Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.

24 June, 2017

Daniel J. O'Malley, "Bridge"

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The story is only four pages long and told in a very close third-person point of view. The narrator is evidently home-schooled. He takes notes in the morning of what his mother teaches and tells him. Then he's supposed to study in his bedroom in the afternoon so that he can recite to his father in the evening what he has learned. However, since he has a good memory he does not study but stares out of his bedroom window. He can see a bridge through the trees and watches an elderly couple, both wearing distinctive and matching hats, go to the middle of the bridge, pause, and take a photograph. One year later, he sees the same couple. This time they take off their clothes and disappear over the edge of the bridge. He tells his parents and they proceed to tell him that he's wrong. He knows he's not and there have been a couple of other instances in which he knows his parents are wrong. The story's theme, for me, is about how children, especially, but people in general, attempt to make sense of two supposed truths that contradict one another. The family appears to be religious because some of the things his mother teaches him seem to be Biblical, "...but also about the flood and locusts and frogs and other plagues that had happened before and could happen again..." The narrator invents a third explanation, a supernatural answer, to reconcile the diametrically opposed "truths" his parents insist upon. He imagines that the couple turned into birds as they went over the bridge. The boy is maturing and wants to feel better but he does not, "...he did not feel fine." The story is written in the "telling" manner and simple past tense. There's no backstory and there's no extra information about the mother or father or even the time period of the story. It feels to take place in an earlier age but I think that sense comes from the boy being home schooled and isolated.

"Bridge" was first published in Alaska Quarterly Review and then selected for inclusion in the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories. 

22 June, 2017

Leonard Michaels, "Manikin"

What an odd story structure. Melanie Green, young college student, is date raped. She tells her closest friends but not the authorities. Her boyfriend is away at another school working on his dissertation and can't be bothered with her too much except for the time he "let" her masturbate him. She finally tells him and he dumps her. "He sat up with words about the impossibility of confidence, the betrayal of expectations, the end of things."

Then the next scene opens with a character not mentioned yet, Wanda Chung. Wanda sets up a silly pretense of returning a lost pen because she has been wanting to meet Melanie. Wanda lives downstairs in the dormitory. Wanda knocks on the door and it slides open and she finds Melanie hanging by the neck. Wanda rushes back to her room and "She ate candy until she puked in her lap and fell asleep..."

Then there's a scene of the rapist shocked that Melanie is dead. He tries to get into fights and then hallucinates that he's with Melanie in the woods but "she was dead."

"Manikin" was first published in 1968 or 1969.

Charles D'Ambrosio, "The Dead Fish Museum"

The story is composed of fifteen scenes told from the viewpoint of Ramage. He's just been released after a two month stay from the mental hospital because he's suicidal. He checks into a seedy motel, $75 for three days, and is the construction crew leader for building sets for the filming of pornography. RB, Rigoberto are his helpers and they have some repartee about race, immigration, and sex.

The story opens with Ramage (one letter different from Damage) checking into a motel and telling about the gun he keeps in his canvas tool bag. The story ends with him checking out of the motel and realizing that his gun has been stolen. "Over time the gun had become a talisman with the power and primitive comfort of a child's blanket."

There's little backstory sprinkled throughout the story. There's a couple with a baby staying in the room next to his. They abandon the baby to go to the bar. He hates children and at one point thought he might stab a baby in a restaurant. "Something wildly uncentered in his mind had told him he was going to stab the baby in the eye.

There's an ongoing acknowledgment of the scent in the air of this town, never named exactly. There's a spice factory nearby and every day there are different scents, sage, basil, oregano, clove, cinnamon that waft over to the warehouse where they're filming.

Rigoberto has escaped El Salvador where his brother was killed, the bullet meant for Rigo. He works hard and sends money to his brother in Honduras. He fishes to feed him and his wife. He sleeps on the beach during filming to save the meager per diem. RB gives him a hard time about always eating baloney sandwiches. I'm not sure what the theme of the story is but it's a glimpse into the hard life of three guys, and a blonde porn star, Desiree.