Short Stories All the Time

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

24 March, 2014

Steven Millhauser, "A Voice in the Night"

A sixty-eight year old man remembers his youth, religion, his father's opinions, and a life's calling. Millhauser has divided the story into four nights with three viewpoints each, from Biblical times, Samuel, the author as a seven-year old, and then as sixty-eight year old.

I. scene of Samuel awakened hearing his name being called, he rushes in to tend to Eli, the prophet
II. 1950, Connecticut, seven-year old listens for his name to be called
III. sixty-eight year old author suffers from insomnia, he's thinking about his eight-year old self

I. Samuel thinks Eli has called his name again, he thinks about his task tending to Eli and his parents
II. the boy hopes he hears his name being called by the Lord, he likes to be chosen
III. old man cannot sleep again and he ponders his childhood, his grandmothers, and "What is a Jew?"

I. Samuel rushes in to check on Eli once again and this time realizes that Eli did not call for him
II. for the third night the boy in Connecticut still had not heard his name called
III. again the old man cannot sleep and hashes out his memories, "The neighborhood goes to church, the family stays home and reads."

I. Samuel has heard his name called for a fourth time
II. It's the fourth night, and by now the boy in Stratford knows he'll never hear his name."
III. still suffering from insomnia and remembering his youth and that he's happy he never heard his name called and that he had the fever of writing instead

17 November, 2013

Stephanie Coyne DeGhett, "Icons of the Everyday: Postcard Sleight of Hand and the Short Story"

Postcards, one-sided narratives or "open-faced narratives," have been used in short fiction pieces by many writers and in this essay, Stephanie Coyne DeGhett discusses six authors and stories: Hempel's "The New Lodger," Kaplan's "Love, Your Only Mother," Paley's "A Woman, Young and Old," Munro's "Postcard," Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain," and Millhauser's "The Sepia Postcard."

My favorite point that DeGhett makes is that,

"Of its readers, it (a postcard) demands an ability to write the story you are reading yourself, to fill in the gaps between the frame story and the small disclosures of the postcard, to see the disjunctions of meaning and layers of intention."

To me that is what a short story does and so a postcard is a short story of a short story, so to speak. This is an interesting article and one to hang on to for re-reading. There are many thoughts about short fiction that I want to revisit.

"…the postcard serves economy in the fiction that appropriates it by virtue of the associations it carries with it--travel, separation, impermanence--and its potential to subvert those associations…"

"Cryptic but not uncommunicative, the story shares a good deal in common with the nature of the picture postcard."

DeGhett's essay is in the December 2013 issue of The Writer's Chronicle.

23 February, 2013

Steven Millhauser, "Miracle Polish"

This first-person short story tells of a middle-aged man who purchases a bottle of Miracle Polish which he uses on his dressing mirror. His reflection is not only cleared but his outlook is renewed and freshened.

"Now in the mornings I rose with a kind of zest and went directly to the hall mirror, where even my tumbled hair gave me a look of casual confidence, and the shadowy folds under my eyes spoke of someone in the habit of facing and overcoming obstacles."

He buys many mirrors and upon using the Miracle Polish on all of them, his atmosphere is happier, cheerier and overall better. Monica, his forty-year old girlfriend experiences the same "miracle." However, her reaction is not the same as his. She becomes jealous and uneasy with her renewed other self which is actually her old self who still had hope and promise. "Once she said, 'You know, sometimes I think you like me better there'--she pointed to a mirror--'than here'--she pointed to herself."

The theme, for me, of the story is about that moment when we realize--usually based on aging--that we are at our peak, our best. Sometimes we acquiesce and make a certain amount of peace with our not reaching all of our dreams. Monica does not like being reminded that she's let go of hope and is jealous of her other self that appears still capable of something better and of keeping the hope. I'm reminded of the Pygmalion myth where a man falls in love with a statue which then comes to life. When the narrator of "Miracle Polish" smashes the mirrors he is acknowledging that Monica was right in that he liked the mirror Monica better. He had to smash or "kill" her because she was real.

"Miracle Polish" was first published in The New Yorker and subsequently selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories, 2012. It is about 14 pages long. I like this story a lot. And, most of all I think this is a story that can be interpreted in many different ways and not completely consumed in one reading.

Steven Millhauser, Wikipedia
several articles about Millhauser published in the New York Times

08 May, 2010

Richard Bausch and Steven Millhauser

Richard Bausch's essay in the Atlantic takes a shot at writing "how-to" books. He's got a point but is pretty much preaching to the choir, so to speak. However, I did find his personal experience--being offered lots of money to write one--interesting. I love his short stories and so any advice he gives, I'm going to digest. The photo at right is Bausch.

Listened to Alec Baldwin read Steven Millhauser's short story, "The Dome."A hysterical story about consumerism and environmental control. A dome is built over the entire nation. This story was included in the 2008 Pushcart Prize XXXII: Best of the Small Presses anthology and before that was published in The American Scholar.

22 December, 2009

Steven Millhauser, "Eisenheim the Illusionist"

Made a few minor changes to "Them and Me" and mailed to contest for unpublished writers.

Watched the movie, The Illusionist, loosely based, I've read, on Steven Millhauser's short story "Eisenheim the Illusionist."