March 2016 favorites

March2016

March 2016

The March stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Dog Heaven’ by Stephanie Vaughn
  2. ‘A Country Doctor’ by Franz Kafka
  3. ‘The Judgment’ by Franz Kafka
  4. ‘Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning’ by Donald Barthelme
  5. ‘The Hunger Artist’ by Franz Kafka
  6. ‘Blumfeld, An Elderly Bachelor’ by Franz Kafka
  7. ‘Herself In Love’ by Marianne Wiggins
  8. ‘Gorilla, My Love’ by Toni Cade Bambara
  9. ‘Her Son’ by Isaac Bashevis Singer
  10. ‘Niagara’ by Mark Twain
  11. ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ by Tillie Olsen
  12. ‘Dance In America’ by Lorrie Moore
  13. ‘The Working Girl’ by Ann Beattie
  14. ‘The World Of Apples’ by John Cheever
  15. ‘This Is A Story About My Friend George, The Toy Inventor’ by Grace Paley
  16. ‘A Little Woman’ by Franz Kafka

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

July 2015 favorites

July2015

July 2015

The July stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Wash’ by William Faulkner
  2. ‘A Rose For Emily’ by William Faulkner
  3. ‘The Beauties’ by Anton Chekhov
  4. ‘The Kiss’ by Anton Chekhov
  5. ‘The Bishop’ by Anton Chekhov
  6. ‘Revelation’ by Flannery O’Connor
  7. ‘The Darling’ by Anton Chekhov
  8. ‘What You Pawn I Will Redeem’ by Sherman Alexie
  9. ‘Shingles For The Lord’ by William Faulkner
  10. ‘The Only Traffic Signal On The Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore’ by Sherman Alexie
  11. ‘Health Card’ by Frank Yerby
  12. ‘The Huntsman’ by Anton Chekhov
  13. ‘The Artificial N—–‘ by Flannery O’Connor
  14. ‘Referential’ by Lorrie Moore
  15. ‘The Angel In The Alcove’ by Tennessee Williams
  16. ‘Because My Father Always Said He Was The Only Indian Who Saw Jim Hendrix Play The Star-Spangled Banner At Woodstock’ by Sherman Alexie
  17. ‘Shall Not Perish’ by William Faulkner
  18. ‘Death Drag’ by William Faulkner
  19. ‘Weekend’ by Ann Beattie
  20. ‘This Is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona’ by Sherman Alexie
  21. ‘Amusements’ by Sherman Alexie
  22. ‘Northerners Can Be So Smug’ by Alice Childress
  23. ‘The Case Of Four And Twenty Blackbirds’ by Neil Gaiman

 

February 2015 favorites

February2015

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

‘Thank You For Having Me’ by Lorrie Moore

Moore, Lorrie 2014a

Thank You For Having Me by Lorrie Moore, 2014

The magic trick:

Wordplay

So, I’m pretty obsessed with puns. Have been for a long time. And I know it might seem trite to celebrate the wordplay in Lorrie Moore’s writing. She’s obviously much more than mere pun artist, but hey, is there anything wrong in that anyway?

Just in stories we’ve featured this week on the blog, we’ve had:

  • A lass, alas
  • Herbed chicken to get in her-bed
  • Faux foe
  • Subject to search
  • I do, you do, doo-doo
  • I swayed. I stayed. I did not get in the way.
  • Disturb and disturb

It all goes a long way to keep what amounts to a series of sad stories where not much happens moving quick with a sense of fun. Well, maybe not fun, but at least a light touch.

“Thank You For Having Me” is a play on words, too. Less cute, more meaningful. The story explores the balance between frustration and gratitude; the fine line between humility and being the butt of the joke. The multiple meanings of the story’s title sets up those concepts very nicely. And that’s quite a trick on Moore’s part.

The selection:

“Mom, what are you doing?” asked my fifteen-year-old daughter, Nickie. “You look like a crazy lady sitting in the kitchen like this.”

“I’m just listening to some music.”

“But like this?”

“I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“You are so totally disturbing me,” she said.

‘Subject To Search’ by Lorrie Moore

Moore, Lorrie 2014

Subject To Search by Lorrie Moore, 2014

The magic trick:

Exploring the notion that just because you assume someone would understand you it doesn’t mean they will

In a book of very sad stories, this one takes the biscuit as the saddest. It seems to grow from such hope. A man and a woman connected long before the action opens. They were married at the time, and likely thought, oh if only I was with that person, things would be better. And now, as the story begins, they are together; they are both single; and yet, things aren’t so much better at all.

The key theme behind the sadness is the inability to communicate, to connect with another person. Moore outlines the theme in a similar manner to yesterday’s SSMT feature, “Debarking.” That is to say, she does so simply and with excellent show-don’t-tell detail. Our protagonist literally can’t speak the same languages as Tom. Tom, meanwhile, can’t give her the attention and love she craves because he’s too emotionally wrecked by an incident in the war years earlier in which men died because he failed to properly communicate instructions.

Speaking of the war, Moore is far more successful here – again, I write with the opinion of an idiot amateur – than in “Debarking” at incorporating 21st-century current events and political malaise into fractured personal relationships. Probably because Tom’s line of work directly connects to foreign relations, the use of war in the story feels far less forced than it did in “Debarking” or even “Foes.”

Regardless, it’s another masterpiece of sadness and stagnation. It’s a perfectly communicated picture of communication breakdown. And that’s quite a trick on Moore’s part.

The selection:

“Merci.” He smiled. She knew that he liked it when she said anything in French. His specialty was languages, including Urdu and Arabic, although only an hour and a half of Urdu, he declared, and then his mind turned into a blank blue screen. “And actually only four hours of Arabic,” he said. “And maybe even only five of English: five hours is a long time to keep talking.”

‘Debarking’ by Lorrie Moore

Moore, Lorrie 2003

Debarking by Lorrie Moore, 2003

The magic trick:

Portraying a lifeless relationship based more on boredom than passion

It’s rare that you find art that successfully portrays a boring relationship. Why? Probably because it’s kind of boring. But that is so true to life, as we all know. So many romantic relationships aren’t forged from passion or even carnal desire; they just kind of happen because people are lonely or scared or bored. This story describes that kind of relationship perfectly. So what’s the magic trick then? How does Moore accomplish such a true portrayal? Well…

She pretty much just tells the story as the relationship develops. It is clear from the beginning that Zora isn’t that into this romance – whether it’s the non-effort effort of her initial postcard or her bored behavior on their dates. It is clear that she is far more interested and excited about making sure her son, Bruno, is happy than she is worried about Ira. Moore is a master of using details to show the relationship’s state, instead of describing the stagnation simply with the omniscient narrator. So we see Zora give Ira nothing for his birthday. We see her prank him on April Fools Day with a fake break-up and, tellingly, Ira (and the reader, I would suspect) fall for it 100 percent. This is not a stable, happy relationship.

Moore works the Iraq War into the story, and I would argue its presence falls flat. It serves as a reminder of the real-world horrors outside of these two people’s small relationship. It also represents the rationale for these kind of lifeless relationships. Ira’s fear of war and aging and dying and everything going wrong is a big reason for hiding in whatever happiness he can wrest from his relationship with Zora. The war stuff feels awkward, though, in my opinion, and more than a little heavy-handed. More on that topic in tomorrow’s SSMT story.

Anyway, Iraq War stuff aside, the story is a remarkably rich portrayal of the sadness of American middle age. I’m not a 40-something divorcee with children, but having read this story, I certainly have much better insight into the situation than I did yesterday. And that’s quite a trick on Moore’s part.

The selection:

He received a postcard from Zora in return. It was of van Gogh’s room in Arles. Beneath the clock face of the local postmark her handwriting was big but careful, some curlicuing in the “g”s and “f”s. It read, Had such fun meeting you at Mike’s. Wasn’t that precisely, word for word, what he had written to her? There was no “too,” no emphasized you, just exactly the same words thrown back at him like some lunatic postal Ping-Pong. Either she was stupid or crazy or he was already being too hard on her. Not being hard on people—“You bark at them,” Marilyn used to say—was something he was trying to work on. When he pictured Zora’s lovely face, it helped his tenuous affections. She had written her phone number and signed off with a swashbuckling “Z”—as in Zorro. That was cute, he supposed. He guessed. Who knew? He had to lie down.

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‘The Juniper Tree’ by Lorrie Moore

Moore, Lorrie 2005

The Juniper Tree by Lorrie Moore, 2005

The magic trick:

The nightmare sequence

Today we have a little bit of magical realism from Lorrie Moore. The heart of the story is a eerie sequence – Is it real? Is it a nightmare? It can’t be really happening, right? – in which our narrator visits a friend who had died the night before. It’s an arresting scene, to be sure. Like any good magical realism, the surreal serves to contextualize the other, more realistic, elements of the story. In this case, the nightmare not only emphasizes the narrator’s feelings of guilt and selfishness, it casts her entire world in a more ominous light. It reveals not just self-loathing but a contempt she feels for her friends, the town and the whole college-professor lifestyle she’s fallen into. The nightmare makes the non-nightmare portions of the story feel like nightmares too. And that’s quite a trick on Moore’s part.

The selection:

“As a result?” said Robin, a bit hoarsely. She cleared her throat. “No hugs. Everything’s a little precarious, between the postmortem and the tubes in and out all week. This scarf’s the only thing holding my head on.” Though she was pale, her posture was perfect, her dark-red hair restored, her long thin arms folded across her chest. She was dressed as she was always dressed: in black jeans and a blue sweater. She simply, newly, had the imperial standoffishness that I realized only then I had always associated with the dead. We pulled up chairs and each of us sat.

“Should we make some gin rickeys?” Isabel asked, motioning toward the bags of booze and lime-juice blend.

“Oh, maybe not,” said Robin.

“We wanted to come here and each present you with something,” said Pat.

“We did?” I said. I’d brought nothing. I had asked them what to bring and they had laughed it off.

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‘Foes’ by Lorrie Moore

Moore, Lorrie 2008

Foes by Lorrie Moore, 2008

The magic trick:

Illustrating the push and pull of relationships ever changing

It’s Lorrie Moore Week here at SSMT; or to be less grandiose, I just read Lorrie Moore’s recent collection, Bark, so get ready for a bunch of Bark-related blog posts. It’s awesome. Go read it. Really. It’s very good.

“Foes” is not my favorite story in the collection, but it’s a good place to start for SSMT purposes because it features one of Moore’s hallmarks: the ability to demonstrate the changing nature of relationships in a very few words. In this story, we meet a man who appears to be fairly bored in his marriage and life. He meets a woman at a banquet and begins to flirt. He assesses her as a potential romantic option. Quickly, though, she repulses him with her opinions and politics. Just as quickly, these feelings turn to guilt, shame and fear when he learns more of her background. Full circle, we have the same man clinging by the end of the story to the same marriage and life he took for granted at the start. With the simplest of plots – a conversation at a banquet – the story has presented the way small and big relationships can shift on a dime. And that’s quite a trick on Moore’s part.

The selection:

“I’m Linda Santo,” the woman to his right said, smiling. Her hair was black and shiny and long enough so that with a toss of the head she could swing it back behind her shoulder and short enough that it would fall quickly forward again. She was wearing a navy-blue satin dress and a string of pearls. The red shawl she had wrapped over her shoulders she now placed on the back of her seat. He felt a small stirring in him. He had always been attracted to Asian women, though he knew he mustn’t ever mention this to Suzy, or to anyone really.

“I’m Baker McKurty,” he said, shaking her hand.

“Baker?” she repeated.

“I usually go by ‘Bake’.” He accidentally gave her a wink. One had to be very stable to wink at a person and not frighten them.

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