Short Stories All the Time

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

26 May, 2017

Meron Hadero, "The Suitcase"

Saba is leaving Addis Ababa after her first visit to her homeland. She brought a suitcase full of items from America to give to her relatives and now they want her to bring items home. The suitcase serves as a conduit, "an empty suitcase opened up a rare direct link between two worlds...," in an effort for relatives to be remembered by those who have moved away, "...she didn't want her grandchildren to forget about her, a fear she must bear, living so far away for so many years with only limited lines of communication."

Saba feels as though she's failed at learning how to navigate her home country. She cannot even cross the busy street at Meskel Square without using a taxi. "All month Saba had failed almost every test she'd faced, and though she'd seized one last chance to see if this trip had changed her, had taught her at least a little of how to live in this culture, she'd only ended up proving her relatives right: she wasn't even equipped to go for a walk on her own."

Saba's suitcase is ten kilos too heavy and she needs to leave for the airport; her relatives are making cases for why their particular gift must be taken to America. Saba eventually decides to empty her clothes from the first suitcase and allow her relatives to fill it up as well with the items they want to go to their relatives in Seattle. It's poignant. She solves an issue that gives her relatives sweet thoughts and memories as she had been unintentionally insulting and couldn't speak Amharic very well.

The story is written in third-person POV and simple past tense. It's about eleven pages long and takes place on the last day of Saba's month long visit. There's virtually no backstory. It's a very nice story showing the difficulties of belonging, remembering, and longing.

"The Suitcase" by Meron Hadero was first published in the fall 2015 issue of The Missouri Review  and then included in the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories. 

21 May, 2017

Carson McCullers, "The Member of the Wedding"

The first section of the story was first published in Harper's Bazaar  in 1946. A film adaptation was released in 1952.

The story is about 130 pages long and divided into three parts, the last being the shortest and wrapping up the ends.

Frankie, F. Jasmine, Jasmine, and Frances are her name variations as she moves through adolescence to young woman. And, it's a hard won fight for Frankie. Her mother died the day she was born. Her brother, Jarvis, is away in the army and comes home just long enough to marry Janice.

John Henry, a cousin, is only six years old and the cook, Berenice, are Frankie's only friends and companions. She goes through growing pains and confusions while also having those philosophical thoughts and ideas that a kid that age has a hard time conveying to adults.

But the story is not just that. It also portrays racism, socio-economic differences, cross-dressing, transgenderism, non-binary gender, sexuality, belonging, and lynching in the era of WWII, Alabama, United States.

"She wanted to be a boy and go to the war as a Marine."
"I have knew boys to take it into their heads to fall in love with other boys."
"A man, mind you. And Lily Mae turned into a girl. He changed his nature and his sex and turned into a girl."
"How did that boy change into a girl?"
"She planned it so that people could instantly change back and forth from boys to girls, whichever way they felt like and wanted...And then John Henry...people ought to be half boy and half girl..."
"She heard him shuffle carefully across the room, for after the bath he had put on Berenice's hat and was trying to walk in Berenice's high-heeled shoes."

"'Because I am black,' said Berenice. 'Because I am colored. Everybody is caught one way or another.  But they done drawn completely extra bounds around all colored people. They done squeezed us off in one corner by ourself. So we caught that firstway I was telling you, as all human beings is caught. And we caught as colored people also. Sometimes a boy like Honey feel like he just can't breathe no more. He feel like he got to break something or break himself. Sometimes it just about more than we can stand.'"

There's so much more to this story that one should just go and read it.

12 May, 2017

Carson McCullers, "The Jockey"

The story is a glimpse into the anger and frustration a jockey feels at the serious and career ending injury of one of his friends. We see the jockey intrude on the dinner of the trainer, the bookie, and a rich man eating a fancy dinner as though nothing bad had happened to one of the jockeys who makes all of their careers possible. "'Libertines,' he said, and his voice was thin and broken. He rolled the word around in his mouth, as though it had flavor and a substance that gratified him. 'You libertines,' he said again, and turned and walked with his rigid swagger out of the dining room."

What I like most about the story is the tight, close look at a few minutes. The character of the jockey and his friendship and his pain are revealed without being explicitly stated. We also see the callous nature of the three men who can't be bothered or torn away from their decadent dining and drinking.

"The Jockey" is only five pages long. Simple past tense, no backstory. Omniscient POV that remains focused on the scene at hand. Or, I might call it third person limited shifting. The story was published in 1941 in The New Yorker.