November 2014 favorites

november2014

November 2014

The November stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Chickamauga’ by Ambrose Bierce
  2. ‘Paul’s Case’ by Willa Cather
  3. ‘The Veldt’ by Ray Bradbury
  4. ‘The Story Of An Hour’ by Kate Chopin
  5. ‘Of This Time, Of That Place’ by Lionel Trilling
  6. ‘The Nose’ by Nikolai Gogol
  7. ‘A White Heron’ by Sarah Orne Jewett
  8. ‘A Circle In The Fire’ by Flannery O’Connor
  9. ‘Going For A Beer’ by Robert Coover
  10. ‘Two Thanksgiving Gentlemen’ by O. Henry
  11. ‘Dawn Of Remembered Spring’ by Jesse Stuart
  12. ‘The Middle Years’ by Henry James
  13. ‘The Catbird Seat’ by James Thurber
  14. ‘The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story’ by Joel Chandler Harris
  15. ‘The Peach Stone’ by Paul Horgan
  16. ‘Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ by Jorge Luis Borges
  17. ‘An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving’ by Louisa May Alcott
  18. ‘Who Lived And Died Believing’ by Nancy Hale
  19. ‘The Devil And Tom Walker’ by Washington Irving
  20. ‘The Facts Concerning The Recent Carnival Of Crime In Connecticut’ by Mark Twain
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‘Going For A Beer’ by Robert Coover

Coover, Robert 2011

Going For A Beer by Robert Coover, 2011

The magic trick:

Smashing a lifetime into a single paragraph

This is Robert Coover, so we shouldn’t expect the normal rules of the space-time continuum to apply. Still, he never fails to jolt with his uncanny ability to distort chronology and reality.

In “Going For A Beer,” we get the story of a man’s life, from dating to marriage to parenthood to death. The quick-firing plot points, often joined as non-sequiturs, recreate the jumble of memories one finds later in life, looking back (especially where alcohol is involved). The protagonist forgets crucial information but remembers comparatively pointless details, such as the many carnival toys his date has won. It’s disjointed, funny, sad, and occasionally off-putting. So… basically just like life. And that’s quite a trick on Coover’s part.

The selection:

During the ceremony, they both carry Kewpie dolls that probably have some barely hidden significance, and indeed do. The child she bears him, his or another’s, reminds him, as if he needed reminding, that time is fast moving on. He has responsibilities now and he decides to check whether he still has the job that he had when he first met her. He does. His absence, if he has been absent, is not remarked on, but he is not congratulated on his marriage, either, no doubt because—it comes back to him now—before he met his wife he was engaged to one of his colleagues and their co-workers had already thrown them an engagement party, so they must resent the money they spent on gifts.

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July 2014 favorites

july2014

July 2014

The July stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

1.       ‘Hot Ice’ by Stuart Dybek
2.       ‘The Babysitter’ by Robert Coover
3.       ‘Jeeves And The Impending Doom’ by P.G. Wodehouse
4.       ‘A Solo Song: For Doc’ by James Alan McPherson
5.       ‘City Boy’ by Leonard Michaels
6.       ‘You’re Ugly, Too’ by Lorrie Moore
7.       ‘The Flats Road’ by Alice Munro
8.       ‘Greasy Lake’ by T. Coraghessan Boyle
9.       ‘Train’ by Joy Williams
10.     ‘Testimony Of Pilot’ by Barry Hannah
11.     ‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan
12.    ‘Liars In Love’ by Richard Yates
13.     ‘How To Date A Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, Or Halfie)’ by Junot Diaz
14.    ‘A Poetics For Bullies’ by Stanley Elkin
15.     ‘Greenwich Time’ by Ann Beattie
16.     ‘Pretty Ice’ by Mary Robison
17.     ‘Lechery’ by Jayne Anne Phillips
18.     ‘Here Come The Maples’ by John Updike
19.     ‘Territory’ by David Leavitt
20.     ‘Bridging’ by Max Apple
21.     ‘The Circling Hand’ by Jamaica Kincaid
22.     ‘Are These Actual Miles?’ by Raymond Carver
23.     ‘The Other Wife’ by Colette
24.     ‘A.V. Laider’ by Max Beerbohm
25.     ‘White Rat’ by Gayl Jones
26.     ‘Search Through The Streets Of The City’ by Irwin Shaw
27.     ‘The Dead Man’ by Horacio Quiroga
28.     ‘A Life In The Day Of A Writer’ by Tess Slesinger
29.     ‘In The Heart Of The Heart Of The Country’ by William Gass
30.     ‘The Indian Uprising’ by Donald Barthelme
31.     ‘The Facts Of Life’ by Somerset Maugham


‘The Babysitter’ by Robert Coover

Coover, Robert 1969

The Babysitter by Robert Coover, 1969

The magic trick:

Presenting the real and the imagined without telling the reader which is which

Robert Coover doesn’t have time for your boring, old straight-line stories. Sure, he could tell you what happened in the order that it happened. But why bother when he can make an even more powerful point by scattering events – both real and imagined – throughout the text with no adherence to chronology?

“The Babysitter” is separated into different chunks, each from a different character’s point of view. The real kicker: Coover oh-so-cleverly uses pronouns in place of names, so it often is not clear from whose point of view we are reading. Very quickly, the reader becomes aware that some of these chunks – maybe most of these chunks – detail events that are only imagined. It all becomes chaotic and cacophonous in the best possible way.

This is not to say the story fails to build tension and drama and danger. Even if the reader doesn’t know which of these sections is really happening, the mere possibility that any could be reality causes anxiety enough.

The swapping of points of view and pronouns also further emphasizes the sense of sexuality. There is a massive sense of aggressive sex, repressed sex, obsessive sex. And since we don’t know which character is imagining which sexual scenario, it begins to just feel like the whole world – adults, adolescents and children alike – is lost in paranoid delusions of sexual tension. Which of course is the whole point. And that’s quite a trick on Coover’s part.

The selection:

She’s watching television. All alone. It seems like a good time to go in. Just remember: really, no matter what she says, she wants it. They’re standing in the bushes, trying to get up the nerve. “We’ll tell her to be good,” Mark whispers, “and if she’s not good, we’ll spank her.” Jack giggles softly, but his knees are weak. She stands. They freeze. She looks right at them. “She can’t see us,” Mark whispers tensely. “Is she coming out?”“No,” says Mark, “She’s going into – that must be the bathroom!” Jack takes a deep breath, his heart pounding. “Hey, is there a window back there?” Mark asks.