Short Stories All the Time

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

03 August, 2017

Héctor Tobar, "Secret Stream"

Nathan is a cyclist and happens upon a woman, Sofia, climbing over a chain link fence that separates a private golf course from the city street. Sofia reveals that she is following a stream, a tributary, and mapping it. Nathan joins her for several days and then they part ways forever.

Sofia has given Nathan a new way of looking at his environment and she has also shown him how to slow down, gaze, relax. Nathan had also gone on cycling treks where he and his fellow riders found interesting sites and monuments, but now he's gaze has been refreshed.

"Secret Stream" was first published in Zyzzyva and then selected to be in the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories.

Tobar's website:

Favorite Lines:
"The city tried to tame the water, but it still followed some prehistoric course through the subdivided and built-up land."

"When he looked down at his watch again, he realized he had been standing there, looking at the ocean, for an hour."

04 January, 2017

Eric Severn, "Enclosed"

"Enclosed" is written in a letter format, more precisely a short story submission cover letter. The story combines and twists together the cover letter, the short story itself, the basic components of a cover letter, and, here's the fun part, all the things a writer is told not to include in a cover letter. The narrator not only retells the story, but also tells the impetus for the story. The narrator shares what his mother thinks of his writing, and he makes excuses for the shortcomings of his story. I suppose it could be called epistolary memoir meta-fiction. It's quite a good read, humorous and poignant. "Enclosed" by Eric Severn is in the winter 2016 edition, No. 108, of Zyzzyva. 

27 November, 2016

Caille Millner, "The Politics of the Quotidian"

The protagonist is thirty-two years old and a post-doctorate teaching philosophy. The story takes place as she's getting dressed and going to meet "the" committee for her exit interview. A student rudely confronted and claimed that she didn't know what she was talking about and never had. We see her lose some of her confidence. "She needed to review his work and to reassure herself that he was dumber than she was." She maintains control of the classroom, however.

Actually, she's leaving because, "The truth of why she was leaving was that she could no longer hear what was being said in the rooms they all shared." She'd rather hear the wind and the rain and the birds. "Now she's just relieved that her side of the table will be next to the committee room's windows."

She's always been the smartest person in class and has had to prove herself over and over. "...and sure enough, after the first semester's results came in, all of the offensive behavior and snide comments fell away. The other students asked her for help with their papers, their notes, their test answers."

The protagonist is never given a name but everyone else in the story is identified and each and every one of them, even a so-called friend and colleague, insults her. She was teaching Roland Barthes when the student stormed out of class. Her friend says, "'He got angry with you over Barthes? I mean, even a kindergartner can understand Barthes'--he was laughing, and it took her a long moment to locate the name of the emotion that she was feeling. Anger. That was it. M. was making her angry."
M. had started with insults, such sly insults, that to mull over them, to untangle them, takes a moment and after a few minutes they built up into a mega-insult, but any single point is difficult to call someone out on, nor is there time. Some people are ever so clever with their micro-violent acts.

The ID photographer took a bad picture because he only had filters "designed for lighter skin." Then, he proceeds to defend himself by claiming, "I mean, they said philosophy department." As though a person with more melanin in their skin couldn't possibly teach philosophy. What an ass. The author, Caille Millner, does a great job of portraying micro-aggressions.

M., even though they'd received the same fellowship and had taken classes together, he simply cannot remember what she studied. And, when he finally remembers, he insults says her field was such a simple thing. The secretary in the office has to see her ID and then, at least twice, says "you're supposedly the teacher," and "which is what you say you are," and "Me too, honey." When the protagonist becomes perturbed, the secretary says, "You don't belong in here right now." The protagonist knows, "Unfortunately, Mikael Sbocniak and Ernst Lichtenberg and Tomas Ulrickson won't understand why those words are true. So she must tell them something else."

This is one of my favorite parts and sums up the feelings of a person who has just had enough. "Years ago, when she was just starting graduate school, she'd have loved to critique the power dynamics of a meeting like this one. She'd be spouting Hegel and Foucault. Now she no longer wants to say anything at all."

"The Politics of the Quotidian" was first published in Zyzzyva and then included in the Best American Short Stories, 2016. The story is told in third-person point of view and present tense. It's about fifteen pages long.

29 August, 2015

Molly Giles, "Cruise Control"

One of the things I love about short stories is how an entire life can be revealed during breakfast in a rundown cafe between a mother and a daughter about to go off to college. Barbara and Kim, the daughter, have breakfast while waiting for a car rental place to open. While they eat, their relationship is revealed as well as the history of Barbara's two marriages. We also see the types of marriages she's had. We see a mother who is a bit dismayed with her daughter and her daughter's choices in friends and boyfriends. The mother is revealed as being materialistic and more worried and concerned about appearances than her daughter's feelings. Although, we can tell that she loves her daughter and worries, like all mothers do, about her safety.

This line reveals an abundance about the mother. "She smells her own perfume--Kim must have used it again this morning--and thinks with apprehension of Kim's thick pink lipstick mouthing so close to the heart of her blouse." Then she reveals her shallow personality when she's concerned and "I hope not" that a man across the aisle might think that they are lesbians rather than a mother comforting her daughter.

This is such a great story. Every single sentence appears on the surface to be a simple story about a mother and her daughter having breakfast. However, each line reveals a wealth of information and with each reading more can be mined from it. Also, with great skill, an entire adult life of Barbara is exposed, from the time Kim as a toddler was lost in the street and the drunken first husband to the second husband who purchased, for her wedding present, "the solid grey station wagon."

Molly Giles is one of my favorite authors. I was lucky to have the opportunity to hear her speak in 2008 at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers workshops. "Cruise Control" was first published in Zyzzyva in 1986 and then included in her collection, Creek Walk and Other Stories.

Molly Giles's web page
an interview with Indie Bound

16 February, 2014

Karl Taro Greenfeld, "Horned Men"

Told in a very close third person is the story of Bob, a former mortgage broker, whose life has abruptly changed and his daughter, Becca, 13, has had to change schools and has no friends. The story begins with a creepy factor and made me apprehensive to continue reading yet at the same time I wanted to find out Bob's issues.

When the housing market crashed, Bob evicted the family in his rental property. They prayed for Bob, Becca and Minnie conspicuously in the front yard. Bob runs coaxial cables to save the money he'd had paid someone else to do the job in the past. He inadvertently spies on his daughter from a small hole in the attic. He worries about how and why his relationship with his daughter has all but disappeared. He was caught up in making lots of money writing mortgages and they drifted apart.

Bob is bitten by a spider and his elbow swells; he cannot bend his arm. He and his wife do get jobs but do not make the same amounts of money as before.  And "…the muscles around his elbow would never again allow his arm to reach full extension…" just as Bob realizes he will never be the "flush consumer" again.

Bible stories and religion are woven into the story. Mail rerouted to Jericho; Bob bites the pomegranate in their garden (yard); the renters pray for Bob. Little talismans, horned men, are left in the attic and the closet. Bob begins the story "in the dark" and ends by telling himself that he doesn't believe in curses. He continues to watch his daughter and we hope that he will attempt to reconnect with her.

"Horned Men" was first published in the journal Zyzzyva and then  included in the 2013 issue of The Best American Short Stories. 

"…holy consumer trinity of telephone, Internet, and television…"