Short Stories All the Time

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

29 November, 2010

Mary Miller, "Always Happy Hour, Always Summer" and "Derelict"

photo courtesy author from Luna Park site
Richie, a young father, unemployed, lives with his mother, has joint custody of his young son, and dates Chelsea. Most of the time, they just hang out and swim and drink and smoke. Richie doesn't really seem to know Chelsea and she realizes it. However, she lets her schoolwork slide and knows that hanging out with Richie is going to get her nowhere but she's obsessed and in love with him.The four-year old son is only referred to as "the boy."

And, in "Derelict," Richie is again dating Chelsea, although I don't think she's ever mentioned by name. This very short story, only about three pages, is written in second person POV and works nicely being placed immediately after "Always Happy Hour, Always Summer" because now that Chelsea and Richie are dating again and nothing has changed and she knows the relationship is a lost cause, the second person POV feels accusatory and seems Chelsea is talking to herself, trying to convince herself of the reality that there is no future with Richie. Alice LaPlante in her book, The Making of a Story, calls this type of second person POV, an inverted first person, where the narrator is referring to herself.

Both of these stories by Miller are in the Fall 2010 issue of American Short Fiction.

Book Woman site
blog entry about Mary Miller's Big World and a video of Tom Jones singing
interview with Miller, Luna Park
A Perfect Unicorn, a second-person POV short story podcast read by Ann Rushton
American Short Fiction

28 November, 2010

Edward P. Jones, "Old Boys, Old Girls"

"Old Boys, Old Girls" explores the life of Caesar Matthews, two time murderer. He's only held accountable for the second murder and spends seven years in prison where we meet his cell mates.  The story ends with an interesting manner in which Caesar shows a dead woman respect and makes it so that she exits the world with dignity. I'm not sure what the theme of the story is except that we see a person's life that has gone wrong and some of his efforts to set things right, although only partially.

The opening line is my favorite, "They caught him after he had killed the second man." That seems to be a whole story right there. "Old Boys, Old Girls" is written in a shifting third person POV that is sometimes omniscient, almost. It was first published in The New Yorker in 2004 and is included in the collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children. And was included in The O'Henry Prize Stories, 2006.

story in The New Yorker, full text
essay about Jones in BookPage

Amy Bloom, "Faultlines"

Henry DiMartino in "Faultlines" is a handsome and successful man, also shallow and narcissistic, married to Marie, bitter and jealous, and fantasizes constantly about Mary, beautiful and blonde. I love the way Bloom uses each person's thoughts with clarity and laser-like probing. For example, this sentence early in the story reveals a great deal about the kind of man Henry is. "It took two years for him to stop being ashamed that the only reason his children had a father to play ball with every night  and to help them with their homework was that the woman he loved didn't love him back." Bloom also exposes in a very clear way how people who have been married a long time know how their smallest actions or words or even words unsaid will affect the spouse. "Henry knew, having   been married to Marie for twenty years, that the moment he described Mary the day would be ruined. And if he said nothing, the evening would be ruined, perhaps more dramatically, when Marie laid eyes on Mary." And the two women's names, Mary and Marie, assist in showing that Henry does not have marital boundaries.

The point of view is shifting third person. "Faultlines" is included in her collection, Come to Me.

Bloom's web page about Come to Me
Wikipedia biography about Bloom
Ploughshares article by Anne Stockwell

25 November, 2010

Amy Bloom, "Silver Water"

"Silver Water" by Amy Bloom was first published in Story, Autumn 1991, and subsequently in her collection, Come to Me

Rose's "...voice was like mountain water in a silver pitcher," loses her mind at age fifteen and younger sister, Violet, and parents are bewildered trying to find therapists, hospitals, and health insurance. Written in first person POV and covers at least a ten year span.

The story begins with Rose showing Violet and a parking lot full of opera goers her amazing vocal abilities and circles around by the end with Violet remembering that wonderful voice. The odyssey the family takes with Rose and her "psychotic  break" is rendered in reality but with attendant literary techniques, foreshadowing, symbolism, lyrical language, and a full story arc. This story is disturbing in its cruelty and callousness while still showing absolute love and compassion. It shows how these two seemingly polar opposites can be held simultaneously and sometimes must be.

link to story published in 2007 issue of Online Journal of the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work

22 November, 2010

Ethan Canin, interview with Bonnie Lyons

In this interview, Canin talks about narrator, among many other things. It is a fairly long interview. A couple of his comments I find succinct and stated in a way that helps me remember that the narrator is a person with all of his/her attendant foibles, prejudices and intellect, etc. Canin states, "Something has happened, something has been learned, and now someone is telling you the story." Sounds so simple, right. He also says, "Unless you know precisely who is telling the story, there's no end to what you might describe, no reason to include or exclude material."

Canin's Red Room web page

Robert Stewart, essay, "Grounded"

This is an excellent editor's note to Volume 76, Number 4 issue of New Letters. Robert Stewart talks about flight, physicality, transcendence, and digitization.

Edward P. Jones, "Bad Neighbors"

Follows the two kinds of people, bad neighbors and good neighbors, on one Washington DC street. Sharon Palmer and Terrence Stagg deemed good go on to have  prosperous lives while Derek Bennington, labeled bad, is actually a good man.

It's an interesting story that reveals how people can become divided and vindictive as they scratch their way to some mythological, albeit materially rich, top.

Again, this story is about, among other things, how a man measures his self-worth. Have really enjoyed reading these stories by Jones.

18 November, 2010

Edward P. Jones, "All Aunt Hagar's Children"

This story was first published in The New Yorker and is the title story of his collection published in 2006. The main character has just returned from the Korean War (Conflict) and is enlisted to solve the murder of his mother and aunt's best friend, Miss Agatha's son, Ike. This story is divided into 13 scenes and wonderfully written. The characters come to life on the page. I think the theme, for me, is about family and what sometimes has to be done to protect those you love or those in danger.

I notice some people say Jones writes in an omniscient viewpoint but to me--this story anyway--it seems more of third-person limited shifting. I've loved reading these last two stories and am glad I've finally made the time to read some of his short fiction. I've owned Lost in the City for some time and still haven't read it. Just not enough hours in the day. Last weekend purchased All Aunt Hagar's Children.

Edward P. Jones, "In the Blink of God's Eye"

Edward P. Jones' short story, "In the Blink of God's Eye" is the first selection in All Aunt Hagar's Children. Edward P. JonesIt's thirty pages long and written in third-person shifting POV. The story follows the slave descendants Aubrey and his new teenage wife for about one year at the turn of the 20th century in Washington, DC and Virginia. The sentences are beautifully rendered and lend to the sense of the era.

The story is divided into 13 sections or scenes, each rich enough for an entire novel chapter. As I was reading, I felt like I was reading a novel. In the end, Aubrey acknowledged that his marriage with Ruth was over but it did not seem as though it was really an ending and does not seem as though Aubrey will never see Ruth again. I think the theme, for me, is about how a man measures his self-worth and in turn, because of that so-called measurement, how he relates to those around him. 

Edward P. Jones has won many awards: Pulitzer, National Book Critics Circle, IMPAC Dublin Literary, Lannan, PEN/Faulkner, and MacArthur.

Wikipedia biography
review in The Quarterly Conversation by John Harrison
Edward P. Jones reads part of "In the Blink of God's Eye" on NPR

12 November, 2010

Amy Bloom, "Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines"

Susan, an unattractive and heavy young girl, presumably about ten years old, harassed at school, unloved at home, is made, erroneously, to feel better about herself by the neighborhood pedophile who gives her rides to and from school so she doesn't have to ride the school bus where she's bullied.

The story is told in retrospect; Susan is now an adult looking back at her younger years while we do not know details about her adult life. This story might be an example of what David Jauss calls an echo ending. We see the protagonist repeating patterns of behavior. In this story, Susan is no longer near Mr. Klein but she takes piano lessons from Mr. Canetti who served Susan "wine-flavored cookies" and one day, "I saw my beautiful self take shape in his eyes." Susan's victimization continued.

In ten pages Amy Bloom distills the complex relationship between Mr. Klein's lies and Susan's burgeoning understanding of adult manipulation juxtaposed with her thoughts about how she thinks she benefits from Mr. Klein's attentions. One of the saddest sentences comes after Mr. Klein tells Susan--we assume Mr. Klein has been called out on his attentions to Susan--that he can no longer see her. She says, "I had not known that I could talk through this kind of pain." At this point in Susan's life, being Mr. Klein's victim is more palatable to her than being the victim of her parents and her classmates.

The story also illustrates the escalation of Mr. Klein's advances and I'm sure Bloom's experience as a psychotherapist has given her insight into both of these types of people.

"Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines" is included in Bloom's collection, Come to Me.

10 November, 2010

Amy Bloom, "Sleepwalking"

Julia is left with her young son and an adult step-son when her husband dies. And, even as Julia tries to do the right thing, she commits an act that threatens to tear apart her remaining family. Bloom shows in a seemingly effortless way that regular people do unspeakable things and somehow continue to wake up the next day and try to be better.

"Sleepwalking" is the third story in Bloom's collection, Come to Me. It's written in first-person POV and is about 6,000 words long. First published in 1991.

I see on other blogs that these characters, Lionel and Buster, show up in many more stories and we see them through adulthood and middle-age.

Bloom's web page, NYT Review

06 November, 2010

Amy Bloom, "Love Is Not a Pie"

"Love Is Not a Pie" was first published in 1990. It's written in first-person point-of-view and about 6,000 words. At her mother's eulogy, Ellen contemplates whether or not to marry John.Then the story moves into the back story for several pages where we learn of the childhoods of Ellen, Lizzie, and their friend Gisela. More importantly, the relationship of the adults is slowly revealed and helps confirm Ellen's decision about John.

This is the opening story in Bloom's collection, Come to Me which was published in 1993 and was a National Book Award Finalist.

Bloom's web page with link to purchase book
Good Reads blog with lots of reviews
Interview with Bloom

01 November, 2010

Willa Cather, "Paul's Case: A Study in Temperament"

I've read this story several times over the years and I never tire of it. Paul is a young man, high school age, from poor working class whose mother has died. He craves to bask in the atmosphere of theater and music. The story begins with his teachers and the principal trying to impress upon Paul that his attitude needs adjustment. He is an infuriating young man with "something of the dandy about him "...nor did he exhibit the contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban of suspension." Paul does not want to learn how to act or play music or sing. "He felt no necessity to do any of these things; what he wanted was to see, to be in the atmosphere, float on the wave of it, to be carried out...away from everything." His air of defiance angers his teachers even as they are unable to specifically tally his offences. "...yet each of his instructors felt that it scarcely possible to put into words the real cause of the trouble, which lay in a sort of hysterically defiant manner of the boy's..." When Paul is no longer allowed to hang around the theater or the actors, we see the lengths to which he'll go to solve his situation.

"Paul's Case" first appeared in McClure's Magazine in May, 1905.

Willa Cather Foundation
Willa Cather Archive
"Paul's Case" text from archive