Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Ferris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ferris. Show all posts

22 March, 2015

Joshua Ferris, "The Breeze"

The story opens with Sarah sipping some wine and sitting on the balcony, six by six, of the apartment she shares with her husband, Jay. He comes home and she asks him what he wants to do. There is some back and forth then the story moves into many sections each of which explore various possibilities for the way Sarah and Jay can spend their evening.

The POV, except in one place, is from Sarah's viewpoint and she doesn't know what she wants out of her evening much less out of her life. She wants everything she does and eats to be the most wonderful and exciting it can possibly be. In this way, nothing is ever good enough, she misses out on  appreciating her life by not being fully in the moment. She always worried about what she's missing or whether or not she made the very best choice, "...the growing anxiety of never arriving at what was always just out of reach." Every section mentions an attitude or thought that I think is the theme. For example, in the fourth section, "...she was afraid that she had made a series of poor choices and failed." In the ninth section, " if choosing the wrong place weren't bad enough, there were all those alternatives..." By the tenth section, Sarah is making her choice of how to spend a spring evening equal to death, "...her options were either a picnic or death." She is not happy with her life and how could she be? "She wanted to abandon Jay and his blanket and dinner plans and follow them into another life." By the fifteenth section, for a minute, I think there is some hope for her, "Night after night she was anxious not to miss out on...what?" And, in the sixteenth section, "It had been an error to go in search of something more."

"The Breeze" was first published in the New Yorker in September 2013 and then included in the 2014 edition of The Best American Short Stories.

03 February, 2011

Joshua Ferris, "The Valetudinarian"

"The Valetudinarian" begins with that cliche that the day after retirement a person gets hit by a train or run over by a bus. Arty's wife, Meredith, is killed in a head-on collision the day after she and Arty retire to Florida. In the first paragraph Arty imagines his own funeral instead of Meredith's. Arty is surprised that the sun shines; people play golf; people go fishing. The sunny juxtaposition of reality against his imagination of his own melancholy funeral sets up expectation(s) and possible theme(s) for me, the variation between a person's assumptions and reality. Then the next paragraph counters and reflects the wife's demise with Arty's children seeing that "his wheels had shifted into reverse." The first two paragraphs are strong and well-crafted with strong imagery and believable characterizations.

Arty spends his birthday hoping family and friends will call to wish him a happy birthday. He's consumed by his health issues and has driven away his golf buddies with his incessant health conversation. Desperate, he calls the pizza delivery guy for human contact. When Paul, his son, finally calls, Arty pretends his former best friend, Jimmy, is there with him. Eventually, a prostitute--presumably sent by Jimmy--shows up at his door, evidently convinces him to take a pill that will interact with his heart medicine and probably kill him. His neighbor lady with the annoying Shih Tzu ends up saving Arty's life and in an unexpected turn of events, Arty wants to track down the prostitute who left him for dead and reward her by paying for her education for which she is not interested and even says, "This is very tired routine."

"The Valetudinarian" was first published in The New Yorker and subsequently in The Best American Short Stories, 2010. It's written in a shifting 3rd person point-of-view and is about 19 pages long. For the characterization of Arty, I'd give this story a high rating. I was particularly impressed with the handling of the phone calls between Arty and his kids, Paul, a hospice worker, and Gina, who lives in a horse stable, and the conversation, mostly one-sided with the grandchild named after the dead wife, Meredith. For the plot, I'd give the story a lower rating. While, a complicated plot is not necessary for me, this one felt somewhat contrived. When Arty hunts for the prostitute to thank her for convincing him to take the pill, he claims that she saved his life. Then the theme seems to be, from this line, "He had been living as a dead man for years, and without her sudden presence in his suffocating cloister, coaxing and tempting him, he would certainly have died a dead man." This is a great sentiment and sentence but that this occurred from the encounter with the prostitute seems stilted.

Wikipedia page
Authortrek, Ferris page

25 June, 2010

Joshua Ferris's, "The Pilot"

Joshua Ferris's "The Pilot" written in an extremely close 3rd person POV is so claustrophobic and obsessive that I wanted to scream and that is precisely, for me, why the story is good. The main character is an alcoholic screen writer and spends most of the story worried about whether or not a fellow screen writer and actor meant to invite him to a party.

Ferris is included in the list of "20 Under 40" by The New Yorker.