Short Stories All the Time

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

07 November, 2015

Ambika Thompson, "This is What Happens When You Don't Really Know What's Happening"

This first-person POV story starts with the narrator's admission that she's dating a clown, but not a happy clown. Her father predicted as much. So sad. She's not forthcoming with information when she speaks with her mother who doesn't seem very motherly or tender. The narrator is somewhat lost and seems to react impulsively and continues to make decisions not in her own best interest. Her father dies, she dates different men, she loses a job, she goes back to a past boyfriend. At the end of the story, both she and her mother in the bedroom next door are crying loudly.

The author also handled the pharmacist's religions objections well. I like the contemporary political detail but it's handled deftly without taking the story off into other directions. We see the narrator's behavior but we don't really know what she's thinking about why she's behaving the way she is. The title explains the story, indeed, when a person doesn't understand what's really going on, this is the kind of stuff that happens. For a story that on the surface seems pretty straightforward, there is a lot to think about. Enjoyed it a lot and it stays on my mind.

Favorite Lines:

"My mother asks me what magazine, and what do I mean review, and what do I mean old people, and is the clown coming with me."

"Turned out that he was one of those miserable types of clowns though, the kind Smokey Robinson knew about."

The story is published in the current, summer 2015 issue of The Oddville Press. It's a free PDF download at this link.

Ambika Thompson's web page
The Oddville Press

02 October, 2014

Jean Thompson, "Who Do You Love"

This bit in "Who Do You Love" is genius. "He was sitting at the kitchen table, reading the TV Guide. Annoyed, she imagined, at the lack of morning newspapers. She would offer to go out for them. She would offer to subscribe." In so few words an astute characterization is created. Then the author follows that with the woman offering to cook a bevy of items even after the guy says he's not really hungry. Then to kick it up we find out that she doesn't really even know this guy. "So you're one of those no-breakfast guys." I was screaming at her at this point. This is a great story.

"It didn't matter what she looked like. He wasn't watching her." Golly, geez, lady. At this point, as a reader, I'm wondering what the heck happened to make thirty-two year old Judy this way. She works in a human services office directing programs for all sorts of social needs. While her friends feel she does rewarding work Judy has decided that "It only took the edge off misery so that misery could be endured."

Then there is a scene where she makes a half-hearted effort at suicide and speaks with her mother on the telephone. Her mother does not engage or really pay attention. She discounts her daughter. "Everybody has those days." She even vomits while on the phone and her mother doesn't notice. "'Dying never helps anything,' her mother went on. 'Cheer up.'"

The next day at work she realizes that "She did not feel compassion for the poor, or even that much guilt. She envied them because they were allowed to be unhappy." One evening she realizes that "she didn't love anyone at all." She cannot even love herself. She finally goes to a therapist and tells her that her main issue is "I cook too much food."

Steals a wallet in an expensive department store. She can't even get attention when she steals. "She was still invisible." She continues to manipulate her "boyfriend." "She thought about shooting him, buying a gun and shooting him, or setting the bed on fire, and knew she would settle instead for some small meanness."

"Who Do You Love" was first published in American Short Fiction and then included in Thompson's collection of the same title published in 1999.

Favorite Lines:
"The soggy wave of human suffering would not crest that day."

"They hated the office itself, the neat walls and airless corridors and stink of thrift about the place, meant to convince them how little there was to give."

"She attracted men who would have been uneasy with a more decorative woman."

"She usually agreed with them. There was no reason not to. Those things hardly mattered to her. She agreed with them so they would like her. She was always too anxious to be liked, she knew that. People could tell, and then they secretly despised you for it."

"The flesh was spread unevenly over the bones, like cold butter on bread."

28 September, 2014

Jean Thompson, "Fire Dreams"

First published in 1988 in the New Yorker, "Fire Dreams," is about the two sides of all of our lives. "Everybody lives two ways. The first is simple, the second less so." The first-person narrator has an affair with the fireman who lives in the neighborhood and his firehouse is next door to the narrator.
The theme, for me, is that lives are two sided, public/private; noisy/quiet; messy/organized. This fireman, Clark, even loves and hates fire. It's a great story with a seemingly simple story line. Even fire has two characteristics: "It seemed to take a long time, and it made a noise like a waterfall. Who would have thought fire could sound like water?" As well, the neighborhood, the protagonist, the fireman, and his son, decline from a perfect organized state to one of chaos, destruction and unhappiness.

Favorite Lines:
"Maybe not," I said. He was alarming me. I wondered what it meant when someone looked at you imagining how easily you could be hurt."

"Their eccentricities are too well displayed to be dangerous."

"His eyes are fixed on my face. They are moving him closer without his taking a step."

Publishers Weekly review
author's web page

25 September, 2014

Jean Thompson, "Heart of Gold"

Ginny, estranged from her husband, Jay, who has run off to escape the drug dealers who want to kill him, is living in a run-down house with a furnace about to poop out. Her car won't run. She isn't taking care of herself. A friend, a social worker, Annemarie, brings her groceries. Finally a guy shows  up to tow her car that needs an alternator or starter. Ginny wants and in the past expected a cowboy or someone to rescue her. She paid no attention to Jay's dealings and just enjoyed the money, until it all disappeared.

"Heart of Gold" was first published in the New England Review in 1991 and then included in Thompson's collection, Who Do You Love?