Sunday, June 28, 2009

On "Sexy, Hot, Sad, Tragic, Accident" by Krishan Coupland (2404 words) ****

Look the words of this title up on the Internet and see what you find. You probably won't find this story, but such is the cruelty of Google's automated search and recover. Why not this story? Why some other site? Unless you're up on all of what goes in to search engine ratings, you probably will never know. Just like you'll never know "Em," the character at the center of this story--though if you had the film that this story discusses, you might get an understanding of what people think of Em, not the real Em but the Em projected on our screens. This story of loss, of trying to recapture what was, is quite the thing to save and hold on to for as long as you can. Read it here at Eclectica.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On "The Ways You Are Gone" by Kami Westhoff (3804 words) ***

Somewhere in the middle of this story we get the rundown of a life that could have been--all of it within a week. It's poetry. The life that could have been is fairly mundane, something out of an Updike novel, and yet--for someone who has gone through an incredibly emotional experience that will never actually end--it's also the stuff of dreams. How many of our dreams really are simply a simple life? Read that potential life here at Carve Magazine.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On "The Shorty" by Zachary T. Vickers (7990 words) ****

This is a long one, but it kept me reading. I liked the voice. Vickers, here, is able to channel the world of a short man who wants--well, basically--a normal life. Sure, there's the part about him wanting to high jump, but that's more a comment on something he can't even try to do. There is also the desire to own a house, the desire for a decent job, and most important the desire for respect. Does he get it? I don't know. But maybe that doesn't matter. Maybe what Vickers is hinting at here is that respect starts off in one's own mind. Read it here at TPQ Online.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

On "Warnings Accompanying Your Inflatable Universe" by Justin Kahn (580 words) ***

I have tried to keep the online references merely to short stories--that is, stories in a traditional form insofar as they have a beginning, middle, and end, a climax, a conflict. I don't know if this qualifies as a story using those sort of priciples--it reads more like some of the humor one might find on Yankee Pot Roast or McSweeney's--but the idea here is so compelling that I bring it to the blog anyway. Café Irreal often seems to be focused more on ideas anyway--the pieces Irreal published aim to make you think, and they often make me do just that. Read the piece here at Café Irreal.

Monday, June 15, 2009

On "The Queen of Swords" by Jen Michalski (4932 words) ***

Sometimes it's all in the ending, and in the symbols and metaphors. I like how this story works with broken things, looking at them from several different angles--broken dishes, broken relationships, broken businesses, broken lives. Still, where the story really caught me was in the last line. Read it here (and don't skip ahead) at StorySouth.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On "Christmas Tree" by Lydia Copeland (469 words) ****

Here's another nice flash piece by Copeland, the wordsmith. Here, we get a rundown on a niece's life, on an aunt she adores and on moments made weird by new members in the family (something that I myself have always felt a little odd about when meeting some girl's parents or hanging out with her family--me this relative stranger her might one day be a part of the family, though not from birth).

As for the aunt, I remember my own precious aunt. She didn't let us get away with things like smoking or drinking. In some ways, she was more strict than my quite strict mother. My mom cleaned the house twice a week; this aunt cleaned it every day. My mom let us play in the living room, as long as we put our toys away. This aunt didn't let us play anywhere but in the bedrooms. But what this aunt let us get away with that my mom would never have let us get away with was putting sugar on our cereal, and what's more, eating cereals like Fruit Loops, deemed unhealthy by my parents. We were limited to Shredded Wheat, oatmeal, Grape Nuts; if lucky, we might get honey on the cereal from time to time. Looking back on it, however, I'm glad my mom wasn't into letting us have so much sugar. Read the story here at Menda City Review.

On "The Mabinogion" translated by Sioned Davies ***

I wish I could say I remember more of this than I do. This old Welsh work is in many ways quite similar to Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, which I just finished. I can say I enjoyed this one much more, in part because the style of the writing of this time befits the short tales that make up this collection much better than a 700-page tome. Malory's text, in its middle, came off as episodic and began to feel quite repetitive. Here, split into separate little chunks, the episodes are separate pieces, and it works better.

But what The Mabinogion lacks that Morte D'Arthur has is an arc and a series of continual characters (yes, Arthur, Guenivere, and some of Arthur's knights show up in several tales, but not in every one). As a result, one doesn't recall as much when the tale is completed. A woman's son is stolen away (but is set up so that she looks as if she killed him), and she is forced to tell all visitors to the castle how she apparently killed her son. The son grows up. Someone discovers his true identity, and mom and son are reunited. A fine story, but one I recall probably because it was the very first. In the next to last story, a young man is told to marry a particular woman. He goes to Arthur's court to request the help of the king, his cousin. The knights then venture off to a new kingdom, meet with a man who requires of them some impossible tasks (lest they die) in order to win the lady, they do them, and the young man gets a wife (this piece reminded me how, in Christian lore, God does all these things for his people, who in turn reap the reward, even though they've done very little). In between are similar tales, full of quests and knights. But I'd be hard pressed to recount their plots.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On "How to Measure Your Breast Size" by Laura Madeline Wiseman (2813 words) ***

I don't know if this piece appeals to me so much because it tells me all sorts of things about shopping for bras that I didn't know and, at least until the manzere (ala Seinfeld) comes into style and I gain a noticeable amount of weight, probably will never know or if this appeals to me because Wiseman manages to imbue this how-to lesson with so much verve and vitality. I want to buy a bra! I want to buy a bra! Don't I deserve something wonderful to? Maybe the story is enough wonderful for me. Try some wonderful on for yourself, here, at Blackbird.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

On "Conversations You Have at Twenty" by Maud Newton (5665 words) ***

There's a moment in Newton's apparently autobiographical story (if the word "Memoir" is to be believed) where she notes that "it's one of those conversations you have at twenty." That sort of conversation is one where a man you barely know enters your room in the middle of the night and talks to you while you're half dressed until dawn. I have never had a woman do that to me, and perhaps that's where my own lack of success in that domain springs from. I do remember, one night, late, chatting with a woman eleven years my junior online--this was almost a decade ago--and she noted a similar experience to Newton's. In Newton's case, it led to her having a pretty unhealthy relationship (one of a string apparently); in the chatter's case, it was taken as being very rude and led nowhere.

The closest I've come to the kind of oddball situation like Newton's would have been when I was about eighteen. A girl, a friend of my sister's, who came to live with us with her mom after her mom's divorce, ran into my bedroom early in the morning and laid herself atop me (we were both fully clothed). Was I turned on? You betcha--and really uncomfortable. My mom walked in on us but didn't say anything, which seemed odd as well. Was it a dream? Am I imagining this? Maybe so, though I doubt it. I mean, she was wearing red sweatpants. It can't be a dream.

Newton's story doesn't come across as a dream either, unless it's a bad one. She's coming from a place very different from my own very conservative life, and for that I appreciate the honesty and freshness. Read the story
here at Narrative Magazine. (Log-in required--but it's free!)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On "Groove" by Claudia Smith (347 words) ****

Flash fiction, when as quick as this, demands keen attention to the detail of a moment. Smith does something wonderful with this short piece, building up to that moment with a list of details from early in a relationship, leading finally to a moment later on when the relationship becomes sort of commonplace--but also completely new--and wonderful. Read the story here at Quick Fiction.

On "Le Morte Darthur" by Thomas Malory, edited by R. M. Lumiansky ***

There is a lot of defending women's honor in this book. There are also a large number of unvirtuous, even devious ladies. Men fall trapped to women's wiles--here sex appeal is turned to literal necromancy (Merlin, in love with a woman, gets pushed under a magical rock, a trap from which he cannot escape, so that said woman can pursue another man). Men fight to defend women's reputations, even when the reputation has no base in fact (curiously, many of those same men remain supposedly virgins for the one they love, given that the woman is inevitably already married). Near the end, Lancelot finally makes his love for the queen physical, and then, when accused of wrongdoing, fights tens of knights to prove that she (and he) are innocent. Might makes right, for God is always on the mighty's side, the author seems to suggest. And we wonder why there are bar fights today?

On the whole, this 750-page tome was at its most interesting at the beginning and end, for its first 100 pages and last 100. In the early chapters comes the setup, all the prophecies about what is to unfold in the faraway future, as well as a history of King Arthur's ascent to the throne. In the later chapters comes the fulfillment of those prophecies and the story's tragic end. In between are accounts of numerous battles and quests and tournaments with little or no real climactic buildup. This is a romance in the medieval sense, so the text is episodic, and while some episodes occasionally make for compelling short stories, the whole does not amount to much. I found myself terribly bored during most of the accounts of the battles. But the overall trajectory of the story is mythic, and it's easy to understand why Arthur's legend has inspired so many derivative works.