Thursday, October 29, 2009

On "Construction Zone," by Harvey Sutlive (2692 words) ****

What a wonderful anecdote on married life and kids and the desire to have them. Sutlive does well in this story what is very easy to do badly--he tells the story from two perspectives, the husband's and the wife's. Part of how he does this so smoothly is by using a third-person narrative, but it's easy to see where the perspectives shift. And watching those perspectives shift is fascinating. These are characters wrestling with life-changing events, but as in life those life-changing events are put into the everyday. They're as likely to worry about who's going to drive as about what a new child would mean for them. In fact, in some ways, they'd rather dwell on the former than think about the latter--it's too hard to think about. Read the story here at Off Course.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On "My Untimely Death, Number Five" by Adam Peterson (406 words) ***

Apparently part of a series, the number five death is fun piece of nonsense with philosophical underpinnings--think Borges. So, here goes, you have a choice about how to die. Which do you take? Choose carefully, and then wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . Read the story here at La Petite Zine.

Friday, October 23, 2009

On "Code" by David Crouse (7325 words) ****

Before And Then We Came to the End, there was "Code," David Crouse's short story with similar zaniness and a similar situation--layoffs at an office. It's one of the funniest stories I've ever read. But it's interesting to look back over the story after reading Ferris's novel. That novel builds itself in a corporate "we" speak. In Crouse's work, it's every man and woman for him- or herself, and if there were an operative pronoun it would seem more likely to be ominous and unidentifiable "they." A "list is going around." "They" are laying people off. But just what is the job that people are going to lose? What exactly do these people in the office do? Come to the end, there is no sentimental riff on the times "we" used to have. Crouse is darker, as is typical. All that is left for his characters is insanity. Read the story here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On "Snow" by Mark Leidner (2560 words) ***

There are moments in this story I am jealous of, little thoughts this author is able to stick in print that I wish I'd have thought of myself. Much of the piece centers on dreams and nightmares, on the mind, on thought itself. And what, with an opening about a house made of nothing, it would figure. Read the story here at Diagram.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On "Happy Ending Sundae" by Ravi Mangla (217 words) ****

Another Mangla special. I'm not sure this one qualifies in terms of being a true short story--is there a plot? Is there a conflict? A crisis? A rising action? A resolution? And then, again, metaphorically, I think this is. This story is about brain surgery, about making it through something for the first time, trying to do that right thing. And it's beautiful. Read it here at Dogzplot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On "A Friendly Game" by Stephen D. Rogers (2135 words) ***

There are a certain number of clichés about private detectives in fiction. One of them is that they work alone and, as such, are also notorious loners, men (or possibly women) who live on the margins of society, not really part of mainstream culture and not really part of the underworld. Rogers works with that cliché in this story, but what is different here is that this isn't a straight-up mystery. In fact, the only real mystery seems to be why he's chosen to write about this incident at all--until you get about two-thirds of the way in. It's just a regular day for our lonely detective, save that someone invites him to a ballgame. That's right--someone is actually friendly to him. Be suspicious. Be very suspicious. Read the story here at Thrilling Detective.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On "The Thespian" by Bruce J. Friedman (7124 words) ****

One of my favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald books is The Pat Hobby Stories, a collection of stories about a washed-up hack of a screenwriter. From what I've read by critics, these stories are not considered to be Fitzgerald at his best. And certainly the stories pale in comparison to his great works. But they're fun, and put together, they create a real feel for a particular character and time. Friedman's story "The Thespian" seems reminiscent of the Fitzgerald pieces--a story of a burnt-out screenwriter given a shot at a film that turns out to be much less than things he would like--and much less than his gloriful past. For whatever reason, I'm quite often drawn to stories of people on the way down. Perhaps that's because even when we're succeeding, there's always a feeling that what we're doing isn't grand enough. Maybe it's just the movies that do it to us, the way they make everything seem more important and beautiful than our real and largely insignificant lives. Read the story here at Pif.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

On "I Love to Dance at Weddings" by Alix Ohlin (3634 words) ***

Why do some people run through marriages like blenders and why do others hang on to marriages like, well, blenders, blender they let sit in the corner and gather dust? Not that the protagonists' marriage is like the latter in this piece, but I sense an aura of something not quite right but not quite unright either. These are two people who function, who get along, but who are also a bit annoyed at one another--or more specifically annoyed at a situations that are out of their control: the inability to find a job, the inability to keep mom from marrying (again) or to keep from participating in the ceremony. And then there are the lovebirds, and the woman who flits from husband to husband like a hummingbird exploring flowers. A study in contrasts. You can read it here at CrossConnect.

Monday, October 5, 2009

On "A Random Migration" by Brian Allen Carr (5210 words) ****

This story really engaged me, right from its first line, and that's a nice feeling to have with something that is so long, especially when one is reading a story on the Internet, where the proclivity is to let one's mind wander and to wander eventually away from the story. Why does this one stick so well? That first line, telling about a death, opens up a story of its own, makes us curious. And really, to oversimplify, the story just adds one line after another like that, telling us more about that death, about the one who died.

As with some things we learn about in life, things we may not be so connected with anymore, the narrator--and thus the reader--here learns about the death in only segments. The facts of the incident are contradictory, until we get up close with them.

Or is what makes this piece so intriguing in the details? There's a moment where the narrator is on the phone with his mom, and she starts to berate him for smoking. "I'm not smoking," he says. "I can hear you breathe," she says. That last line seems so much like something someone who really knows someone would say.

Or is it in the rather sad background story? The friends who have stopped being friends, the search for a past that is no longer there, for a future to which one belongs? I suppose it's probably all these things. Maybe you can glean some other ideas by reading the story, here, at Front Porch.

Friday, October 2, 2009

On "Stick" by S. Craig Renfroe Jr. (2964 words) ***

Of the five stories I've read at 3 a.m. this week (the magazine, not the time--I'm asleep at that time usually), this is certainly the most bizarre, and as such my favorite. Certainly, it's so far-fetched that I have a hard time buying much of what happens, but I give the story credit for taking chances, for doing something interesting. Emergency rooms seem great fodder for potential stories, and I can't help but wonder if Renfroe has visited a few or dated a nurse himself. Read the story here at 3 a.m. (If you're a bit paranoid about your feet, you might want to skip it for health reasons.)