March 2016 favorites


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.


January 2015 favorites


January 2015

The January stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘How I Met My Husband’ by Alice Munro
  2. ‘Bardon Bus’ by Alice Munro
  3. ‘One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts’ by Shirley Jackson
  4. ‘The Open Boat’ by Stephen Crane
  5. ‘Where I’m Calling From’ by Raymond Carver
  6. ‘The Drunkard’ by Frank O’Connor
  7. ‘The Wind And The Snow Of Winter’ by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
  8. ‘Everyday Use’ by Alice Walker
  9. ‘The Enormous Radio’ by John Cheever
  10. ‘The View From Castle Rock’ by Alice Munro
  11. ‘Boys And Girls’ by Alice Munro
  12. ‘The Sun, The Moon, The Stars’ by Junot Diaz
  13. ‘The Skull’ by Philip K. Dick
  14. ‘The NRACP’ by George P. Elliott
  15. ‘Train’ by Alice Munro
  16. ‘The Other Foot’ by Ray Bradbury
  17. ‘Pigeon Feathers’ by John Updike
  18. ‘Jokester’ by Isaac Asimov
  19. ‘Tell Me A Riddle’ by Tillie Olsen
  20. ‘The Speech Of Polly Baker’ by Benjamin Franklin
  21. ‘The Star’ by Arthur C. Clarke

‘Tell Me A Riddle’ by Tillie Olsen

Olsen, Tillie 1960

Tell Me A Riddle by Tillie Olsen, 1960

The magic trick:

Using short, clipped sentences often without context

The story begins with a single paragraph of scene-setting before jumping right into a family conversation. Olsen doesn’t use quotation marks. Sentences drift into one another with no attribution. She tosses around names without explanation. It is an appropriate introduction to the style and story that follows.

In many sections, Olsen employs an even more experimental writing style that further confuses the action and the language. Personally, I don’t care for it very much. I’m far too much a traditionalist at heart to really embrace such new-wave chaos. But there is something to be said for a story that pushes its reader into putting down the defenses and giving in to the flow. I found myself quickly stopping any attempts to attach direct cause-and-effect meaning to the words. I began to let the words wash over me in clips and images.

Given the nature of the plot and the matriarch’s character, the style fits perfectly. The dying woman has retreated from her adopted home country, her home life, and her family for years. As she ages, her sight and hearing is fading as well. The confusing nature of the passages makes perfect sense then from her point of view. It’s an experimental style, yes, but it’s literarily utilitarian as well. And that’s quite a trick on Olsen’s part.

The selection:

They won’t come back. People you need, the doctor said. You own cousins I asked; they were willing to come and make peace as if nothing had happened . . .

No more crushers of people, pushers, hypocrites, around me. No more in my house. You go to them if you like.


Kind he is to visit. And you, like ice.

A babbler. All my life around babblers. Enough!


“She’s even worse, Dad? Then let her stew a while,” advised Nancy. “You can’t let it destroy you; it’s a psychological thing, maybe too far gone for any of us to help.”