Monday, October 31, 2011

On "Nowhere" by Walter Cummins (4349 words) ***

In "Nowhere," a woman bound to a man she has little interest in does the unthinkable. She leaves him, on a kind of dare, and takes up with a random guy on a train. The man, some old guy, proves a fascinating character, and the woman's own wonder becomes our own. The story is about wandering, about wanderers, about those who choose to do so because they can and those who have no choice and must do so. Locked up in the isolation that is our bodies, we scan for homes we can rest in, even if only temporal. Read about this particular voyage here at Serving House Journal.

Friday, October 28, 2011

On "Angie Gets a Job" by Linda Boroff (3175 words) ****

A friend of mine--six years old--thinks she has the world figured out. Anytime things don't go her way, she cries. Such a tactic works for a child, in part because the adults just don't want to deal with listening to bawling for hours on end. It's tempting to give in.

In a way, Boroff's story is about such a person who has grown up. Angie bawls her way through life, and it gets her what she wants. Sort of. Actually, it gets her a job, but it's not a good job; in fact, it's a rather unsavory one. How is one ever to get ahead in this life? Better start bawling again. Read the story here at Workplace Anthology.

On "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" by Raymond Carver *****

I haven't read this collection in years, but it still speaks to me. I think my favorite collection is still What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, but this one still stands out nicely. I remember loving the title story for one. On this read-through, it was still fairly powerful, the way that Carver adds up all the simple details until we get to that final moment in which there is a kind of recovery. But I wasn't as well moved by the opening of the story, which didn't seem to justify the particular conversation that creates all of the story's angst. In fact, many of the stories toward the end of the collection didn't speak to me as much.

But at the start of the collection, Carver is on fire, and it's several of these that are classics. In "Neighbors," a couple assigned to check next door while the neighbors are away begin to lead a kind of fantasy life in the other's home, suggesting some great lack in their own lives. In "They're Not Your Husband," a man works to make something of his wife (that is, make her look good to other men), in a way that is both creepy and somehow touching. In "What's in Alaska?" friends share weed and talk about imminent plans to move away from one another--like many of Carver's stories, nothing much seems to be happening, but we remain glued to the story somehow because he conveys a power in the most mundane of moments. In "Night School" a man living with his parents tries to pick up a couple of women but finds his child-like living arrangement to be too difficult to get past.

"Put Yourself in My Shoes" recounts another party, this one, one in which a couple confronts another about damage to a rental home. In "Jerry and Molly and Sam," Al decides to get rid of the family dog but finds it more difficult than he'd have ever expected, just like so many things in life. In "What Is It?" a couple desperate for cash settles on selling a car--and perhaps a wife in the process.

It's the sheer fact that there are so many great stories here that I have a hard time remembering all of them. Some, over the years have stuck with me, not as much because I once read them here but because I read them, separately, in some other anthology, when compared with other stories, they stood out like diamonds.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On "Killed at Resaca" by Ambrose Bierce (2380 words) ***

If a bit heavy handed, Bierce's story is nonetheless effective at putting a bullet to the idea of the glories of war, honor, and courage. He does it by placing within a soldier all the great virtues of a warrior, and then exposes how the man came about gathering those virtues, amid all that such virtues achieve for him. Don't expect any great speeches about what a valorous man he was. Read the story here.

On "The Butcher Boy" by Patrick McCabe *****

This is one of the first books I completed after I finished my undergraduate degree. It's been over fifteen years since then. I was blown away by the book in my twenties. On occasion, I've returned to these magnificent books of younger years and still found them excellent; on other occasions, I've found the work no longer seemed to speak to me as much. McCabe's novel falls into the first category.

Ostensibly the story of a psychotic killer told in a Joycean monologue, this work struck me as more tragic (and pitiful) on this read than humorous (a feeling that I remember having on the first read, in addition to the tragic feeling). McCabe presents us with a boy who can't grow up and whose horrid family life at home leads him to envy another family and to live out his jealousy by terrorizing them.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

On "The Woman We Imagine" Andrew R. Touhy (964 words) ***

I'm reminded of a Cortazar story with this one, in which a man who goes with his family to look at a painting each day over the course of the piece ends up looking at his own family in the painting--in other words, slowly merges with the painting at which he stares. Touhy's description has something of that magical realism feel. In this piece, a woman seems very much to look like a bird, and our narrators, we come to see, aren't far off. Imagination meets the real world here at the Collagist.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On "The Man with the Nose in His Living Room" by Zin Kenter (643 words) ****

Kenter's work has a strange, dreamlike quality. In one of her other stories, wings drawn on a page take to life and fly away, for example. In this story, three destitute people hear that a bakery they enjoyed as children has closed, and so they head off to steal the bakery's emblem, a giant nose. Kenter brings in much material that seems unrelated to the subject at hand, and at first I felt like, um, what's all this other stuff doing in here. But I think that by the end she pulls it off. Why? Because this story isn't just about the nose but about the old adage about how smell is our most powerful sense when it comes to eliciting memories. And indeed, the end of this story is a doozy, bringing us back a memory that showcases just how sad these people's lives are, sad in a way that is absurd at the same time. Read the story here at Frigg.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

On "Seasonable" by Forrest Roth (714 words) ***

We get old, but our brains don't. My mom once said she still felt twenty-two, except the body. Here an old man falls for a younger woman, a much younger woman. He sings anew. Really, he's just another teen boy, wrinkled. Are we men really so sad? Read the story here at Writers' Bloc.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On "No Mess Allowed" by Maria Kusnetsova (7750 words) ***

I knew where this story was going to go about 10 percent of the way in, but that seemed okay. What drew me to the story was the narrator. Kusnetsova does something that isn't easy here. She tells the story from the point of view of a middle schooler, but also from the point of view of someone much older looking back on that time in life. The second point of view, however, is mostly in the background, so we mostly feel as if we are in this twelve/thirteen-year-old's head.

The story is about friendships, the way that they fall away from us as we age. I'm reminded of something an acquaintance of mine once said, how friends were only made to last a few years. I've been blessed with a few that have lasted decades, but on the whole, that observation is correct. As we age, our interests change and our priorities as well. Beyond that, circumstances change. Friends from work, for example, aren't so much friends anymore once work isn't held in common, except in a few rare cases. We move on. And yet, we also grieve, and that's what this story is about. Read it here at Summerset Review.

Monday, October 10, 2011

On "Fleshy Things," by Stefanie Freele (310 words) ****

I don't know what it is about reptiles, but they often come up when we get into matters of longing of the sexual variety. Maybe it's the idea that reptiles are this throwback to a supposedly early evolved species, a creature whose bones go back to a time well before any of us mammals. And yet, here we are, full-fledged mammalian creatures, and the same impulse to reproduce is strong within us, so strong that it can pull us toward things that aren't good for us. Here, we're talking a snake handler and a gal, and one of them is going to handle the other. Read the story here at Fried Chicken and Coffee.

Friday, October 7, 2011

On "Chickamauga" by Ambrose Bierce (2530 words) ***

This short piece of Bierce's resounds mainly for its masterful description. It's a horrifying world that Bierce puts together. It's a story about a child playing in the woods who comes across a body of retreating, almost dead soldiers. The descriptions are what make this piece so utterly gruesome--and the child's incomprehension--but hang around for the ending, which brings helplessness to a whole new level. Read the story here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On "Baby" by Larry Fondation (239 words) ***

Let's watch a relationship sputter out of control. Or rather, let's watch it peter out. There's this couple. Bad things happen. They get in touch now and then. Maybe it'll work out. Wait and see. Or just read it, quickly, here at Dark Sky Magazine.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On "The Other Me" by Kim Bond (555 words) ****

Doppelgangers are a common feature of Edgar Allan Poe and Jorge Luis Borges, but not as much in the works of most other people. There's probably some good reasons for that, as in they probably often don't make for good stories (if you've read a lot of Poe's lesser work, you probably recognize this). Bond works off this old motif to write a piece about self-recognition, younger versus older, in traffic. It's simple, but it's rather effective, and it's a whole lot of fun. Read it here at Foliate Oak.