Short Stories All the Time

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

17 July, 2017

Sarah Hulyk Maxwell, "Clown Brain Tea"

Mae has a phobia of kids she tells her boyfriend, Leo. And, we're given an example when she brings a young boy who lost a T-ball game to tears. After having lived in their house for six months, Mae and Leo find a mysterious and creepy ceramic clown head in their yard and for some reason Mae decides to take it to her four-year old niece's birthday party. Well, Becky wants to make "clown brain tea." The theme of the story, for me, has nothing to do with clowns but has to do with being a parent. Mae has no children, her sister, Jill, has one. Mae is trying to retain all parts of herself while her sister has, perhaps, lost some part of herself and the clown incident illustrates it to Mae but doesn't solve anything. Isn't that so much of life. Something can be illustrated or finally understood but there's no fixing it.

FAVORITE LINE:
"I think it's more likely something important that made Jill Jill was killed by this mom-part in the process of giving birth, and at some point in her life when she least expects it, she'll realize what part that was and finally ask herself if it was worth it."

"Clown Brain Tea" is the opening story and the prize winner in the 2017 Mississippi Review. 

Link to an interview with Sarah Hulyk Maxwell at NANO Fiction

15 July, 2017

Yuko Sakata, "On This Side"

The story is divided into thirteen sections and in simple past tense. There are some shifts in POV. The setting is Japan with a present day time frame. Toru returned home from work one day to find a former classmate waiting for him. First of all Toru was surprised Masato, now Saki, found him. There's some backstory about their relationship in high school. Saki is trans and asks if she can stay with Toru because she's been abused brutally by her boyfriend when he found out she's trans.

The story seems to be about whether or not there is an afterlife of some sort. And, also, guilt and justice, faith and faithfulness, suicide, depression, friendship, and kindness. Saki had been bullied and abused and later tells Toru that he was her only friend. Toru has two jobs, one is refilling vending machines and the second one is cleaning the grave sites for people who are too busy to do it themselves. When Saki leaves, after several months, Toru wishes that he could reach out to her on some other plane of reality. Saki had a recurring dream and it is through that that Toru wishes he could reach her.

"On This Side" was first published in the Iowa Review  and then included in the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories. 
EXCERPT:
"The evening air outside the open window smelled vibrant, as though the intensity of the heat had been skimmed off its surface and all the living things underneath were finally allowed to breathe. Occasionally trains went by just a few blocks away, but they sounded strangely muted and distant."

09 July, 2017

Karen Russell, "The Prospectors"

The story is told in first person POV and takes place during the Great Depression in the United States.   Two girls, one from a wealthy family, and one from a poor family whose father killed himself, run away from Clara's family who own a resort hotel in Florida. The girls make it to Oregon and to support themselves they steal from wealthy people at extravagant parties.

Eventually, they believe they are going to the opening of a grand resort Evergreen Lodge at which they read the president might be in attendance
. However, they take the wrong ski lift and arrive at a different place and decide that the 26 young men who worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps are actually dead having been buried alive in an avalanche.

The writing style remains realistic even as the story becomes fantastic, but never really seems to be a dream or nightmare. However, perhaps since the girls often go hungry for days, it's hallucinatory.

"The Prospectors" was first published in The New Yorker  and then included in the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories.  The story is about two dozen pages.

EXCERPT:
"This period of American history held a special appeal for Clara's father, Mr. Finisterre, a bony-faced Portuguese immigrant to southwestern Florida who had wrung his modest fortune out of the sea-damp wallets of tourists. My own father had killed himself outside the dog track in the spring of 1931, and I'd been fortunate to find a job as a maid at the Hotel Finisterre."