Short Stories All the Time

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

15 December, 2016

Robin McLean, "Take the Car, Take the Girl"

Gateau au Chocolat
Tweedy is at dinner in a nice restaurant with her husband, William, and Michael, new to town. They wait for Helen, "the Viking queen," to arrive. Tweedy has a bad case of the hiccups and has had them for at least ten years. She has to take pills for them and the doctor has listed all the things that can cause hiccups, everything. Tweedy and William's marriage is not going well. He's a blowhard and a jerk who has to have the last word and manipulates those around him. Tweedy's had an affair, William knew it and didn't care. Tweedy sits at the table daydreaming about the busboy and a man at another table who tells a funny story. William has some sort of a new car that is something like a Rolls Royce, etc. We never learn what kind but that it is long and creamy. The dialogue between William, Michael, and Helene betrays their personalities and moral characters. Tweedy is largely ignored, except for her hiccups. She's in continual count down mode for how far between her hiccups are. She's knows her husband has been unfaithful and "Tweedy would give William to Helene if she could think of a graceful way to do it." It's devilish fun the way that Tweedy seeks revenge against William via the busboy who she has named, in her own mind, Gustavo.

The themes, for me, include that settling or marrying a person for material gain is not going to be a good idea. "For a good life, a good girl will do anything." Sometimes a person needs help to stop being abused and/or neglected. And, also sometimes a person is so desperate that he or she feels that death is the only solution. "A cure for hiccups is a bullet and a gun, a snakebite, a gas can."

"Take the Car, Take the Girl" is subtle and an astute character study of a woman in an unhappy situation. However, it's all shown through mundane activities, a couple of thoughts, and a few statements, mostly out loud but that no one hears until, at last, Tweedy takes action. And, you will be surprised! The lady has chutzpah after all. A great read.

The story is told in a third-person, shifting, point of view. "Take the Car, Take the Girl" was included in Carve: Honest Fiction and then in McLean's collection, Reptile House which won the BOA Short Fiction Prize. The version in Carve has a couple of extra lines; otherwise, the versions are identical, outside of a paragraph indentation and one capitalization and one sentence made into two. I find it interesting to compare differently edited versions of short stories.

14 December, 2016

Robin McLean, "For Swimmers"

"For Swimmers" is divided into six sections which are headed by the main character's father's warnings for swimmers. Each rule or guideline is followed by, in italics, the main story in which the main character addresses her father and sometimes, I think, Jim. Then each section following the main story is backstory, not in italics.

Ruth, the POV character, is eighty-two years old, "She had lived 29,997 days so far." She goes on a swim that she'd done over a thousand times before, both as a child all the way through to her adult affair with a married man, Jim.

The story's theme, for me, is that there are consequences for not following the rules. Sometimes, those consequences are not immediate, but one still thinks about choices made and not made. A secondary theme might be that aging is a looking back. One of my favorite lines is, "Dying is just getting very cold."

I bought my copy of Reptile House at Wild Detectives in Oak Cliff and also discovered, today, that McLean was a "One to Watch" from Carve: Honest Fiction in their spring issue, 2015. The story they published is "Take the Car, Take the Girl," which is also included in her collection, Reptile House.

30 October, 2016

Robin McLean, "Cold Snap"

Lilibeth, recently divorced, survives a vicious winter in Alaska. She lives in an old house; she lost her truck, but she was awarded a set of binoculars in the divorce. Early in the story she's looking out at the huddle of fishing huts, of which she also lost one, and the mood is set that she's apart from everyone else.

She's imaginative in her survival techniques and reads self-help books while taking warm baths while the winter gets colder and colder. Everything freezes. Everything stops working though she's not afraid to crawl under the house with the rodents. The story makes me think of climate change and the extremes of weather that are becoming more frequent. Throughout the story, even though she occasionally encounters a person, Lilibeth is very much alone. The atmosphere is desolate.

"She must have forgotten some holiday because all the shops were closed on Main Street. She'd knocked on the glass, 'Hello! Hello!'"

"The friends tapped on windows too iced up to roll down and pointed at their phones."

"When her voice hit the ice, it bounced back down: 'Hello! Hello! Hello!' it said. Though the words were smaller, they were distinct and friendly."

My favorite aspect of the story is the spare use of language. I would be hard-pressed to find a wasted word. Also, the mood is established early and carries through the entire story. A sense of place is clearly drawn.

"Cold Snap" was first published in The Carolina Quarterly  and then included in McLean's collection, Reptile House. The collection of short stories was a finalist for the Flannery O'Connor Short Story Award in 2011 and 2012 and is the winner of the BOA Short Fiction Prize. I found this book at The Wild Detective bookstore in Oak Cliff, Dallas, TX.