Short Stories All the Time

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

12 July, 2016

Denis Johnson, "Emergency"

The short story first appeared in The New Yorker magazine in 1991. It has since become a classic. It's told in first-person point of view, from Fuckhead's viewpoint. It's divided into about eleven sections and moves at a fast pace and sort of all over the place. The narrator and his work-buddy, Georgie, are drugged up on all sorts of stolen pills for the duration of the story. The story begins in a hospital; Georgie tries to mop up all the blood; the narrator tries to pass the time and takes
as many drugs as he finds on Georgie.

For me, the story is about the Vietnam war--it takes place in 1973--and how war is composed of elements that are both chaotic and orderly. "The sky is blue and the dead are coming back." Both life and death; a lot of the story deals with seeing and not being able to see. "Around 3:30 a.m. a guy with a knife in his eye came in, led by Georgie."

Everyday life as a battle, something to avoid and get through. The two main characters don't care that they work in a hospital and are responsible for the well-being of patients when they take whatever pills they can steal. At the end of the story, the Lord's prayer plays over the intercom.

Horrible events occur all the time, but at some point, we pretend it's over yet there are ramifications. "That world! These days it's all been erased and they've rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere."

The story contains dozens of intense images and are thrown at the reader one after another in, on the first read, rapid fire, but on subsequent readings, the many images and statements build to create a whole comment on modern life. Just like good short stories, it cannot be summarized.

"Emergency" was published in Johnson's collection, Jesus' Son and then included in the anthology, Vintage Book of American Short Stories, 1994. It's also included in Alice LaPlante's The Making of a Story, 2007.

23 August, 2013

Chelsey Johnson, "Between Ship and Ice"

"Between Ship and Ice" takes thirteen-year old Synneva on a trip with her father who has left her and her mother to move back to his native Norway. They join a tour group to Svalbard so that Synneva can see the polar bears. We learn that Erlend wants to tell his daughter something about himself and why he

I like the story and there are some wonderful descriptions but the realization of our animal nature upon seeing the polar bear seems cliche to me as well as a couple of phrases, such as, "silky shivers rippled over her," "A thin scar streaked its cheek."

However, there is more greatness than those few instances. Some of my favorite sentences:

"Maybe the whole time in Minnesota he had been a tourist with a father visa."

"...caged rich organs,"

"Unlike her mother, when her father did talk, he was not compelled by the need for everything to be pleasant and uncomplicated."

"...her mittened hands like soft harmless paws."

I enjoyed the descriptions of Norwegian culture and landscape as well as the bits of Norwegian.

"Between Ship and Ice" is issue number 181 of One Story.

interview on the One Story web page

30 April, 2010

Dana Johnson's, "Melvin in the Sixth Grade"

Read Dana Johnson's short story, "Melvin in the Sixth Grade," which is included in her collection, Break Any Woman Down. It's written in 1st person POV. Avery, the only black child in her new suburban class, becomes infatuated with the new country boy, Melvin, aged 13, two years behind and from Oklahoma. When the other kids pick a fight with Melvin, Avery forsakes him in front of the bullies, and later when she hears her brother's dialect, for the first time she understands what her classmates hear and of what they accuse her. Dana Johnson evokes Raymond Carver for me. In a sparse and really clean way, with clear voice, she's able not only to portray the characters but she raises issues of race, privilege, friendship and sense of belonging.

I also attended her reading last night at UNT; she read an excerpt from her novel-in-progress. Avery is featured there as well, only now in college and the voice rings just as clear in that excerpt.

30 January, 2010

Eudora Welty, "Why I Live at the P.O.," and Barb Johnson, "Keeping Her Difficult Balance"

Read again, after many years, Eudora Welty's short story, "Why I Live at the P.O." Funny story about family members, their complicated psychological history, and the pokes at each other foibles. Stella-Rondo brings home her 2-year old child--divorced or never married--and Sister is convinced Stella sets the rest of the family against her. Afer Uncle Rondo throws firecrackers into her bedroom, Sister decides to go live at the post office at which she is the postmistress. Several times, Sister, 1st person POV, speaks directly to the reader, "Do you remember who it was really said that?"

Also, read the second story in Barb Johnson's book, More of This World or Maybe Another, titled, "Keeping Her Difficult Balance." We meet Delia again, she was the protagonist in the first story. Now it is two years later and she and Calvin are about to be married and she's realizing it is not what she wants.

23 January, 2010

Barb Johnson, "More of This World or Maybe Another"

Read Barb Johnson's short story, "More of This World or Maybe Another." It's included in her first publication of the same title. It's written in 3rd person POV and present tense which gives the story an immediacy and the reader feels she's right there with Delia. Delia, high school student, lives in a small, oil refinery, town. Her sexuality and intelligence simmer in every sentence. At least a dozen instances of sexual awakening are seamlessly integrated and never once feel over the top. Johnson does a marvelous job of inviting the reader into the mind of this young woman in the southern United States during the 1970s.

Also, attended LaRee Bryant's second talk about writing.

Made minor word changes in "Them and Me."