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Tag: ambiguous endings

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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Flash fiction story: “Everything Is Green”

“Everything Is Green,” by David Foster Wallace

Appeared in the collection Girl with Curious Hair, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1989 (though Goodreads for some reason says November 1st, 1988); then in Harper’s (PDF), September 1989; read by George Carr for Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast; also read and discussed by the Austin Writing Workshop in 2015 in the podcast Saturday Show, episode #87

Less than 700 words, I’m told; less than a page in Harper’s

A thoughtful slice of life. Certainly not the kind of thing I usually expect from Wallace, but he’s a versatile writer.

Curious whether they’re arguing over an affair or perhaps (since Mayfly’s name, as pointed out in a comment here, suggests rapid reproduction) a pregnancy. It doesn’t seem to matter. That post I linked to posits that Mayfly’s name means she will be part of Mitch’s life only fleetingly—though I wonder if that name might instead suggest her youthful flightiness, her tendency to indulge in brief flings and fancies. That could be the source of the friction.

At the end, you can feel how Mitch loves her.

Edited to add: I wonder how authentic the voice is. I don’t know any trailer dwellers, but presumably Wallace knew some. In his essay “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All,” he seemed contemptuous of a certain type of insulated white lower-class people—”trash,” as I think they’re popularly called—who wear T-shirts with unfunny, sometimes misspelled slogans and want a Republican in the White House. Here, though, you can see his compassionate interest in Mitch and hear the music in Mitch’s voice. I wonder if someone as urbane as Wallace putting on this kind of voice—this kind of life—is necessarily being a little patronizing, a little inauthentic.

Edited again to add: I notice the window is “her window” but the sofa lounger is “my sofa lounger.” Intimacy, the way their separate possessions mingle. But more than that, distance, since he’s separating those possessions in his mind; they’re not “our window” and “our sofa lounger.”

Regarding the Austin Writing Workshop discussion: I disagree that the narrator is inarticulate or sounds drugged. It seems to me he’s expressing almost exactly what he means to express (at least to the reader—he fails to get through to Mayfly) and his thinking is reasonably clear. I think these readers are being misled by the rough simplicity of the style, what they call “redneckese.” I also disagree that Mitch idolizes Mayfly; his attitude towards her feels realistic, though loving, and the ending feels bittersweet to me, tinged with the awareness of their incompatibility. I also disagree that the story is too simple.

Mitch shows an admirable, perhaps unusual emotional openness. Not what you would stereotypically expect from a man of his social class, or any man.

Flash fiction story: “The Golden Key”

“The Golden Key,” by Carlea Holl-Jensen

Appeared in FLAPPERHOUSE #17, Spring 2018, March 20th, 2018; online here March 16th

841 words

An interesting piece with a great ending. Seems to be about an emotionally reserved/deadened man rediscovering a sense of romance (I mean, not eros romance, but the romance of mystery and delight). I like the way the romantic title contrasts with the mundane appearance of the key in the story. Maybe the key and box have to appear mundane in order to break through the main character’s reserve? A more conventionally fairy-tale-ish golden key and beautifully carved wooden box might have provoked his skepticism or cynicism, too fantastic to be real.

Holl-Jensen is the editor of a magazine by the same title.

Edited to add: I think this story does something unusual—introduces a character’s typical state (emotional reserve) while almost simultaneously showing how that typical state breaks down in the face of an unusual event. It works for me, even though the character’s typical state is more told than shown.

Short story: “The Specialist’s Hat”

“The Specialist’s Hat,” by Kelly Link

Collected in Pretty Monsters (Canongate Books), which won a Locus Award; the story also won the 1999 World Fantasy Award; read beautifully in Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast

Not sure how many words

This story is so strange I wonder if it originated as a dream. Not the identical twins or their preoccupation with death/Death—those strike me as fairly conventional tropes in horror and the literature of the uncanny. But that hat, which doesn’t look like a hat, and which can mimic any sound … that belongs in the realm of dream. The ending is marvelous, with children’s games and poetry ambiguously bleeding into the real world.

Short story: “Uncanny”

“Uncanny,” by James Patrick Kelly

Appeared in Asimov’s, October/November 2014, Vol. 38, Nos. 10–11 (Whole Nos. 465–466), edited by Sheila Williams; read by Dani Cutler in episode 489 of Escape Pod, April 8th, 2015

1,421 words

Pretty funny, though a bit generic as sexbot stories go.

Short story: “My Mother Casting Bones”

“My Mother Casting Bones,” by Emily Wenninger

Appeared in Menacing Hedge, issue 7.02, fall 2017

4,919 words

(Spoilers.) A good story. Even though I would never do what Clara did, I felt personally rebuked and downcast by the email reply. I’m curious what the final image means. A brief vision of the other Clara?

Short story: “The Return”

“The Return,” by Debbie Urbanski

Appeared in Terraform, September 22nd, 2016

2,516 words

Disturbing and elegantly ambiguous. Edit: Or maybe the word I want is “unresolved.”

Short story: “The Better Part of Drowning”

“The Better Part of Drowning,” by Octavia Cade

Appeared in The Dark, November 2017 issueonline here

5,207 words

A grim story full of mysterious and highly original worldbuilding.

Flash fiction story: “Praying to the God of Small Chances”

“Praying to the God of Small Chances,” by L Chan

From Arsenika, Issue 1, Spring 2017online here

961 words

A thoughtful and well-written piece. It appears to me that the main character (spoilers) never goes in to see their father, seemingly content with just a glimpse of him—a curious lack of resolution.

I like the knockoff Adventure Time shirt.

Short story: “Love Like Monkeys”

“Love Like Monkeys,” by Jess Zimmerman

Appeared in Terraform, January 13th, 2017

2822 words

This story raises a bunch of creepy possibilities and refuses to fully resolve them. Not my cup of tea, although I can see it’s well done.

An interesting review: “What I liked about this story is that it’s a ‘gotcha’ story without a moral. It has the form of one of those irritating stories that the coffeehouse nerd in the brown cardigan writes to try to ‘wake people up.’ […] This story is happy to let it lie.”