You are now entering Land of Spoilers and Criticism

Stuff on this blog:

  • Personal and professional biases, without full disclosure
  • Spoilers, with and without warnings
  • Unpleasantness, with and without warnings

Short story: “The Tragic Tale of the Baron and His Wife”

“The Tragic Tale of the Baron and His Wife,” by Witold Gombrowicz, translated by Tul’si Bhambry

Appeared in the Paris Review, Spring 2016, No. 216, at one time published online but now only excerpted; recommended by Longform; recommended by Biblioklept

1,628 words

Darkly funny.

The same Witold Gombrowicz who wrote “Lawyer Kraykowksi’s Dancer.”

On Self and Other, mocker and mockee

“[I]f you are a dude like me and try to talk nondismissively/unironically about your love of Infinite Jest, how you have read this huge book multiple times, then you are a laughably easy target online (and offline) now, a clichéd stereotype—an object of derision or even pure hatred, a body-double for a whole class of obnoxious @GuyinYourMFA types who many, many other important, intelligent, cool, hip folks sincerely want to avoid or impede. This doesn’t make me want to change my love of DFW or IJ or act more withdrawn, though. One of William T. Vollmann’s ‘Rules’ for writing is ‘We must treat Self and Other as equal partners’ and I realize that usually the person mocking and the person being mocked are not that different. People fear being ridiculed for their cultural preferences so intensely that they sacrifice their true feelings in service of appearing cool, and the only way out of that double-bind is to inhabit one’s Self as fully as possible, until it disappears.”

—Matt Bucher (x)

On what happens after a short story

“It’s strange with short stories—you should never ask, I think, what happens after the door of the story closes[.]”

—Kevin Barry (x)

On keeping oneself on edge

“A writing routine that causes some form of discomfort isn’t so much a reminder of this omnipresent discord; given so many writers’ propensity for neuroses and anxiety, I doubt many of us need a reminder of how much conflict exists in the world. Instead, it is a distillation of that broad imbalance into a discrete unit, a microcosm of discomfort. If existential discomfort serves as the impetus to create in the first place, then perhaps a more localized, physical discomfort can cause a smaller version of the same reaction and help you actually come up with some words that could lead to a draft. Keeping yourself on edge—especially by, say, using an ugly font that you know will get replaced later—puts that potential for change in sharp relief.”

—Connor Ferguson (x)


On counternarrative

Rahul Kanakia on how he wrote his novel Enter Title Here:

“The way I like to think about it is, ‘What is the story that this character is telling about themselves? And how is that story being challenged?’

“I’ve started to see a novel in dialectic terms. It starts off with a character telling themselves one thing, and then a counter-narrative emerges to challenge it. For instance, my debut begins with Reshma telling herself that she’s smart and ambitious and capable of anything, including being a popular social butterfly. But then a counternarrative emerges: perhaps she’s not that smart; maybe she’s only a cheat. And those two narratives duel throughout the novel, with first one gaining the upper hand and then the other, until finally Reshma is forced to abandon her narrative and search for something new.”

This strikes me as a powerful way to create constant suspense. I usually think of suspense as something that hinges on a particular event and reveal, but why should it be?

Short story: “A Strange Loop”

“A Strange Loop,” by T. R. Napper

Appeared in Interzone, issue 262, JanuaryFebruary 2016

About 12 and 1/3 pages, no idea how many words

A clever and sadly believable story.

I don’t really see what the Douglas Hofstadter epigraph adds to it (though I adore Hofstadter).

Short story: “Empty Planets”

“Empty Planets,” by Rahul Kanakia

Appeared in Interzone, issue 262, JanuaryFebruary 2016

10 pages in the magazine, maybe 4k words?

Is there a word for bleak hopefulness? Cheerful meaninglessness? It’s not a feeling I enjoy, but I admire fiction that manages to replicate it. (Like “Reasons to Be Cheerful,” which is one of Kanakia’s favorites.)

Kanakia writes:

“When you have an entire story about a guy who struggles to articulate the inarticulable, you really want an ending that says something. And yet what is there to say that can’t be banal? I got a few rejections from editors where they said everything was working except for the ending.

“However, I loved the ending. I’ve rarely been more sure that I’ve found the right ending for a story. And after reading through it just now, I was struck by how well the story articulated the problems I’m still facing, two years after writing it.”

Short story: “Little Man”

“Little Man,” by Michael Cunningham

Appeared in the August 10th & 17th, 2015 issue (?) of the New Yorker and in the first episode of The Author’s Voice: New Fiction from the New Yorker, March 15th, 2016 (online here); soon to be collected in A Wild Swan and Other Tales

5,115 words

As reworkings of fairy tales go, this is pretty good, though not as remarkable as some.

Cunningham says, “Just F.Y.I., the story’s original final line was ‘Like a parent and a child,’ which I cut, because it seemed less than graceful to nail down an idea that had already been clearly implied.” I read it slightly differently: Rumpelstiltskin has been getting a taste of various aspects of love, and now he is experiencing a form of marriage. Either way, I like the irony.

Narrative poem: “Stiff Upper Lip (Series)”

“Stiff Upper Lip (Series),” by Wendy Barker

Appeared in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, May 9th, 2016

801 words

I was surprised to see the author describe this as a prose poem—perhaps it doesn’t have the plot structure to be called a story. These things are blurry and subjective. It’s a good piece either way.

Short story: “Antoine de Saint-Exupéry”

“Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,” by Paul Kavanagh

First appeared in NANO Fiction volume 6 number 2, March 2014; reprinted on FlashFiction.Net, April 5th, 2016

293 words

I like this. Reminds me of “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby,” except that the characters seem, ambiguously, to be children—children perhaps imitating something they saw on TV, and without any apparent thought of punishing Alfred or doing him harm.