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Short story: “Stone Mattress”

“Stone Mattress,” by Margaret Atwood

Appeared in the New Yorker, December 19th, 2011, online here; collected in Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales (Nan A. Talese, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday, 2014); read by A. M. Homes for the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, June 1st, 2018, online here

7,156 words, though it feels much shorter

(Spoilers.) Verna is charmingly believable. It seems like such a leap from her quiet, almost passive-aggressive husband murders (and not all of them even qualify as murders, I feel like) to the swift brutal one she enacts on Bob—I wasn’t sure if she could go through with it. But then she did. And I liked it.

What to make of the ending? I think she’s going to get away with it, but it’s striking how apathetic she is about the whole plan, how distractable. “She ought to care more about that—she ought to find it an exciting challenge—but right now she just feels tired and somewhat empty.

“Though at peace, though safe.” Is she lying to herself about feeling at peace? Surely she is. Surely her revenge hasn’t solved the problem of her life, her bitterness about the long-lasting effects of her trauma.

Edited to add: “kind, soft, insulating money” is so great. Listening to the podcast, I was waiting for the noun (“love,” perhaps?) and “money” came as a delightful surprise.

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Short story: “Dead in the Eye”

“Dead in the Eye,” by Melissa Mesku

Appeared in FLAPPERHOUSE #17, Spring 2018

1,492 words

I like the last paragraph. It seems to tie everything together.

Is every adolescence story a coming-of-age story? Surely not. Surely some of them are just life experience stories. Here, the protagonist doesn’t yet understand the difference between her and Violet; she’s still, as it were, innocent. It’s her adult self who marks that difference.

Flash fiction story or possibly short story cycle?: “Six Ways to Break Her”

“Six Ways to Break Her,” by Bonnie Jo Stuffleman

Appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Issue Forty-Seven, March 29th, 2015; read for Toasted Cake 183, May 6th, 2018

664 words

Not sure I understood this one, but I admire the writing. Interesting to see the kind of range Toasted Cake has (the last one I listened to was utterly unlike this).

Short story: “Athena Dreams of a Hollow Body”

“Athena Dreams of a Hollow Body,” by JR Fenn

Made The Masters Review‘s 2016 Fall Fiction Contest Shortlist; appeared in the Boston Review‘s collection Global Dystopias, edited by Junot Díaz, and online here

5,155 words

A great portrait of a very strange world. The character of the artificial mother is really well drawn, and it’s impossible to tell if she feels motherly love or is simply programmed to be fixated on it.

Flash fiction story: “The Chex Gambit”

“The Chex Gambit,” by Jon Lasser

Read for Toasted Cake 184, May 13th, 2018

Not sure how many words

Fun.

Short story: “Our Side of the Door”

“Our Side of the Door,” by Kodiak Julian

Appeared in Lightspeed MagazineMay 2018 (Issue 96)

3,240 words

Another story that could be classified as realistic fiction just as easily as fantasy (last one here). I admire the way the literary plot unfolds, the ambiguity of the boy’s supposed journey.

 

On prose quality

“Sometimes [what draws me into a story is] a matter of style, but not always, since a compelling world can survive clumsy or awkward writing, as in Poe or David Foster Wallace (in Wallace’s case the awkwardness is deliberate, of course). “

—Iain Higgins, member of The Malahat Review‘s fiction board

Short story: “The State of Nature”

“The State of Nature,” by Camille Bordas

Appeared in the New Yorker, April 9th, 2018 (online here) and in the April 3rd episode of The Writer’s Voice

6,787 words

I like the way everyone’s fear of and preparations for the unthinkable—whether that’s societal collapse or rape—come together as a coherent theme. The revelation of the mother’s assault unfolds naturally, reasonably, though I couldn’t have predicted it. Perhaps that’s how all revelations should work in fiction.

Has anyone ever come running to the rescue at the sound of a rape whistle? Or been scared off by one? It does seem illogical.

 

Short story: “The Third Tower”

“The Third Tower,” by Deborah Eisenberg

Appeared in Ploughshares Spring 2018 Vol. 44 No. 1

I’m going to guess 4,000 words, I really have no idea

This seems to be the story of the stifling of a girl/woman’s spirit, her imagination even. Her peculiar condition hurts her, but suppressing it seems to hurt her more.

 

Short story: “I Happy Am”

“I Happy Am,” by Jamel Brinkley

Appeared in Ploughshares Spring 2018 Vol. 44 No. 1

I would guess 4,000 words

Something like an epiphany at the end—an epiphany the boy isn’t yet prepared to understand. Good story.

His daydream of being a robot is very real.