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Tag: first-person narration

Short story: “Stanville”

“Stanville,” by Rachel Kushner

Appeared in the New Yorker, February 12th, 2018, and in The Writer’s Voice (read and listen)

Several thousand words

You really get a feel for the hopelessness of these women’s lives. The way the main character analyzes that woman who tells the parole board she’s innocent seems very right. I’m a little puzzled by the shifts between first person and third person limited. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author tried two first-person narrators, or two third-, for symmetry’s sake, before discovering that the two points of view required different modes. Maybe the prisoner needs to have her own voice rather than being a distant “she,” while the teacher can’t sustain his own voice because of his lack of self-assurance?

I can’t tell this is a novel excerpt, which is nice.

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Short story: “I Walk Between the Raindrops”

“I Walk Between the Raindrops,” by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Appeared in the New Yorker, June 30th, 2018, and in The Writer’s Voice (read and listen)

6,993 words

A peculiar story, changing from topic to topic with very little connection between them. I feel like it’s basically a story about guilt. The main character is so painfully mediocre, neither especially cruel nor especially kind, doing so little to make the world a better place, and I think he knows it.

Deborah Treisman: There seem to be two narratives here: one in which a relatively contented, happily married, satisfied man recounts some events that revolve around the misfortunes of others, and another, in which he is subconsciously aware of the role that he played in those misfortunes and is subtly trying to deflect guilt. How hard is it to channel those two narratives into one?

T. Coraghessan Boyle: This is the beauty of first-person narration: the reader can never be sure whether the narrator is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth or fudging things just a wee bit in order to assemble the psychological blocks of his own self-defensive version of events. I do like the way you put it, Deborah, with regard to the conflict here, and, of course, there is the revelation near the end in which Serena, the ESP woman, calls Brandon out for what he is.

Short story: “We Have a Pope!”

“We Have a Pope!”, by Christopher Buckley

Appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in April 2003 (online here); anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2004

26 pages in BANR, 9,593 words

A fun story, carried along by the voice and personality of the narrator. I didn’t know the Atlantic published this sort of thing. (According to Wikipedia, the Atlantic dropped the “Monthly” soon after this story came out.)

The fact that Buckley was chief speechwriter for the first Bush makes me appreciate this story a little less. Perhaps he’s not putting on the narrator’s hucksterism and dishonesty?

Short story: “Meeting of a Lifetime”

“Meeting of a Lifetime,” by David Batteiger

Appeared in Every Day Fiction, October 5th, 2018

701 words

A sweet story.

The final sentence distracted me a little by stating something the character shouldn’t know yet.

Short story: “Shadehill”

“Shadehill,” by Mark Hitz

Appeared in Glimmer Train #92, Winter 2015; this and another story won the author the $50,000 Keene Prize for Literature; it was also anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2016

A few thousand words; 10 and 2/3 pages in BANR

When I first read this I thought the girl had drowned, like her namesake, and that the grandfather’s unforgivable crime was neglect. Then, skimming through it a second time, I suddenly made the connection with the beaver—then the cemetery by the shooting range—then the grandfather’s refusal to wear glasses, and that terrible encounter at the funeral—and also “her poor unmade head” (I had to go back and check to make sure I’d gotten that word right, what a word, “unmade”). I like a story that makes me go back and reread parts of it, like a mystery novel that cleverly disguises its clues. The emotional journey, too—pardon the hackneyed and almost ludicrous expression—is excellent, like rising and falling music. I wouldn’t say I felt the sick horror and disorientation the family goes through, I’m more detached than that, but I feel like I understand the exact texture of their experience.

I find it interesting that before we see Ophelia’s twin go into the water, we learn that she survives. We just don’t know exactly what happens to her, which is suspense enough.

Tagging this “first-person minor narration” because I think the central character is the family as a whole, not the narrator.

I haven’t read anything from Glimmer Train in a long time—I dislike their use of author photos—but obviously they’re a very good magazine. They invited Hitz to write a short essay on craft, in which he said:

“The two things that have sustained me in my writing (which until recently has been mostly a private, even secretive activity) are my evolving obsessions with various works of literature in relationship to my life, and my own subjective discoveries regarding craft. To put it another way, the most important and lasting lessons I’ve learned about writing were not imparted to me, but rather won through the long, circular process of reading closely, putting words to paper (or failing to put words to paper), and doing my best to return everything to life. Many of these personal lessons, which I am constantly revising, would likely sound simplistic, or even absurd, if I tried to explain them here.”

The humblest commentary on craft is, in my opinion, the best. (Edited to add: Turns out he said this and I quoted it way back in 2013.)

Flash fiction story: “Milestones”

“Milestones,” by Janice Leagra

Appeared here in Spelk, February 5th, 2018

416 words

Oh man. Really good portrait of a fucked-up parent-child relationship. On my first read I was picturing the “you” as a father for some reason, but I think it’s actually a mother. I was slightly distracted at the end wondering how the narrator was speaking from beyond the grave, but whatever.

Short story: “A Coward’s Death”

“A Coward’s Death,” by Rahul Kanakia

Appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, issue 93, February 2018

2,140 words

A crushing story, tolerable only because it’s so short and parabolic. Who is the coward? Usurus acts to save a few lives in the short term, while Tiktus stands up to tyranny at great cost to everyone around him. It’s Usurus who is venerated, but it’s Tiktus who provokes that urgent question at the end, and the answer: “No. Never.” It’s the kind of question and answer that could inspire rebellion—revolution—if not for the story’s great, terrible last line.

Short story: “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

“Love Will Tear Us Apart,” by Alaya Dawn Johnson

First published in Zombies vs. Unicorns (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010); appeared in PseudoPod 581, February 9th, 2018, and replayed July 20th

7.075 words

(Heavy spoilers.) I was hooked from the first few lines. Talking mac and cheese, indeed.

I don’t quite believe Jack would invite Grayson to feed on his father’s body, at least not at the drop of a hat.

Short story: “Mannequin”

“Mannequin,” by Melissa Ragsly

Appeared in CRAFT, March 30th, 2018

6,914 words

(Spoilers.) A good teenager story with rather delightful ending. The protagonist’s presence of mind during the sexual assault scene is remarkable, maybe even wish-fulfillment-y, the kind of decisive action we all wish we had taken at a moment of uncertain crisis. She’s highly perceptive, despite her understandable adolescent naiveté about Mr. House.

Edited to add: I don’t like the way CRAFT precedes each story with commentary—it seems to me that such a thing should go at the end—but I like that they provide a link to the author’s own commentary, so you can read it (in a pop-up) or not.

Flash fiction story: “Military Coup Matching Quiz”

“Military Coup Matching Quiz,” by Ellen Adams

Appeared in the Kenyon Review Online, January/February 2018

671 words

A clever piece, full of disquieting details.