June 2017 favorites

June 2017

The June stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘My Purple Scented Novel’ by Ian McEwan
  2. ‘Roman Fever’ by Edith Wharton
  3. ‘The Lotus’ by Jean Rhys
  4. ‘Playing With Dynamite’ by John Updike
  5. ‘A Family Man’ by V.S. Pritchett
  6. ‘The Brown Chest’ by John Updike
  7. ‘A Piece Of String’ by Guy de Maupassant
  8. ‘The Lovely Troubled Daughters Of Our Old Crowd’ by John Updike
  9. ‘Some Terpsichore’ by Elizabeth McCracken
  10. ‘Gesturing’ by John Updike
  11. ‘Manikin’ by Leonard Michaels
  12. ‘The Man Who Loved Extinct Mammals’ by John Updike
  13. ‘The Duchess And The Jeweller’ by Virginia Woolf
  14. ‘Change Of Treatment’ by W.W. Jacobs
  15. ‘Good Intentions’ by Etgar Keret
  16. ‘Graven Image’ by John O’Hara
  17. ‘To Those Of You Who Missed Your Connecting Flights Out Of O’Hare’ by Amy Hempel

As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.

Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.

April 2017 favorites


April 2017

The April stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ by Hans Christian Andersen
  2. ‘The Garden Party’ by Katherine Mansfield
  3. ‘The Dinner Party’ by Joshua Ferris
  4. ‘The Party’ by Anton Chekhov
  5. ‘The Red Bow’ by George Saunders
  6. ‘Ranch Girl’ by Maile Meloy
  7. ‘Stitches’ by Antonya Nelson
  8. ‘Communist’ by Richard Ford
  9. ‘Malta Sheffer’ by Nelson Eubanks
  10. ‘A Short Walk From The Station’ by John O’Hara
  11. ‘Disguised’ by Isaac Bashevis Singer
  12. ‘Incarnations Of Burned Children’ by David Foster Wallace

As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.

Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.

November 2015 favorites


November 2015

The November stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘A Conversation With My Father’ by Grace Paley
  2. ‘The Warm Fuzzies’ by Chris Adrian
  3. ‘Kid MacArthur’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  4. ‘Kneel To The Rising Sun’ by Erskine Caldwell
  5. ‘Over The River And Through The Wood’ by John O’Hara
  6. ‘We’re On TV In The Universe’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  7. ‘Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  8. ‘I Bought A Little City’ by Donald Barthelme
  9. ‘Sweet Talk’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  10. ‘Yao’s Chick’ by Max Apple
  11. ‘The Battle Of Fallen Timbers’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  12. ‘Collectors’ by Daniel Alarcon
  13. ‘The Great Mountains’ by John Steinbeck
  14. ‘Last Day In The Field’ by Caroline Gordon
  15. ‘Ann Mary; Her Two Thanksgivings’ by Mary Wilkins Freeman
  16. ‘Business Talk’ by Max Apple
  17. ‘Theft’ by Katherine Anne Porter
  18. ‘Zelig’ by Benjamin Rosenblatt
  19. ‘Brothers And Sisters Around The World’ by Andrea Lee
  20. ‘The Kitchen Baby’ by Angela Carter
  21. ‘The Best Girlfriend You Never Had’ by Pam Houston
  22. ‘Cinnamon’ by Neil Gaiman

February 2015 favorites


February 2015

The February stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Death In The Woods’ by Sherwood Anderson
  2. ‘Cheap In August’ by Graham Greene
  3. ‘Debarking’ by Lorrie Moore
  4. ‘The Juniper Tree’ by Lorrie Moore
  5. ‘Flight’ by John O’Hara
  6. ‘To Build A Fire’ by Jack London
  7. ‘Harvey’s Dream’ by Stephen King
  8. ‘The Keyhole Eye’ by John Stewart Carter
  9. ‘The First Flower’ by Augusta Wallace Lyons
  10. ‘Subject To Search’ by Lorrie Moore
  11. ‘Thank You For Having Me’ by Lorrie Moore
  12. ‘Foes’ by Lorrie Moore
  13. ‘Spring In Fialta’ by Vladimir Nabokov
  14. ‘Talk To The Music’ by Arna Bontemps
  15. ‘The Contest For Aaron Gold’ by Philip Roth
  16. ‘The Old Army Game’ by George Garrett
  17. ‘Alma’ by Junot Diaz
  18. ‘Children Are Bored On Sunday’ by Jean Stafford
  19. ‘A Long Day’s Dying’ by William Eastlake
  20. ‘To The Wilderness I Wander’ by Frank Butler
  21. ‘Mammon And The Archer’ by O. Henry

‘Flight’ by John O’Hara

O'Hara, John 1964

Flight by John O’Hara, 1964

The magic trick:

Snappy dialogue between a married couple that is neither contentious nor sappy

You read enough short stories – and man, I’ve been reading a lot lately – and you start to grow a little wary of the arguing married couple motif. I don’t know if the dissatisfied marriage is especially particular to writers or what, but the concept certainly dominates American fiction. Whether it’s Cheever or Moore or yesterday’s SSMT story by Stephen King, we’ve seen many bored, grumpy, mean-spirited conversations between married couples.

So, with all that said, it is so refreshing to read a story like “Flight,” in which we meet a married couple that doesn’t argue like robots programmed for bilious comments. Charles and Emily talk with a realness uncommon in literature. O’Hara hits all the right notes with the dialogue. They are not the standard-issue middle-aged dissatisfieds. But nor are they maudlin, spouting out saccharine platitudes. They care about each other. They have had problems, clearly, with each other over the years. They have endured crises, tragedies, quarrels. But there is a quiet foundation of love that only accrued experience together can build. That isn’t flashy or dramatic, and therefore often doesn’t get its just due in literature. It’s an important and familiar aspect of modern life nonetheless and one that “Flight” illustrates rather beautifully. And that’s quite a trick on O’Hara’s part.

The selection:

“You make it sound like a Boy Scout with an old lady crossing the street. No thanks, I’ll make it. You carry my drink and run my tub while I get undressed.”

“I can’t be sure whether you’re serious or not,” she said.

“I’m not sure myself, if the truth be known,” he said. “Actually I’m not in any great pain, but I got shaken up.”

“Yes, that can be as bad as a real injury,” she said.

“It is a real injury. What are you talking about? What’s worse at our age than getting bounced around and unable to get to your feet? I went through positive hell out there.”

“You did? How long were you there?” she said.

“Lying there? I must have been lying there – at least a hundred and twenty seconds, every second seems like a small eternity. But then I finally struggled manfully to my feet, risking another fall, another outrage to my dignity, and not to mention the peril of my fragile bones. But I drew myself up to my full height and marched bravely, triumphantly home. The indomitable spirit of Charles David Kinsmith. Then with scarcely a mention of the whole episode, so’s not to disturb the composure of his excitable, loving spouse, he partakes of a small whiskey and a small sip of another, and is now about to mount the stairs to the second-story bedchamber, divest himself of raiment, and gingerly lower himself into the soothing waters of a hot bath.”

“What I like about you is your stoical courage.”

“That’s right. Stiff upper lip, we call it. Never let on when disaster strikes. Suffer in silence.”

“Suffer in silence, that’s it,” she said. “All right, let’s go upstairs. You go first and I’ll follow.”

“In case I shouldn’t be too steady on my pins?” he said. “You’ll be there to catch me?”

“Yes, my dear,” she said.