Tag: adolescent characters

Short story: “The Match”

“The Match,” by Colson Whitehead

Will appear in the New Yorker on April 1st, 2019, and read by the author on The Writer’s Voice (read and listen)

Several thousand words

I didn’t see the climactic twist coming. Maybe I’m dense, but I expected the conventional defiant ending, a moment of unbowed pride. Instead, despair. At least the other black boys got their victory.

Interesting point of view. It spends some time in the heads of two boys, but not much, just enough to show the orders Griff receives. It specifically avoids Griff’s own head. Then at the end it abandons the characters and seems to present us, the readers, with a challenge.


Short story: “Nurse”

“Nurse,” by Stephen Hargadon

Appeared in Crimewave 13: Bad Light, May 11th, 2018

About 10 pages in the magazine; about 4,000 words

Interesting story. Not much happens, but we get a really clear picture of the family and of the mother in particular. Though we don’t really find out the son loves her until the end—a nice reveal.

I like that Crimewave prints stories where (spoilers!) the crime doesn’t appear till the last paragraph. Of course, we can guess what the crime will be before that, but we don’t know how it will happen. I half expected the nurse to commit the crime herself.

Short story: “New Directions in Focus Group Studies”

“New Directions in Focus Group Studies,” by David Gerow

Pages 23–35 in The Malahat Review 204, Autumn 2018 (buy print issue/buy digital issue)

About twelve pages total (several taken up by dialogue transcripts), a few thousand words

I love this. I love how the mother’s apparent attempt to sabotage her relationships with both her daughters is never explained. I love the clinicality of it.

The author says in an interview, “I am fond of characters like Claire who fail to acknowledge the emotional weight of a situation. I find that kind of thing really funny. Maybe there’s something wrong with me.” You and me both, Gerow.

He also says, interestingly, “So many stories today are pithy and staccato in that post-Hemingway style, and this story just couldn’t follow that trend, which I worried would make it off-putting to readers. I fretted about that for a while, but I finally gave myself licence to write as densely/precisely as was required after reading some thick David Foster Wallace stories (‘Mister Squishy’ is a good example).”

Short story: “A Code for Hope and Silence”

“A Code for Hope and Silence,” by Claire McKenna

An earlier version of this story won a flash fiction award; the version I read appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #73, December 2018

A few thousand words

I enjoy the voice and language. The image of the dead (3-D-printed?) girl in the gel is striking, though I don’t completely understand the ending.

Flash fiction story: “A House with Mughal-Style Doors”

“A House with Mughal-Style Doors,” by Cathy Ulrich

Appeared in matchbook, February 2019

332 words

I love how you know from the first paragraph that the daughter is dead, and the story never actually tells us that. The mention of kitchen matches and the phrase “the white box with the red” instead of the brand name seem to imply that Deirdre’s mother didn’t smoke until now. The repetition of “After the party” strikes me as very effective. That last repeated line also works for me, although I find it a little less original than the rest of the piece.

I like the author’s note.

Flash fiction story: “When Mummy Visits”

“When Mummy Visits,” by Felicia Wulandari

Every Day Fiction, February 10th, 2019

983 words

I had a hard time understanding this one, but I was impressed with the writing. I think it’s the story of a man who’s had a fraught relationship with his mother since childhood and now struggles to accept her. It seems she verbally abused him, or perhaps was merely incoherent and frightening due to a mental illness, and he physically attacked her in response, and now he perhaps feels guilty.

Short story: “Blessed Are the Forgetful”

“Blessed Are the Forgetful,” by C.A. Schaefer

Necessary Fiction, January 30th, 2019

2,731 words

The second paragraph, that one line, grabbed me. A thoughtful and striking piece.

Novelette: “The New Order”

“The New Order,” by Karen E. Bender

Appeared in a collection of the same title; recommended by Molly Antopol in Electric Literature‘s Recommended Reading, October 31st, 2018

27 pages, according to the commentary; 7,716 words

Oh man, this is intense. Like the narrator, I kept waiting for her to say something about it—an apology, an explanation. So much suspense for such a simple story. I read it pretty fast, wanting to know what happened next, and didn’t realize it was so long. I love the way the character ages in a single sentence: “I was forty, then fifty”—and the way her adolescent lie remains terribly, urgently important to her and to the reader. Clearly I should read more Bender. I loved “Anything for Money,” despite my mild criticism of it.

Tagging this “failures of human connection” even though the two characters do make a connection of sorts.

I’m not sure what the title means to be honest.

I noticed a few typos in the Recommended Reading post. Also, the “Jump to story” link is broken, so you have to scroll quickly past the commentary at the top. In my opinion they should put the commentary at the bottom. Not that I don’t enjoy commentary, I just want to read it after the story.

Short story: “Mona Sparrow”

“Mona Sparrow,” by Lauren Green

Appeared in Conjunctions:71, A Cabinet of Curiosity, Fall 2018

A little over 12 pages; 12 pages would be about 6,348 words

Ah, the capricious loves and hates of children (or rather, young teenagers). The way bullying can turn vicious for no apparent reason, and choose a different victim as though at random. What looks like kindness emerges in the main character’s behavior—more than once—but don’t trust it for a second.

I suppose this is a good example of magic realism. The magical elements come gradually, one by one.

Semicolon watch: Noticed a few casual ones, connecting short independent clauses.

Novelette: “Waiting for Kizer”

“Waiting for Kizer,” by Joyce Carol Oates

Appeared in Conjunctions:71, A Cabinet of Curiosity, Fall 2018

25 pages in the magazine, which makes approximately 13,225 words

Very odd. The canoe accident must be the point of divergence between the three men, in which case (Maynard) must be going by his middle name. But the oddity starts before (Matt) and (Matthew) even meet, when Smith has two very similar but not identical interactions with the hostess. It would seem as though he’d had a bout of amnesia—a stroke perhaps—except that the hostess would have to have suffered simultaneously from the same affliction. There’s another switch when the joke is told twice, and another when the first two men meet (Maynard) twice. So two breaks with realism: doppelgängers from drastically different timelines (each branching off from the canoe) and jumps across very subtly different timelines (between some of the numbered sections).

The effect is not what I would call dreamlike—it’s too matter of fact, too “realistic,” despite the Oatesian narration that occasionally, in small ways, flirts with stream of consciousness: some very short paragraphs and some eccentric mental leaps. If I were reading this in a science fiction magazine under another byline, I would expect at least a hint of an explanation, perhaps an accident with a dimension-hopping machine.

More oddity: There’s a hint that (Matt)’s son is either a suicide bomber or a victim of a bomb threat prank. And then (Matthew) implies that he knows something about (Matt)’s son that’s painful to (Matt) and his wife—is that a third break from realism? And (Matt) doesn’t seem quite sure whether his wife had a miscarriage early in their marriage, which is a pretty wild thing to forget, and then he recalls her accusing him of “coercing her into having children” after painting quite the opposite portrait—another break?

All in all, a satisfyingly mystifying puzzle. But is it more than that? I fear I’m selling it short. Is it also a psychological portrait of Smith, expressed as the meeting of his potential other selves? There are also allusions to Godot and “The Metamorphosis” (I feel a little pretentious just pointing them out). They seem to exist just to hint at the absurd and the uncanny.

I notice the first two men both have watches as well as cell phones. I wonder if that’s typical of men their age.