Short Stories All the Time

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

17 April, 2011

Tea Obreht, "The Laugh"

This third-person POV story takes place in sub-Saharan Africa. Neal runs a lodge for tourists

and Roland is his partner. The story jumps right into Neal's concerns about Femi's, Roland's wife, casket and funeral. The foreshadowing and the suspense are well-handled. For most of the story, I didn't understand why Neal seemed as though he was closer to Femi than Roland but by the end of the story it is apparent that Neal feels guilt; however, only slightly, and we learn why. Neal does try to spare Roland what he can.

Obreht's words evoke dark claustrophobia, sounds of the wildebeests, and odors of rank hyenas as well as husband's despondency. And, I think, Obreht handled in a delicate way, meaning not overwrought, issue of a man, presumably a white man over a black woman, despoiling her dignity.

Favorite sentence: "It was the laugh that made his stomach turn, and they laughed all the time, every night they were there, as if they knew their laugh made him wonder, made him want to come outside to them in the dark, or, otherwise, put a gun in his mouth."

I believe this is the first Obreht story I've read. Sometimes I avoid authors who have been hyped to the hilt. But, I'll definitely read more of her work, short stories anyway, no novels.

"The Laugh" was included in the Best American Short Stories, 2010.

Obreht's website
short interview with The New Yorker
National Book Foundation web page