inuit folklore and culture, and I got some of that, but many of the stories felt like the Inuit connection was pretty superficial - sort of like "insert ethnicity here."
 

Friendly Frog

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That's a double shame, then! Because that was one of the things I was hoping for too.
 

Tocotin

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Next five stories from the Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women! And this time, they were all so interesting that I read all five of them in one sitting.

The first one, Wedlock by George Egerton (the author is a woman; I had to check), was an incredibly sad and tragic story of a young woman who had an illegitimate child and... I don't think it's possible to say anything more without spoilers, so I won't. The story is confusing in the beginning, and I had a hard time telling who was in reality the main character, but once I settled in, it proceeded at a breathtaking space. You can see how it will end, but not in a bad way – a "will it or won't it go there" way. The one thing that annoyed me was the use of dialect, I thought it was a bit excessive, but again, once I got used to it, it became a minor thing.

The next one, Violet by Frances Towers, I loved. The titular Violet is a young maidservant who unexpectedly... well, she is a bit of a spooky Mary Poppins. I can't really say anything else! ("'Notre domestique,' wrote Sophy, in the green ink she affected, 'is no ordinary scullion. She might have washed up the wine-cups of the Borgias, or looked through the keyholes of the Medici.")

The Plums by Ama Ata Aidoo has a highly unusual style of narration, which sometimes changes from prose to almost-verse, and is about experiences of a foreign student from Ghana, who travels around Europe and befriends a young German woman. Some of her observations I found a bit didactic, but I loved her perspective, and the story was moving and engrossing.

The next story was A Woman Young and Old, by Grace Paley, whom I heard a lot of good things about, but whose work I have never read; and wow, the story about a family of ladies and a lone sergeant named Brown was so wild and so expertly written – I think that the skill was fully in the service of the wildness, and the result was stunning, the voice was just so incredibly alive and full of individuality... I'd love to know if anyone is familiar with this story, and if so, can you tell me who these women were? Were they sex workers, or were they just having fun, or both? Either way, I loved them, I'm just so confused!

The last one, The Long Trial by Andrée Chedid, has a simple style and structure, resembling a fairy tale or a fable, and the main character is a poor Egyptian peasant woman who unexpectedly shows enough strength and determination to upset the power dynamics in her village – and wins. (I hope she wins.)

Whew. Five more stories left, I hope they are at least as good as these. [ETA: ouch Djuna Barnes is in there!!]

:troll
 
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angelisa fontaine-wood

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I've started Lauren Groff's Delicate Edible Birds collection, read the first two last night and I'm not sure what the hullaballoo is about. If someone can clue me in I'd appreciate it. The opening story, "Lucky Chow Fun" is moving as a whole with more than a few lovely passages both in the prose and the idea, but there seemed to be a lot of, I don't know, dead wood? A banality to it that I didn't understand the point of?

Secondly "L. Debard and Alliette" was a weird transposition of the Abelard and Heloise story that also left me not so much pondering and not so much the meat of the story as the why. Given the state of the world now, I did like the descriptive backdrop of the Spanish Flu (though that too I wondered why) and the passages about swimming were well done, as was the love story at the heart of it and its bittersweet ending, but still I wondered why this story told in this way. It hasn't yet lifted me somewhere I wanted to go or shown me something I needed to see.

The author has been heaped with so much glory and praise I feel like I'm just being dense here. I'll plug on through a few more and keep you all posted.
 
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Lakey

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The next story was A Woman Young and Old, by Grace Paley, whom I heard a lot of good things about, but whose work I have never read; and wow, the story about a family of ladies and a lone sergeant named Brown was so wild and so expertly written – I think that the skill was fully in the service of the wildness, and the result was stunning, the voice was just so incredibly alive and full of individuality... I'd love to know if anyone is familiar with this story, and if so, can you tell me who these women were? Were they sex workers, or were they just having fun, or both? Either way, I loved them, I'm just so confused!
As you know I love Grace Paley — especially her use of voice, which is always so vivacious, crackling through her stories. As I think I said to you offline — if this is the story I think it is (and I’m still too lazy to go look it up), I read it as principally about the younger girl’s desperation to be an adult, and not knowing any way to do it except through an exaggerated sexuality. There’s also a note in there of the desperation of the two women, who have no way of conceiving of their future except through the possibility of snagging a man (with the further pressure of a postwar shortage of men).

Whew. Five more stories left, I hope they are at least as good as these. [ETA: ouch Djuna Barnes is in there!!]
I am so glad you are reading and sharing this with us. Tell us all about the Djuna Barnes. I have read her novel Nightwood, and it completely broke my brain. I’d like to read it again someday.
 
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Lakey

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Okay onto a couple of stories for my own list: I dipped back into my old standby, the New Yorker Fiction podcast, which I enjoy even more for the lit-geeky discussions of the stories than for the stories themselves.

80. “Found Objects,” Jennifer Egan, The New Yorker (2007)
This story, which evidently went on to be the first chapter of Egan’s novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, reminds me a little bit of an Otessa Moshfegh story, though maybe a bit more somber, without the vein of twisted humor to offset the characters’ pain. The protagonist, Sasha, is in therapy for a problem with kleptomania, and as the story narrates a few of her recent experiences, the depth of Sasha’s loneliness and isolation becomes increasingly apparent. It’s a really masterful story, both for its structure and for its use of detail, particularly details that are withheld. That latter in particular is fascinating. In the podcast, the story is read and discussed by Susan Choi, who notes that Egan does a brilliant job giving you just enough information to offset and highlight what is being omitted. I’ve already listened through twice, and I may have to listen again, or pull it up from the NYer archives and read it, to think about this aspect further.

81. “The Proxy Marriage,” Maile Meloy, The New Yorker (2012)
An absolutely sweet and charming story with a satisfyingly romantic happy ending that I really didn’t expect. The story starts when the two main characters are teens, and carries through to their late 20s or so—and something I really admire about it is how effectively Meloy manages her characters’ growth and formation. There is a consistent throughline of character development, from unformed, immature, fuzzy-around-the-edges adolescence to maturity that is consistent with, but different from, the people they were as teenagers. This is hard enough to do well in a novel-length story; to pull it off in a short is, I have to say, a feat of Alice Munrovian proportions. In the podcast, the story is read and discussed by Anne Patchett, who is a close friend of Maile Meloy, and whose casual remark was evidently the seed from which this story grew.

81/144 stories read, 60/72 from the last ten years

:e2coffee:
 
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Chris P

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Continuing on with Nairobi Noir:

74. Number Sita, by Kevin Mwachiro. An Uber driver recounts his initial teenage sexual experiences at a brothel at Number Sita (Number 6) Kamburu Drive, a section of the city not yet overrun by development.

75. Andaki, by Kinyanjui Kombani. A promising young man gets entangled with trouble when he brings food to his small-time gang member friends who are hiding out in a safehouse (andaki). Brutal police chief Kisii is looking for them, and will show no mercy when he finally shows up. And he will show up, it's just a matter of when.

76. A Song from a Forgotten Place, by Tony Onyango. A homeless mother of young twins stays out of sight, selling her body from time to time to get money for food, and hiding a dark secret from years before.
 

Tocotin

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I finished the Angela Carter's Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women! I really liked the stories in the second half. That being said, the story by Angela Carter herself, The Loves of Lady Purple, sort of annoyed me, even though the imagery and language are beautiful... but it is obviously heavily influenced by the culture of Japanese red-light districts, and not in a good way; it takes an almost offensively fetishizing approach, at least for me. So I couldn't really enjoy this one.

@Lakey: Now, as for Madam Barnes's The Earth, I was determined to understand! her! this! time! and I think I did, maybe because it was a quite straightforward story of two uneducated farmer sisters fighting for some land and a man – it was almost a morality tale. For some reason, the sisters were Polish and the man was Swedish. Now I don't know about him, but there was nothing Polish about the sisters, not even the names, so it's probable that their nationality was supposed to symbolize their being not quite normal.

The next story, Oke of Okehurst by Vernon Lee (whom I knew, because some time ago I read a novel in which she was one of the characters), was very long, Victorian in style, tone and pace, and bordering on being a ghost story. Or maybe it was one, I don't know; the heroine Alice was a lazy and beautiful rich woman, obsessed by the thought that she might have been a reincarnation of her ancestress (or the ancestress of her husband, I don't remember), and it didn't end well for her. What I remember was the feeling of exasperation towards her and of sympathy towards her husband. But I did like the story.

The Girl by Jamaica Kincaid was more of a sketch on the topic of societal and familial expectations which (cruelly) are allowed to shape the lives of women. It was extremely short and quite powerful.

The last story in the book, Aunt Liu, was half-sad, half-hopeful, almost autobiographical story about a little girl and her nurse Aunt Liu, who despite the poverty and privation of her life still finds the strength to be independent, resolute, even defiant. I'm definitely going to check out the author Luo Shu; I looked her up on Wiki and it seems she died very young. :(

So this is the end of this collection, and I'm on the fence as to which one I should read next. I pick up my next books to read based on the pictures and colors on the covers (don't ask) and recently I've been reading a lot of yellow and brown ones, and most of the story collections I have lined up are also brown for some reason... I think I'm going to read Queen Victoria's Book of Spells, but I'm not 100% sure yet.

@Chris P : I've added Nairobi Noir to my TBR list, it sounds super intriguing.

:troll
 
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Chris P

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More from Nairobi Noir:

77. Mathree, by Makena Onjerika. A delightful description of middle class misery. Having blown the relationship with a client, the MC is sent to meet the client in person, at his own expense, to smooth things over. Not having a car, he is forced to take a mathree (shared minibus taxi seating 14). His description of squeezing in among a rogues' gallery of savory and not-so-savory characters, the slight of hand of the pickpockets and con artists, the chickens, and the ever-present uncertainty about whether the driver and conductor are on the up-and-up is the best I've seen. It took me right back to my days in Uganda taking those taxis, and the collective breath holding of the entire taxi whenever the driver took a "shortcut," which for all we know was into a back alley with AK-47ed thugs looking to make our loads lighter.

78. Blood Sister, by Peter Kimani. Suspicious of the White woman trolling the Nairobi slums giving children disposable cameras to return with pictures of everyday life, Bobo confronts the woman, who takes him on as an assistant, and . . . more as their relationship deepens. However, Jackie is not the only woman in Bobo's life, and Bobo's wife Mwari wants in on the mzungu sugar-mamma action. As cover, Mwari tells Bobo to say she is his sister, which makes her pregnancy with Bobo's child a bit awkward to explain. There's some nifty writing in this one, especially for the sexual content. Well done.


Reading through these, I have to say the quality surpasses most of the stories I read in the Caine Prize for African Fiction each year. These are solid stories!
 
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Chris P

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79. Say You Are Not My Son, by Faith Oneya. The cycle of poverty and crime continues as young Njenga is paid handsomely for innocuous favors but local thug leader Ras Kimani. But Ras has more in mind.

80. For Our Mothers, by Wanjiku Wa Ngugi. Samina is roped in to a too-easy-to-be-true scheme by her childhood friends, but one that comes at a terrible cost.

81. Plot Ten, by Caroline Mose. The bloodied body of the resident of Plot Ten is found in the shared toilets of a compound amid a rough neighborhood. Whodunnit, and why? And will the police help or harm when they arrive?

82. Have Another Roti, by Rasna Warah. Anamika seeks counseling from the only Asian psychologist she knows, hoping the shared experience as Asians provides the breakthrough. As a story, this wasn't much, but was an insightful description of the colonial segregation and the de facto segregation that followed independence.

83. Belonging, by J. E. Sibi-Okumu. Kidnapper/robbers charm their way past a White Kenyan couple's house guard, and take the family for a ride in which their bank accounts are run dry.
 

Lakey

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Tocotin

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Hey folks — Raymond Carver’s famous collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is on sale today, $1.99 for the Kindle edition (at least in the US). Carver is an important writer for folks looking to understand the modern short story. I’d really like to study his style. I’m going to have a hard time resisting this one, despite trying to read down some of my backlog before buying more books.

:e2coffee:

I have certainly heard of Raymond Carver, but I've never read anything of his, until today. Today I had a literary adventure of sorts.

Being very interested in the Bad Art Friend situation, I found Sonya Larson's story, The Kindest, in the online issue of American Short Fiction from 2018. Printed on Raymond Carver's birthday, it was introduced as "a modern-day Cathedral". For those who don't know (as I didn't), Cathedral is a very famous story of Carver's. There was a link to it. I read first Cathedral and then The Kindest.

I need to say this: I was aware of being heavily prejudiced, and I tried to be strict with the former and lenient with the latter. I had been warned by the introduction that both had unlikable main characters. I don't mind unlikable main characters at all, I don't mind anything, as long as I'm able to retain the feeling of interest and of trust.

These feelings were there when I read Cathedral. The main character, who is also a narrator, is being kind of a petty, jealous, maybe even racist jerk, and he did not even try to get my sympathy, but everything about the story was engaging, the language, the characters, the observations, the slowly changing situation, even the tiny little things like the food and the programs on TV. It was all bursting with flavor, and composed with great care and attention to detail. I could see what the writer was doing, I could see where the story was leading me, but it was a pleasure, nearly all of it. I had this sweet, warm sensation of being in good hands – in the hands of a competent writer.

The Kindest, uh, I don't think there could be any comparison. I started reading very carefully, ready to like anything there would be to like, but the first false note was the language. It was not only artificial, it was obfuscating, and completely unsuited to the main character. Then after several paragraphs I realized that the whole thing was too sloppily constructed to even make sense. I actually think that the story was not even edited. The main character, a working-class Chinese American woman, is supposed to have lost both of her kidneys in an accident. She receives one kidney from a rich white lady donor. The lady donor wants to meet the MC. The MC, Chuntao, doesn't want to meet her. But Chuntao's husband Bao thinks she should, and that she should also get the white lady donor a nice present – although nothing they could get would be good enough.

"What do we get her?" said Bao, shaking his head. He laughed in choked bursts. "Your other kidney?"

I was reading this on my phone at a restaurant, and I almost dropped it at this line. I mean, how many kidneys are there? Chuntao lost two kidneys, and received one. She only has one kidney now. What other kidney are we talking about? If she had one working kidney, why did she need another? Did the white lady give Chuntao one kidney, so that Chuntao can now have two? What?

Here is the link. I am so confused. Maybe I misunderstood something?

:troll
 
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Friendly Frog

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I'm not reading many short stories right now, but I had an hour of waiting time somewhere so I thought I'd wrap up my 2021 short-story reading challenge.

First one up is The Kaleidoscope of Cat Stories by Kari Gilgore. I'm not sure where I got it from originally, I suspect a story bundle. I bought a few here and there this year, but as I'm still on a big novel re-reading spree they have accumulated unread on my e-reader and now I don't remember downloading half of them.

Five stories but it's an extremely mixed bunch in terms of genre. Two are romance stories, one is sci-fi, one is supernatural and one is contemporary. I like the mix, something for everybody!

The two romances: The Inn, the Black Cat, and Two Halves of the Same Heart, and The Magical Cat of the Hidden Springs Inn and Spa were not the weakest stories but the ones that I enjoyed least. I think I just dislike love-at-first-sight stories. I liked the (shared) setting, though, and the second one had a gay romance which I realise I have not encountered yet very often at all.

Survivors of the Malance is a sci-fi short that takes on several different themes in one go, which I think sci-fi does lend itself to so nicely. Apocalyptic but not depressing. It is open-ended and could easily have been part of a larger story cycle.

In the Service to a Superior Species is a contemporary story set in the first lockdown. I did not expect that and I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I might otherwise because I realise I still have a lot of thoughts left to process about the pandemic. But it's a hopeful story and that made it a lot more digestible to me at the moment.

Wicked Bone is the one that made me go wow. Hard to classify. Not horror, but there are body parts. A bit of mystery, but that's not the main theme either. The supernatural element that only enters fairly late, and does not overshadow the contemporary parts, not does it really define the story. Definitely worth a read though. I've been thinking about it a lot. Never has a weird, little simple phrase like 'Best come back a cat.' been so chilling.

The second is Scattered Stories by Johannes T. Evans. I think I picked this up in a Smashwords promotion and it is certainly a treat! (I just checked and it is indeed available on Smashwords and you can set the price.)

The stories are very short, I still think of them as 'vignettes' which was the term I first encountered them under, but I think these days they're referred to as flash fiction?

Most if not all have supernatural elements but very varied: angels, ghosts, werewolves, etc... There are a few slashed throats but I wouldn't call them horror. I once had a book called 'Tales of Unease' and I think that would best decribe this collection. These story don't frighten you but they do just enough to make you uneasy and may ellicit a shudder here and there. And sometimes the very last sentence turns all the ones before on their head. Good stuff.

Many have a timeless quality (the shortness helps with that) they could as easily be contemporary as victorian or medieval. Seventeen stories in all, I think. There is no index, so it's hard to count. That's a bit of a shame.

The Coffin at Sea, The Pumpkin on Hillmaker's Street and Winter's Secret stood out. It doesn't feel like these stories have been published elsewhere except in this collection but I think they should be.


That brings me to 6/5 anthologies or collections with authors I have not yet read before. I have earned myself a praliné chocolate! :Trophy:

And looking at my accumulated TBR pile on my e-reader, I'm already properly stocked for next year's challenge!
 

Unimportant

but appreciated anyway...
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I finished reading an anthology this week that I really enjoyed. I'd not read most of the authors before; most of the stories were really enjoyable (a couple I didn't read because dunno, didn't grab my attention or the style didn't suit me); and I loved the theme.

"Rebuilding Tomorrow: Anthology of Life after the Apocalypse", edited by Tsana Dolichva.

The things that made it extra special for me:
1. The theme: "Rebuilding Tomorrow is an anthology filled with stories of people getting on with living with the new normal that has been established after various apocalyptic disasters."
2. The characters: all of the stories feature/star disabled characters. Their disabilities help, rather than hinder, their survival. It was a real celebration of "different is good!".
3. Happy or bittersweet endings. Plenty of drama and tension and action, but the stories aren't drowning in misery.
4. Realistic settings/premises: all of them were very believable with regards to 'this is where we're headed, thanks to climate change etc'.
 

Chris P

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Finished up Nairobi Noir.

84. The Hermit in the Helmet, by Ngugi wa Thiongo. What a lovely, fun, story! The best one in the whole collection. Reminiscent of "The Gods Must Be Crazy," in 1920s colonial Kenya, Kanage serves as a translator for a visiting Englishman who mysteriously visits his village church. Kanage mangles the translation, understanding the mundane visitor to be a holy messenger. Kanage is beside himself with joy when the visitor gives him a pith helmet. Believing this now makes him a prophet in the mold of the biblical Elijah, the helmet fuses to Kanage's head, and even starts to grow to the point where Kanage is eventually a comical walking helmet. The wind catches him, and bears him up to Heaven, just like Elijah, but brings him back, then up again, and back. I know I've read other Thiongo works in the past, but he's quite accomplished and been at this for over 50 years. I'll have to seek our more by him.

85. Turn On the Lights, but Stanley Gazemba. Mama Pima and Khasiani make their living selling fermented corn home brew, running a back alley bar until two police officers rob them of their supply. They go to their benefactor doctor (daktari) for some pure alcohol to alter their next batch, but there is a double- or even triple-cross afoot.

86. The Night Beat, by Mukuru kwa Njenga. A young corporal and experienced but stuck at a low level police sergeant patrol the Nairobi slums after dark, looking for criminals big enough to bother with bringing in. However, the corporal finds a way to outfox his senior officer, laughing all the way to the bank (literally).
 
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mrsmig

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Hey folks — Raymond Carver’s famous collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is on sale today, $1.99 for the Kindle edition (at least in the US). Carver is an important writer for folks looking to understand the modern short story. I’d really like to study his style. I’m going to have a hard time resisting this one, despite trying to read down some of my backlog before buying more books.

:e2coffee:
Even though I've made my reading goal for the year, I can't resist a short story bargain, so I snapped this one up and read it over the space of a couple of evenings.

We've remarked before that reading a collection by the same author can sometimes get a little monotonous. While I appreciated Carter's dry, terse style and his skill in building to a climax, the vast majority of these stories were about people being unpleasant to each other, and it just got to be too much.

Maybe it's just the headspace I'm in right now, but the collection seemed so grim. I mean, they're good stories - barely a clunker in the bunch - but man, did they depress me, and sometimes more. There's one about a couple fighting over their baby that I actually found upsetting, and will probably haunt me for a while.

Am I sorry I read it? No, but I wish I'd doled them out a couple at a time, with something a little lighter between each read.
 
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Lakey

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mrsmig, thanks for your comments on the Carver collection. I bought it too, and I think I'm going to learn from your experience and not try to read it all in one go -- notwithstanding Tocotin's comments on the quality of the Carver story she read. (I loved the comparison to "The Kindest," which I haven't read for myself.)

Anyway. At this stage it's not that likely that I will hit the stretch goal I set for myself, but I do want to make a push to read some more stories before the year is out, so I've started in on the 100 Years of Best American Short Stories collection edited by Lorrie Moore. I might not read all of them, but so far I've started at the beginning (they are organized chronologically).

82. Edna Ferber, "The Gay Old Dog" (1917)
A sad but also weirdly funny story about a family headed by a rather feckless man who resents his three obnoxious sisters, and how his perception of his duty to them (a perception encouraged by them) kind of derails his own life.

83. Sherwood Anderson, "Brothers" (1921)
This story is so structurally odd -- it's kind of a story within a story with another story sort of woven through. The narrator describes a mentally ill old man who lives in his neighborhood, who tends to absorb any big story in the news and assert that the people involved in it are his relatives. This is a sad reflection of the man's hunger for connection and significance, I suppose. But then the narrator derails into an account of a man who murdered his wife, a story that has also been in the news, and that presumably will be appropriated also by the old man. But most of the length of "Brothers" is dedicated to recounting the sad tale of the murderer and his wife, in more intimate and subtle detail than could possibly have been in the papers. That story, too, is a sad story about a hunger for connection. The whole thing is structurally filigreed and very sad.

84. Ernest Hemingway, "My Old Man" (1923)
Took me a couple of tries to get into this one. There is a lot of slang or specialized vocabulary that made it difficult for me to understand the setting. But eventually I figured out that the narrator's father is a jockey, (the narrator is a boy of indeterminate age at the time of the story), and they are American ex-pats living in Europe while the father makes a living on various racing circuits, evidently by fixing and betting on races. Definitely an intriguing story with a strong voice, but I found the ending fairly predictable.

84/144 stories read, 60/72 from the last ten years

:e2coffee:
 
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Chris P

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I've started in on the 100 Years of Best American Short Stories collection edited by Lorrie Moore. I might not read all of them, but so far I've started at the beginning (they are organized chronologically).


:e2coffee:

I attempted this anthology either earlier this year or last year. I think I gave up shortly after the Hemingway one, since they just weren't doing it for me. The quality of the stories in these anthologies depends entirely on the editor, and if after half a dozen I'm not connecting I'm pretty sure I know what to expect from the rest of them. So far, though, I agree with your assessment of the stories!
 
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Lakey

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Carrying on with the 100 Years of BASS anthology, and notwithstanding my lukewarm expectations and Chris’s lukewarm experience with it, I am really enjoying these century-old stories by canonical American greats that form the early part of the book. Here are a few more.

85. Ring Lardher, “Haircut“ (1925)
A chatty barber recounts the comically tragic tale of a neighborhood gadabout. This story is a bit of a trifle compared to the two I write about below, but it’s good voicey fun notwithstanding its predictable ending.

86. F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Babylon Revisited” (1931)
A tender story with an interesting setting — a ghostly Paris, viewed through the eyes of an American who romped with his wealthy carefree compatriots, until the great crash bankrupted them all and left their clubs and cafes deserted. The eeriness of that setting is a palpable presence in the story—you can almost hear the echoes of the carousing of the protagonist and his friends. That man, Charlie Wales, is trying to recover custody of his young daughter from his wife’s sister, his wife having died when Charlie was too busy with drunken reveling to care much what happened to the little girl. After some time in rehab, Charlie is clean and looking to make a fresh start, but to do so he has to navigate the haunted streets and relive some of his bad decisions. A brilliant story, really.

87. Katherine Anne Porter, “The Cracked Looking-Glass” (1933)
I have been meaning to read Porter and not yet got around to it—but wow, what a story! Incredibly rich with voice, layers of meaning, and metaphor. It is the story of an older man and his much younger (but no longer quite young herself) wife, Irish immigrants who have left New York City for rural Connecticut. Their warped views of each other and of themselves (hence the title), and even the way others see them, form the emotional heart of the story. The man, Dennis, sees himself as a hollowed out husk of an old man, and is convinced that his wife, Rosaleen, regrets their marriage, is miserable and on the cusp of leaving him, while she tenderly prepares a marvelous special dinner for their 25th anniversary, thanking the good fortune that landed her with him rather than one of the many aggressive suitors of her youth. For her part, Rosaleen hasn’t quite come to grips with no longer being that sought-after young girl, and flirts with various men in cheerful game which she doesn’t think anyone takes seriously, until she finds out that they do, and that her shamelessness is the talk of the area. Just a tremendous delicate story full of love and insight and subtlety. I love it!

87/144 stories read, 60/72 from the last ten years

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Lakey

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Coming into the end of the year now! I've gone a little further in the BASS anthology, and also dipped into the New Yorker podcasts.

88. William Faulkner, “That Will Be Fine” (1936)
Funny and somewhat sad story about a boy whose uncle is a shady character who promises to give the boy quarters as a way to manipulate the boy into abetting his shady activities. The story captures the boy's POV very well -- he has no understanding of the adult problems unfolding around him, and is completely naive as to the likelihood of those quarters ever materializing. His entire focus is on Christmas presents, basically.

89. Nancy Hale, “Those Are as Brothers” (1942)
This story made very little impression on me. I flipped through it as I prepared to write this post, and while I do vaguely remember reading it, I can't pull up much about it. Something about a young widow, a man who wanted to marry her, and some German immigrants who work for her?

90. Eudora Welty, “The Whole World Knows” (1948)
This one is a gut punch, and a very well crafted stream of consciousness story with an unreliable narrator. It shifts back and forth between daydreams and reality, slowly revealing that the narrator is psychically badly damaged by his wife's infidelity. It may or may not have a tragic ending -- again, not clear what's real and what's fantasy here. This one will definitely bear rereading.

91. John Cheever, “The Enormous Radio” (1948)
I loved this story until the turn it took at the end. A man buys his wife a radio which, instead of playing radio stations, seems to play what's going on in the other apartments in the building. The woman becomes obsessed with her neighbors' secrets, quarrels, and so on--obsessed with the way their lives seem normal and even happy from the outside, but are revealed by the radio to be warped and unhappy. (It's a funny analog to social media and the mythology of the instagram-perfect life.) I lose the thread of the story at the end, where the husband makes a wild swing from treating his wife with sympathy to lashing out at her with a cruelty that is out of all proportion. I suppose the story is trying to make some kind of point about the cracks in their own lives, that they aren't immune from the problems the wife is fascinated by, but the execution is off to me, somehow. If his rage made any sense, the story would work better for me.

92. George Saunders, "The Falls," in The New Yorker (1996)
100% a George Saunders story. This one reminds me of a couple of the stories in Tenth of December, particularly the title story. In "The Falls," two insecure men handle their insecurities in very different ways, and react to crisis in different ways as well. One of the interesting themes here is that we never really know how we will behave in a crisis until one is upon us, no matter how much we think about it in advance.

93. Yiyun Li, "Hello, Goodbye," in The New Yorker (2021)
Didn't make a huge impression. Two women in their 30s who have been friends since school have taken somewhat different paths in life, and the story explores how different people define happiness differently, how some people crave change and others crave stability, and so on. It feels a little unfocused to me, but perhaps I was just unfocused when I was reading it!

93/144 stories read, 61/72 from the last ten years

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