Short Stories All the Time

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

02 June, 2015

Joyce Carol Oates, "Mastiff"

A 41-year old woman is casually dating a 57-year old man. They go on a hike and a gigantic mastiff attacks her. The man saves her. He is injured and while in the ambulance he suffers a seizure. While on the hike, a shallow backstory is told about the woman and her meeting the man. She has no children and has never married; however, she is sociable and well-liked. Also while on the hike, she confronts herself and her wants and needs. The woman is forced into self-examination. A short, what seemed like an insignificant hike in the woods, event reveals a woman's emotional core. This is what short stories are so well-suited to do.

"Mastiff" was first published in the New Yorker and then included in the 2014 issue of Best American Short Stories.

11 August, 2013

Joyce Carol Oates, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Told in third person point of view, we watch Connie behave as a rebellious teenager who doesn't respect her mother--"wished her mother dead"-- or her boring older sister, June. Her mother admonishes her, "Why don't you keep your room clean like your sister?" At the beginning of the story, the reader is aggravated by Connie's rude and reckless attitude and after her parents and sister leave her alone at the house to go to the picnic, the reader becomes frightened for Connie and her vulnerabilities.

One of my favorite characterizations is how Connie looks different at home than she does when her father drops her and her friend, Betty, at the movie theater. She wears the same clothes but she takes on a completely different persona away from her parents and sister. "Everything about her had two sides to it, one for home and one for anywhere that was not home: her walk...her mouth...her laugh." She's reckless with burgeoning sexuality and lets boys take advantage of her as long as she feels in charge and this apparently works for her until two older guys show up at her house just after her parents and sister have left for a picnic.

Oates does a terrific job of portraying Arnold Friend through his dialogue. "I wanta introduce myself. I'm Arnold Friend and that's my real name and I'm gonna be your friend, honey, and inside the car's Ellie Oscar, he's kinda shy." Arnold's dialogue ranges from sweet talking to threatening. He exerts power with words and manipulation. "Soon as you touch the phone I don't need to keep my promise and can come inside. You don't want that." There is a great deal of suspense between Arnold and Ellie in the car and Connie at the screen door.

"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" was first published in 1966. It has been anthologized many times and included in at least a couple of Oates' collections, one of which is High Lonesome: New and Selected Stories: 1966-2006.

Wikipedia page, Joyce Carol Oates

21 August, 2012

Nathan Oates, "In the Ravine"

Fred has become obsessed with the "gang" growing marijuana in the state park. His son, Donny, has returned home from his not so successful life because the mother called and told him his father has a heart condition. Ironically, Donny is a pothead and the story weaves an older man's frustrations and fears with a  sense of denial yet responsibility. Fred seems to be trying to connect to and guide or scold his son as well as fight for his own masculinity. The gang is ruining the state park as the pot is ruining Donny. The title fits the plight of both as they are in the ravine, so to speak. The mother plays the role of facilitator for the two men. The only real thematic role she has is that she treats Donny like a kid again, "...spooning mashed potatoes onto my plate."

It is interesting and skillful the way the narrator moved into using the second person, "you," to turn Donny's circumstances into a universal observation.

"In the Ravine" is in the summer 2012 issue of The Antioch Review. The story is in first person POV and about 10 pages long.

Seton Hall faculty bio page for Nathan Oates
Nathan Oates blog
The Antioch Review web page

15 April, 2012

Joyce Carol Oates, "ID"

Lisette is called from her middle school class to identify a woman's body presumably her mother's. Lisette is recovering from facial surgery required after her father beat her and her eye socket had to be rebuilt. Despite the seeming truth that the body was indeed Yvette, Lisette in her shock and denial is unable to admit it is her mother in the morgue.

The story was first published in The New Yorker magazine. It's written in 3rd person POV and about 18 pages long and subsequently included in the Best American Short Stories 2011.

The story, at first, to me, doesn't really seem to have a theme. While there is a plot, told in backstory fashion, I've decided that the themes are family violence and neglect with debilitating long-term effects on children. Reading Oates' comments about the story, the biographical aspect from her own life was the identification she was supposed to make of her husband and her inability to view his body the second time. In this sense, Oates and the character, Lisette, have something in common, pain and attempted denial.

Wikipedia site
New Yorker site