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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