Short Stories All the Time

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

18 January, 2016

Elizabeth McCracken, "Birdsong from the Radio"

The story is divided into two sections. The first is an omniscient or almost omniscient viewpoint and then after the husband leaves and children are killed the last section is in the viewpoint of the mother, Leonora. The story takes the idea that children are so yummy a person wants to take a bite out of them coupled with the threat that if a child doesn't behave a monster will eat them up. It reminds me when a little boy said about our dog, "I just wish I could lick him." But Leonora is seriously disturbed and has a family history of asylums and suicide. The children, Rosa, Marco, and Dolly fear for their lives and eventually sleep together choosing different beds each night in an attempt to thwart their mother. Her bites began as playful nibbles and have escalated to a voraciousness. Finally, the children and father
leave. The father arranges for Leonora to receive disability. "She should have eaten them when she could." Later, she sees her baby children in loaves of bread at the bakery and has taken on even more animal characteristics, she sits in the bakery each day and devours a loaf of bread. The story is strange and wonderful and sounds--the sentences are rhythmical--like a fairy tale used to encourage children to behave or they'll been eaten alive. My favorite line is in a description about how Leonora has grown "bearlike." "Her kidneys, dozing moles; her lungs, folded bats. The organs that had authored her children: jellyfish, jellyfish, eel, eel, manatee." Poetic for ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. Wow, that is one wonderful sentence and metaphor!

"Birdsong from the Radio" was first published in Zoetrope: All-Story and then selected for the O'Henry Prize Stories, 2015.

27 March, 2012

Elizabeth McCracken, "Property"

This story weaves a young woman's death and the grief of her husband along with his new job of cataloging a collection of 1960s underground publications into a story about context. His wife's career as a museum consultant influenced her desire to have nothing of her exist after her death. "She did not want anyone to exhibit even the smallest bit of her."

What I really like about this story is that underneath are substantial ideas about life and death and mortality. And, although Pamela dies early in the story, it's not morbid or particularly sad. However, I found myself reiterating my own feelings of mortality and how I want or don't want to be remembered. What do things, items, junk, detritus mean to us and why?

Stony can see value in the old stuff he catalogs yet has difficulty seeing the value in the junk in the old house. We all have our prejudices and our own way of seeing things and we are all continually hypocritical. I used to think it was a human weakness but I'm starting to think being a hypocrite is just a human foible and since we are self-centered beings probably no way around it.

"Property" was first published in Granta and subsequently selected for Best American Short Stories, 2011.

Elizabeth McCracken's web site
Wikipedia page for McCracken