Short Stories All the Time

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

30 July, 2015

Daniel Mason, "The Second Doctor Service"

In 1882, Dr. Richard Service experiences some sort of mental lapse, "...a feeling, unlike any other I had experienced, of complete nothingness, as if an ellipsis had occurred...," with increasing frequency. The story is written as a letter to a medical journal titled Journal.

The first "attack" was on his ride home from caring for a patient, the second episode is pretty funny in that a blow-hard surgeon is trying to shock the women at a party and talks about swollen scrotum, hydroceles, and Dr. Service evidently puts him in his place which he only learns of by people's reactions and his wife's comments after the lapse has ended.

The narrator, Dr. Service, then tells in the letter of the library research he has been conducting in an effort to find out what his affliction is. These are great descriptions for what it must be like to blank out for periods of time. "At dinner, I lifted ham to my mouth but tasted pudding. I tossed my grandson in the air and caught my granddaughter. I began Genesis 25 and finished Exodus 12. I unsheathed the knife I used for my caesareans and found myself with a bonneted baby in my arms."

illustration by Matthew Richardson
This second Dr. Service, "a subtle improvement on the first," is a little more handsome and a little more sophisticated, as captured in a photograph, and it seems that Constance, his wife, likes this second doctor a little more as well. The first Dr. Service becomes jealous. He devises a plan to coax information from the second Dr. Service by writing letters to him asking questions. He finally
finds a novel instead, unfinished, that mirrors the doctor's own story and life.  The poor doctor at this point is desperate and he yanks all of his books off of his shelves searching for the rest of the novel written supposedly written by his doppelgänger. He first tries to kill his double and then warns "him of the fate of the parasite that kills off its host."

"The Second Doctor Service" is a masterful blending of mystery, science, medical history, mythology and religion. It was published in Harper's Magazine, June 2014. Daniel Mason, the author, uses some arcane language and phrasing but it works well with the 1882 time frame and the educated narrator.

Reading this story makes me want to watch the movie The Piano Tuner based on the novel of the same name by Daniel Mason. (I don't bother reading novels. There are many short stories to read.)

interview at Identity Theory

30 May, 2012

Bobbie Ann Mason, "Shiloh"

This famous short story tells of the falling apart of Leroy's marriage to Norma Jean. They were married young, had a child who died of sudden infant death syndrome. They remained married through that and Leroy drove trucks on long hauls. He hurts his leg and has to stop driving just at the time Norma Jean has begun a self-improvement regime. We watch Leroy play with toys and his wife work to improve her health and mind. Theirs is a delayed reaction to the loss of their child and a growing apart that often happens to married people. This scenario is wrapped in Norma Jean's mother's fond memories of Shiloh, the Civil War battlefield.

The story is in present tense and the POV of Leroy. So often in stories about child loss, it is told from the POV of the woman. 

Each time I read the story I pick up on different connections and metaphors. It's a great story and well deserves to be included in Tom Jenks and Raymond Carver's anthology, American Short Story Masterpieces. "Shiloh" was first published in the New Yorker in 1982.

Bobbie Ann Mason's web site
Biography of Mason