Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 875, mostly contemporary, short stories.

18 January, 2017

Kristie Wang, "Where I Was Going"

First person point of view story about Evelyn and her difficulties trying to become an actress, how her naiveté lands her in some compromising situations along with a loser boyfriend who will never be an asset. There's enough backstory about her mother to show the reader how this young woman's life started on its trajectory. There were a couple of times I wanted to yell into the book for Evelyn not to believe what she was thinking. "I wondered about the moment when Troy and Alex would meet, whether they would recognize instantly that they were rivals." Goodness, she's hoping against hope that two men want or care about her. Troy was using her all along and didn't care one bit for her acting in the play and the reader knows that he's not going to show. Troy and Alex would never meet. "Where I Was Going" is convincing and poignant.

This is one of my favorite lines because it efficiently illustrates the desperation of the narrator. "I wanted to run out into traffic, just to know that I could make something happen."

Another one of my favorite lines: "It was like deciding to set fire to your own house, because it was the only way you could bear parting with all the worthless shit you'd collected."

"Where I Was Going" by Kristie Wang is in issue 9 of Grist: The Journal for Writers.

17 January, 2017

Bret Anthony Johnston, "Half of What Atlee Rouse Knows About Horses"

The story covers about fifty-four years of Atlee Rouse's life with horses. While he is married and has a daughter, Tammy, his life revolves around horses. "Then she was gone, and the horses surely were, too, so then it was his and his alone. A passing moment, scattering and shapeless, a story that wasn't a story at all, just something stuck in his head about horses, a memory without beginning or middle or end." Memories, even if shared, are only ours and after some time has passed, our memories are reorganized and restructured to give new meanings to our memories.

The story is divided into nearly thirty sections even though the story is only about fourteen pages long. Some of the sections are about horse history or myth or legend. The other sections move back and forth in time. It's quite a thoughtful story. I like the efficient, streamlined approach to telling of a man's life. While we don't necessarily learn every little bit there is to learn about Atlee Rouse's biography, we've learned what's in his heart and what mattered to him.

"Half of What Atlee Rouse Knows About Horses" is in the fall 2016 issue of American Short Fiction.

14 January, 2017

Alice Munro, "Fits"

Peg "self-contained" according to her second husband. She has two sons from her first marriage; it's Robert's first. They do not know very well the two sixty-somethings who live next door. There's a horrible crime; Peg found the bodies. However, she didn't tell anyone else after she reported it to the police. This leads the townspeople and her family members to question her and feel as if they don't know her or that she's not really their friend. "Nobody would want not to know. To go out into the street, not knowing. To go around doing all the usual daily things, not knowing."

Munro spins a story so that we feel we know the townspeople and the respect or lack thereof they have for each other. If someone asks Peg about what she saw, she'll answer, but she's opaque and to the point. She seems unmoved by the horrible killing. She drove to the police station, leaving without telling her son, Kevin, at home what had just been discovered next door. He was not happy about that and questioned her about it but received no answer from her.

It is difficult to winnow a short story down to its elements. The good ones are always more than just their plots. For me, the themes are how close one must get to something that is difficult to discern or believe, either a physical thing or an emotional thing. Arguments, discussions, seeing, and finding in the story show how close one must get to, how near one must be, to see what's really going on. Also, the human desire to know what's going on. No one likes to be left out in the cold, especially if a wife or mother or friend has experienced something tremendously life changing and she doesn't even mention it. That always feels like a betrayal.

"Fits" was first published in 1986 in Grand Street.