Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On "Dear England, Please Send Me a Redheaded Boy" by Kate Hill Cantrill (972 words) ***

Some shorter stories are like long poems--or perhaps a better, more interesting analogy would be a stretching exercise, only here the stretching that's taking place is in words and phrases and sentences rather than in the muscles. I'd love to hear someone read this aloud. Act it. Fill my ears with it. For now, I'll have to live with reading it to myself, here, at Blackbird.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

On "Tough Day for the Army" by John Warner (2378 words) ***

Want to rethink a word or a concept? Try putting the item into an unfamiliar context. Say, wind, inside a book, a series of letters. Or say, as Richard Brautigan does, Trout Fishing in America in any number of guises--drinking water, walks. Here's a piece that does a similar kind of thing, placing an army in a waiting room. How do the two concepts work off of one another? What does putting an army in a literal waiting room suggest about waiting armies, about armies amassed on a border waiting orders? These are the thoughts to come to mind as I read this. You can try reading it too, here, at Tarpaulin Sky.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On "There Will Be Sense" by Amelia Gray (3406 words) ****

What is your responsibility? If this were a movie, that's the line that might end up getting repeated over and over again the way Cool Hand Luke's "What we have here is a failure to communicate" does. Sure, What is your responsibility? doesn't have quite the same ring, but it becomes a kind of mantra in this story that takes on extra shades of meaning as the story progresses. Or try this: create a list of food you eat every day. Does it prove that your life is, like, boring? (If not, congratulations Mr./Ms. Cook.) This story is full of great techniques that convey things better than words by themselves could. Read it here at Diagram.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

On "Rex" by Bonnie Nadzam (5162 words) ***

I'm not sure what's going on in this story. I'm sure I could parse it out if I read it three or four times. There's something about a daughter being raped--and possibly killed--something about a trip to Batan, something about a ten-year-old prostitute, about welding, about men, about voyeurism, about bars and drinking and spilled coffee, about a magazine and airplanes and a phone conversation with a wife in a troubled marriage. And there's something--a lot of things, in fact--about Jessie. It's one of those stream of consciousness experiments. And it's one of those great vomitings of words across a page that somehow add up to more than the sum of their parts, to excess, to word brilliance. I'll never see welding as quite the same again. Read the story here at Mississippi Review.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On "Indelible Ink" by Elizabeth Corcoran (6555 words) ***

Slap Elvis in a story or a movie, and there's an automatic kitsch factor, but also--at least for me--an odd hypothetical appeal. I say "hypothetical" because I am not actually an Elvis fan, and although I've played with the idea of going to see an Elvis impersonator a few times, I've never actually gotten around to doing it. Such a visit seems more interesting hypothetically than I fear it would be in real life, just as going to see a beauty pageant does or attending a Star Trek convention. I fear, after the first few minutes, my curiosity satiated, I'd find myself bored and wanting to leave. (I could be wrong--a trip to a wrestling match a few years ago proved to be a highlight of the year.)

Perhaps, one of the graceful marks of Corcoran's story is that she has actually induced me to want to see Elvis's homeplace. I had the opportunity, certainly, having lived in Oxford, Mississippi, and having taken several trips into Memphis for various "big city" needs. (Memphis was not a city I enjoyed, which in turn probably colored any remote desire I may have even had to see Elvis's home. I listened with pleasure to people who talked of their visits to Graceland II, in Holly Springs--trips they enjoyed even more than trips to the original Graceland--but such stories never compelled me to actually want to go inside, this despite actually being directly outside the place one evening with time to spare, for what reason I don't remember.)

But also at work here, in Corcoran's piece is something about friendship and home and the choices we make that may have indelible consequences. And those themes, of course, are more important than any kitsch that forges the surface portion of a story. Read the piece here, at Carve Magazine.

Monday, April 13, 2009

On "Disposal" by Kieran J. Shea (3575 words) ****

You can't run from nuclear annihilation--just one of the things I learned from Shea's "Disposal," a story that at its start has all the juice one could wish from a narrative voice. It's pulp fiction done well--the tough-guy lilt, with low-class literary language to spare. I found myself reading just to hear the words. But there's a plot here to, something that fits within the whole pulp mileau, not something particularly original but enough to keep one interested when the language is right. And then . . . the story takes a turn that is rather unsettling. Read the story here at Demolition.

Friday, April 10, 2009

On "Gator Bait" by Georgia Garrett (4953 words) ***

Some stories hit you with a voice straight out, a strong one, that no matter what happens is going to make you read on and on. You just want to listen. You don't care too much what happens, and sometimes not much does. I think of Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground and of Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, both very good books. I also think of Katherine Dunn's Truck, a book that is not so good but that had such a powerful first ten pages I read the whole thing with a sense of growing disappointment. Garrett's story won't disappoint, but it's a bit different than perhaps I envisioned from those opening paragraphs. It becomes the kind of story one doesn't see much anymore, a story with a sense of character and morals, about a hero who really is heroic, not for shooting up bad guys or something you'd see in some vacuous adventure film but for simply living a strong life--and for imparting it to his son. That the son feels he hasn't lived up to those ideals may be one reason I so rarely see stories of such idealism anymore--in an age of cynicism, it's hard to be anything but cyncical. Read the story here at Blackbird.

Monday, April 6, 2009

On "All the Way Rider" by Mattox Roesch (5168 words) ***

I'm a sucker for stories about my hometown, I guess, when they're well written. Only, this one isn't so much about my hometown as about leaving my hometown for another, elegantly drawn place that I can say with some certainty I would never want to live in. I've been to Alaska. It's beautiful in places, but it's also dreadfully stark in certain ways as well. If you like being around no one, it might be the place for you. To me, though, there's no joy in roads that go nowhere. That's perhaps my favorite detail in this story. It seems like a metaphor for so much of what else is happening to the characters in this piece. Call it stark? A bit depressing? You betcha. Read the story here at Narrative. (Login required, but it's free!).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

On "Bent and Blue" by C. J. Spataro (5798 words) ****

Here's a sad one for you, a sad love story, a sad story about growing up and about potential being squandered, about lost dreams, and then lost everything. This isn't a story told, for the most part, within the confines of what have become fiction techniques, and that is part of this story's power. There are only snatches of dialogue, only snatches of scenes. Most of it sounds like a long tale told--told, that is, by a young woman sitting right beside you. Here's my life and the life of my friend and a tale about our town that you'll find intriguing. You can't listen to her speak, since this is text, but you can read what she has to say--here, at CrossConnect.