February 2016 favorites

Feb2016

February 2016

The February stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge’ by Ambrose Bierce
  2. ‘A Horseman In The Sky’ by Ambrose Bierce
  3. ‘Slave On The Block’ by Langston Hughes
  4. ‘The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County’ by Mark Twain
  5. ‘Killed At Resaca’ by Ambrose Bierce
  6. ‘Gimpel The Fool’ by Isaac Bashevis Singer
  7. ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’ by Hans Christian Andersen
  8. ‘Four Days In Dixie’ by Ambrose Bierce
  9. ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ by Raymond Carver
  10. ‘The Offshore Pirate’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  11. ‘Me And Miss Mandible’ by Donald Barthelme
  12. ‘The Eighty-Yard Run’ by Irwin Shaw
  13. ‘A Baffled Ambuscade’ by Ambrose Bierce
  14. ‘Beginners’ by Raymond Carver
  15. ‘What We Don’t Know Hurts Us’ by Mark Schorer
  16. ‘Durling, Or The Faithless Wife’ by Sean O’Faolain
  17. ‘First Husband’ by Antonya Nelson
  18. ‘Somewhere Else’ by Grace Paley
  19. ‘Long Walk To Forever’ by Kurt Vonnegut
  20. ‘Zapatos’ by T. Coraghessan Boyle

What do you think about this list? As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.

‘Welcome To The Monkey House’ by Kurt Vonnegut

vonnegut, kurt 1961

Welcome To The Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., 1961

The magic trick:

Giving the reader a no-win sympathy situation

The reader, much like the characters in this story, has nowhere good to turn in this monkey house. Vonnegut’s picture of the future is pretty bleak. Now perhaps this is an immature, even stupid, approach to art, but I find that when I read fiction, I need a character, or at least an idea, with which to sympathize. I need to know right from wrong at least. I’m guessing this is a not-uncommon expectation. Vonnegut, though, has no patience for readers like us.

Consider the options he provides here. You can sympathize with the suicide nurse who believes in a sexless life of robot efficiency. Not so great, right? Well, the “hero” – the advocate for sex and passion and emotion – believes kidnapping, imprisonment, and rape are the only means for his message. It’s very difficult to read those passages, let alone sympathize with his agenda.

So where does that leave us? Well, I’ll tell you. It leaves us alone and anxious and fearful and full of disdain for both sides of the sexual revolution. In other words: exactly where the author wants us. And that’s quite a trick on Vonnegut’s part.

The selection:

“I never listen to a woman till the pills wear off,” sneered Billy. That was his plan, then – to keep her a prisoner for at least eight hours. That was how long it took for the pills to wear off.

“That’s a silly rule.”

“A woman’s not a woman till the pills wear off.”

“You certainly manage to make a woman feel like an object rather than a person.”

“Thank the pills for that,” said Billy.