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Tag: first-person narration

Short story: “Medusa”

“Medusa,” by Pat Barker

Published in the New Yorker, April 8th, 2019, and read for The Writer’s Voice (read and listen here)

5,196 words

Curious how different stories of sexual assault affect me in different ways. This one doesn’t make me angry, the way the initial encounter in “The Elevator” does, or sickly frightened, the way “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” did on my first reading. The main character’s traumatized calm infects me with calm too.

The ending really works for me, and the bullying voice in her head is very relatable.

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Flash fiction story: “The Events of Last September”

“The Events of Last September,” by Scott Garson

Appeared here in Pidgeonholes, April 2019

258 words

Somehow this reminds me of some of Kafka’s very short stories. It seems to be about a hoped-for possibility that never gets realized—a break from banal everyday life, from conformity even? Creating a tag for this type of story, which I’ve talked about before.

Short story: “Charles Guiteau, Who Will Hang for the Assassination of President Garfield in 1882, Has Trouble Connecting with Women at Oneida, John Humphrey Noyes’ Free-Love Commune, in 1866”

“Charles Guiteau, Who Will Hang for the Assassination of President Garfield in 1882, Has Trouble Connecting with Women at Oneida, John Humphrey Noyes’ Free-Love Commune, in 1866,” by Tom Noyes

Appeared in the Kenyon Review MAR/APR 2019,
Volume XLI Number 2; read on Kenyon Review Out Loudscroll down to listen here

Perhaps two thousand words?

Really enjoyed the voice but had a hard time following the first time I listened to it. The ending was so abrupt I thought I had missed something. Easier the second time around. A Barthelme-ish voice. Not conventionally realistic like a lot of other Kenyon Review stories.

The recording is not very good—I would recommend that the reader place a stack of books behind the mic to make the sound more resonant.

Short story: “For Somebody So Scared”

“For Somebody So Scared,” by Courtney Sender

Appeared in the Kenyon Review MAR/APR 2019,
Volume XLI Number 2; read on Kenyon Review Out Loud; scroll down to listen here

Several thousand words

Fascinating. My new favorite Kenyon Review story. The narrator tells us up front how it will end; the suspense comes from wondering how it will happen.

An idle thought

In “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You),” some of the foolish things listed are feminine: the departed “you” seems to have worn lipstick and silk stockings and gardenia perfume. And yet there’s that “You conquered me,” a more conventional sentiment for a woman to utter to a man than the reverse. In any case, hearing Billie Holiday and other female singers do their famous renditions, we could easily interpret the song as being about a woman addressing another woman. What other obvious interpretation is there?

Short story: “Replace”

“Replace,” by Glen Pourciau

Appeared in Per Contra, issue 31 (Spring 2014), formerly here but now, unfortunately, the magazine is on permanent hiatus

Not sure how many words since I can no longer access the site

A nice, melancholy piece, although I don’t feel as strongly about it as about the other Pourciau stories I’ve read.

I don’t like it when a story title is just the base form of a verb, unless it’s clearly intended as an imperative. “Replacement” would sound better to me.

Novelette: “Sarrasine”

“Sarrasine,” by Honoré de Balzac

Original on Wikisource; translation by “Clara Bell and others” (?) on Gutenberg

13,137 words in translation, not counting a footnote that appears to be the translators’

Most famous for its analysis by Barthes. I haven’t read S/Z because I am too cheap to buy a copy and Barthes mostly confuses me anyway.

The frame story is one of the great failed pick-ups of literature. Narrator, why oh why did you think talking about some guy’s unrequited passion for a castrato would get you anywhere? I love his lady friend’s reaction: seeing that all earthly love is doomed to disillusionment, she resolves to be “pure” all her life. Extreme, perhaps, but I think she understands the story better than he does. There’s a certain pleasure in seeing him hoist by his own petard that way.

There’s also a pleasure in seeing Sarrasine suffer for his selfish “love.” Did Balzac intend that? The readers of his time must have sympathized with Sarrasine’s fury at being duped. And yet Balzac is careful to show us that Zambinella is never cruel, merely foolish. The singer even asks, “Suppose I were not a woman?”—hoping for acceptance, empathy, love. Like many trans women today, he (?) is nearly murdered for daring to exist.

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: “Big, Dark Hole”

“Big, Dark Hole,” by Jeffrey Ford

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

8.25 pages in the magazine, therefore approximately 4,364 words

The struggle to understand and remember someone who’s lost forever. This struggle seems to arise most often with suicides, and, as in this case, disappearances that might or might not be suicides. It’s like there’s something unfinished and we have to keep telling the story to find out how it ends.

That’s the struggle to understand. The struggle to remember involves the horror or melancholy of losing parts of our own stories, parts of ourselves.

Like “Transfer,” this story is about an outside observer of a mysterious drama that’s never completely explicated. I find it more effective though. Maybe because it so blatantly dwells on the narrator’s loss at the end, making it clear to the superficial reader (me) what the story was about. “Transfer” ends with the narrator contemplating the harm she has done by interfering, and then “marvel[ing]” at the stories she can now tell. Perhaps that story is about casual cruelty, and was just too subtle for me.

The last line ought to be a little too neat, but to my ear it rings just right. The narrator is approaching his own death, his own disappearance.

I admire the prose—snappy and full of juice.

My theory on the dog is that he was bleached by old urine.

Short story: “Transfer”

“Transfer,” by Laura van den Berg

Appeared in Conjunctions:71, A Cabinet of Curiosity, Fall 2018; also an “online exclusive,” whatever that means, here

7.5 pages in the print magazine and 3,970 words, which means Conjunctions fits approximately 529 words to a page

This is fascinating, but it feels incomplete. It seems to me the main character doesn’t entangle herself deeply enough in the plot to be the main character. The story seemingly belongs to the director, the one who’s dealing so desperately badly with her grief. I want the narrator to snoop and interrogate even more than she does.

I’m curious about the choice to summarize the letter instead of quoting it. Filtering it through the narrator’s sensibility keeps our attention on her curiosity, her voyeurism.

Maybe the key to this story is the main character’s confession that she was the first to find the body. She’s trying to become closer to the director, or at least to trade one secret for another, but the director’s madness forms a barrier between them. Or it could be more reticence than madness.

When the main character tells the staff one of the director’s secrets, I wonder how much she’s motivated by “hoping that they might take pity on her” and how much by the very human need to share what she knows.

Semicolon watch: I noticed many semicolons here, every one of them connecting two independent clauses. The narrator is literate and reflective, so semicolons suit her.