Wednesday, January 30, 2013

On "Waiting for the 12:15" by Paul Myette (3809 words) ***

Myette's story is essentially an argument--or to put it another way, the argument is the frame for a story. It's about a trip back from a party, about how disastrous each person's part in the party was, about how we misinterpret one another, play charades with one another, pretend to be something we're not for one another. And it's about love, longstanding, not-very-exciting, tradition, stick-to-it love--what we all, on some level wish for. Read the story here at Apt.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

On "The Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Andersen (1533 words) ******

Any tale that becomes so famous by its title that the whole idea is a cliche metaphor rendered merely by its mention has got to be powerful. Andersen's "Emperor" is a biting commentary on power, sycophantism, and pride. I love this old story, based, according to Andersen, on a thirteenth-century Spanish tale. Read the Andersen's version here.

On "The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories" by Hans Christian Andersen **

There can be too many tales. That's how I felt by the time that I was about halfway through this more than one-thousand-page collection. More Andersen that I ever imagined reading before I picked up this book.

There are reasons that Andersen is famous. At his best, his tales have a magical quality. Most of those tales have become movies, animated ones, courtesy of Disney: "The Little Mermaid," "The Ugly Duckling." A few, surprisingly have not. I would love to see the one about the girl whose brothers are turned into swans every night turned into a movie. Fascinating tale.

But those tales seem to fall mostly near the first third of the collection. As I read the collection, other themes became apparent, other obsessions. Andersen was a devout Christian, and many of the tales are strange treatises on the glory of the Protestant God. They wouldn't necessarily be too bad if they weren't so didactic. But I guess that is normal for a tale meant for kids. (Still other earlier tales seemed oddly [im]moral: the opening one, for example, in which a jealous man ends up killing himself; only the man he is jealous of isn't exactly a moral citizen himself--he's a liar, whose lies lead to the killing.)

In a few of these Christian tales, the story takes an almost medieval turn, with complex plotlines in which Christianity seems almost an add-on to what would otherwise be a very violent and horrifying tale. I'm thinking specifically of a convoluted tale in which swans rescue a miniature girl from a bog. The girl grows into a regular girl, except that during the day she is a girl with a mean disposition, and during the night she is a frog with a kind disposition. Enter a missionary. The girl looks to kill him, the frog to save him. Somewhere in here, love enters and a death and resurrection and the rescue of the girl's real mother and then a return to Egypt. Etc. Etc.

There are a lot of talking animals and a lot of talking objects. Frogs and teapots and streetlamps each impart lessons. It got a bit tiring after a very short while to read such pieces.

Still other tales are very clearly commentaries on Danish society or politicians. They were interesting from that perspective, and some of the lessons hold up well for political discourse today. I have read that in fact many of the tales were in fact commentaries on politics, and were I more of a Scandinavian scholar, I'd have likely enjoyed my reading more, being able to ferret out such connections.

As it was, I enjoyed the occasional story--and at 156 in the book, there were many to enjoy. But also many, many more to simply wad through.

What did I learn about Denmark? It's a land that should be prouder of its history and traditions, perhaps? Certainly, Andersen believes so.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

On "How Tommy Soto Breaks Your Heart" by Susan Hope Lanier (889 words) ***

Here's a tale that vaguely revolves around 9/11. I like it because it captures the way in which life goes on around it, in some ways. I remember that day as one that rather stunned me, though. I didn't do much. I saw a bit of it on TV at work. I was in the process of losing my job, and we were sent home early. I met a coworker who was coming in late on my way out. At home, I napped. I didn't have a TV at home, so I went online a little, went to Target a little (it wasn't on), went to a bar and watched it. And then I didn't want to watch any more. Really, even at work, I'd left the TV room for a while because I couldn't take it. Not live.

In Lanier's piece, 9/11 is a backdrop for teenage angst over love, love for the nonwhite, the one who doesn't fit in. It's about liking something that others don't like and about being self-conscious about it. It's about wavering between varying feelings. Or really, maybe it's about something else entirely--read it here at Annalemma, and tell me what you think.

Friday, January 18, 2013

On "Hostages" by Shannon Heffernan (3143 words) ***

Anything can happen in a story. That's part of what makes them so fun to read. In some of the best stories, everything happens and nothing--that is, they wander around, letting life get messy, but they don't have a heavy story arc--they're just there. I found "Hostages" to be like that. Certainly, the piece is centered around a neighbor who has taken someone hostage, a situation that has more or less trapped a couple of twins in their apartment (and a few others outside their apartments). But life, mostly, goes on--the twins pack for moving, anguish over love, sickness, and what it means to truthful. There's not a lot of hysteria here. Like many such a situation, it is, as one of the officer's notes, mostly a waiting game. Read the story here at Annalemma.

Monday, January 14, 2013

On "Of Wires" by J. A. Tyler (219 words) ****

This is a short doozy of a tale. Tyler takes the old fairy tale of Rapunzel and adds in a robot of sorts. But really, it's a story about a relationship got dormant and one man's (or robot's) attempt to restore it. Perhaps the fact that I've recently gone through--or still am going through--such an experience is why I found this story such an effective metaphor for the process of grieving a relationship that ends in silence. Read the story, along with two other shorts, here at Red Fez.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

On "Fortune" by Christine Sneed (4347 words) ***

Sneed's "Fortune" is an indictment of material desire, a theme that runs throughout many of her stories. It's also about not just fortune as riches but fortune as one's future. In it, a so-called Mr. Potter decides to take up fortune telling to make a little extra money in order to purchase things for his girlfriend. Things don't turn out quite as he expected. Read the story here at StorySouth.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

On "Enough" by Lee Martin (1002 words) ****

This tale is all in the voice. Martin has written some doozies over the years, so it's nice to see a sample of his work available online. In this piece, a couple of identity thieves decide to go straight. But deciding and doing are two different things, and it's hard sometimes to follow through. Read the story here at Freight.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On "Rose Garden" by Jacob Silverman (3366 words) ***

This is apparently Silverman's first published story--I'd love to see what comes next. The piece has an eery feel that becomes increasingly eerier as one continues reading. It's about how the Net can feed our obsessions and how those obsessions, some of them not necessarily healthy, can take over. Perhaps, most chilling of all is that like the murders in this story that Ivan follows, we are left with not enough information--or rather, with just enough information, enough to make us want to search for more. Read the story here at Storychord.