Tag: 2000s

Novelette: “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change”

“The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change,” by Kij Johnson

The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales (Viking Press, 2007, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling); anthologized in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: 21st Annual Collection (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008, edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Gavin J. Grant); shortlisted for the 2007 Nebula Award for Best Novelette and the 2008 World Fantasy Award—Short Fiction; read for Drabblecast 407, June 4th, 2019

8,583 words

Wittgenstein said, “If a lion could talk, we would not understand him.” This story explores the idea that if a dog could talk, we would not be able to love her. A little tragedy and perhaps an allegory for oppressors’ inability to connect with the oppressed. Or for parents’ inability to let their children be their own people?

Kij Johnson is always thought-provoking.


Short story: “Primary Pollinator”

“Primary Pollinator,” by Nicole Kimberling

Appeared in Space Squid #2 (a.k.a. Vol 1, Issue 2) (download for two bucks), Summer 2006; read for Drabblecast 191, December 16th, 2010, and I think featured in a Drabbleclassics episode

Several thousand words

A cute story. Gross, but cute. The ending was kind of predictable, but I enjoyed it.

Novelette: “Queenie”

“Queenie,” by Alice Munro

Appeared in The London Review of Books, Vol. 20 No. 15 · 30 July 1998 (online here); published as a standalone book (Profile Books, 1999); collected in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (McClelland & Stewart, 2001)

31 pages in Hateship; supposedly 96 pages in the standalone book; 10,983 words according to my word processor; 11,713 words according to London Review

I found the main character’s one-day employment, and Queenie’s abusive relationship, rather upsetting. The unfairness. I suppose those things are peripheral to the central story, in which the main character stands wistfully on the sidelines of a friend’s (stepsister’s) relatively complicated life. She wants Queenie to love her and she doesn’t, that seems to be the whole of the plot. I could be missing something.

Short story: “What Is Remembered”

“What Is Remembered,” by Alice Munro

Appeared in the New Yorker, February 19th, 2001 (online); collected in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (McClelland & Stewart, 2001)

24 and 2/3 pages

Rereading this many years later, I found I remembered it pretty well. Now it reminds me of “The Surrogate,” the way the fantasy of the old affair lingers in a way that seems curiously irrelevant to the main character’s everyday life. Is this a common thing with women? (Perhaps men as well?)

Munro frequently returns to the scene of a seemingly spontaneous, mutual, outdoor kiss between a man and a woman who’ve just met. “Passion” has a somewhat similar gesture performed in an open convertible.

Haha yes this

“I don’t believe in craft in the abstract—each individual novel is its own rule book, training ground, factory, and independent republic.”

—Zadie Smith (x)

Short story: “Fruit and Words”

“Fruit and Words,” by Aimee Bender

Apparently first appeared in the collection Willful Creatures: Stories (Doubleday Books, 2005); featured in Drabblecast 397, January 30th, 2019; also read aloud on an mp3 for $2.99 (not related to the Drabblecast)

A few thousand words

Wild. I wonder why the author decided to put just one abstraction in the room of gases. I love the main character breaking HOPE. I suppose that’s heavy-handed as symbolism goes, but it works because the tone is so light and offbeat.

A kiss being like “an old dead sock” is such an interesting piling-on of imagery: a kiss can be a sock and a sock can be dead.

I would never have expected to see someone who’s been in Granta and GQ and a litany of other high-profile, non-speculative magazines to get read on the Drabblecast (not that it’s not a great podcast). Publishing Bender seems like a bit of a coup. I wonder if this reprint was solicited or if Bender is a fan of the podcast and submitted it through the slush pile. Either way it really jives with the trademark Drabblecast weirdness.

Tagging this “magic realism” rather than “surrealism” because the improbable and speculative elements are dropped in here and there without a pervading sense of dreamlikeness.

Short story: “Nocturne”

“Nocturne,” by Kazuo Ishiguro

Collected in Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (Knopf Canada, 2009)

? words

I liked all the stories in this collection (described by the publisher as a short story cycle), but this one was my favorite. The connection between these two strangers, and the way she insults his music and then confesses how bad she is at being sincere about things she likes.

Some reviewer pointed out that the narrator describes the woman’s facial expression at a point when they’re both supposed to be covered in bandages, an oversight that I imagine most writing workshops would have caught.

This collection/cycle strikes me as thematically uncharacteristic of Ishiguro somehow. I might come back to this if I reread it some time.

Short story: “Disquisition on Tears”

“Disquisition on Tears,” by Stephanie Reents

Appeared in EPOCH; anthologized in The O. Henry Prize Winners 2006; collected in The Kissing List (Hogarth, 2012)

Maybe a dozen pages in O. Henry—I would guess 2,000 words

The playful weirdness of this reminds me of Barthelme, though the story is grounded in realism. I’d almost say it’s a realistic story, though the action surely takes place in a hallucinatory dream. I find the depiction of the character’s mental state very convincing, though I don’t know anything about brain cancer.

I saw a bit of commentary saying this story is about the horror of impending death, but what I took away was more the horror that she can never achieve lucidity or contact with reality again. It can be both, of course.

Coming back to the knocking sound at the end is a nice touch.

Novelette: “Passion”

“Passion,” by Alice Munro

Appeared in the New Yorker, March 22nd, 2004 (online here); collected in Runaway (McClelland and Stewart, 2004), which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize (2004), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in Caribbean and Canada (2005), and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (2004); anthologized in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006

11,319 words

I had to think a bit about the title. It’s Grace’s passion, isn’t it, that drives the story? She’s young and badly in need of stimulation—you can see that in her studies and her reading and her feeling for Mrs. Travers. The stimulation she gets from Neil is along the same lines but more intense than what she’s gotten elsewhere. She learns to drive, and she has an erotic experience, and she has an intense laconic conversation, and she encounters despair—a despair she must have gotten only a dim inkling of, if she got any intimation of it at all, from the end of Anna Karenina. (I wonder which character she identified with. I read it at about age eighteen and don’t recall having a particular affinity for any of them. Maybe for Levin.)

(At my age, I should be feeling how very young twenty is, but I associate Grace’s receptive quality, her passion, with an even earlier age. Maybe I’m not so old, or maybe I was already old—albeit not wise—at twenty.)

What are we to make of Grace’s return more than forty years later? The place means a great deal to her, but why now? We learn only a little about her—that she is an excellent conversationalist, evidently after the example of the Travers family, and sometimes gets sick of hearing herself talk. Is she trying to rediscover the passion she’s lost? Has her passion gotten tucked away behind the laundry basin?

How do these things happen?

Joy Williams’s commentary on “The Girls” for The Best American Short Stories 2005, in full:

“I don’t know. How do these things happen? For the writer, explaining is a dangerous business. Evoking the literal corrupts. All of these characters exist now, though the story would never have existed if the Girls had dogs instead of cats. When cats enter a story, the gates of Hell yawn wide. Redemption in general is at risk.”