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Tag: formal inventiveness or unconventionality

Flash fiction story: “Ouroboros”

“Ouroboros,” by Michael Compton

Published in Monkeybicycle‘s One-Sentence Stories feature, February 1st, 2019

342 words

Cleverly written and effective. The first few phrases didn’t grab me, but then we got to the description of “that endless instant” and the tension clicked on. We never learn what makes the main character a Bad Husband—it may actually be something really bad—but we sympathize with his feeling of being stuck.

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Flash fiction story: “Outline for an Eco-Romance”

“Outline for an Eco-Romance,” by Ori Fienberg

Okay Donkey, February 1st, 2019

448 words

Interesting. The “outline” form reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s “Adult World.” Why tell the story in this format? What does it add? It’s surely not intended as a glimpse into the writing process. Rather, it casts a sense of irony over the story’s events, as though to say, “See how absurd this is?” The events of this story are admittedly silly, but why make them seem sillier by holding them at arm’s length? I’m imagining this story as a somewhat longer piece with fleshed-out scenes, and it seems to me neither more nor less entertaining.

Literary fiction publication: Harper’s

What: Harper’s Magazine or just Harper’s, one of the oldest monthly magazines in the U.S.
When: June 1850 to present
Who:  Masthead
How: Store; also, advertising
$: Don’t know how much they pay
Awards and recognitions: According to Wikipedia, has won twenty National Magazine Awards; too big to get a Pushcart ranking
Typefaces: Goudy Old Style

Harper’s is willing to publish formally unusual stories (“The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear”) and rather oddball stories (“The Return,” “The Depressed Person,” “The Dream of the Consortium”). Looking back at my Harper’s tag, I see I liked almost all the stories I’ve read quite a bit.

They sent David Foster Wallace to a state fair and on a luxury cruise. That shows vision. (Though I’m ambivalent about nonfiction that strays from the truth, and ambivalent too about Wallace’s flawed real-life character.)

Harper’s’ reputation is unfortunately stained by reports of their decision to publish a piece doxing the creator of the “Shitty Men in Media” list. (Edited to add the tweet below.)

 

Standouts:

Short story cycle/fictional essay: “Octet”

“Octet,” by David Foster Wallace

First published without the crucial last question in spelunker flophouse; collected with that question in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (Little, Brown and Company, 1999)

Several thousand words

I found this piece effective because it forced me to ask myself very seriously whether I found it effective. The first few pop quiz questions are interesting and necessary to the piece, but I’m really talking about the extremely lengthy last one, which begins, “You are, unfortunately, a fiction writer.” It made me actually anxious, I agonized over the question of how I felt, I even felt guilty because I might not be getting what I was supposed to be getting out of this piece that the intratextual writer character (and, I naturally felt, the extratextual author) was obviously pouring his heart into. Of course, it would be easy to dismiss this, as the text itself suggests, as a bit of cheap manipulation. Same with the author and writer character’s artistic choice to make the numbering of the pop quiz questions illogical, listing them presumably as they were listed in an earlier draft that had all eight questions, deliberately showing the reader the seams and lacunae. But I didn’t resent it. I didn’t feel manipulated. I felt moved.

I certainly wouldn’t feel this way about an adult coming up to me and asking, “Do you like me? Please like me.” I would merely have to decide whether to lie or tell the truth, and would think, This person is really odd.

Short story: “STET”

“STET,” by Sarah Gailey

Appeared in Fireside Magazine, October 2018 (read here); recommended to me by a friend with good taste

1,434 words

I very much admire the use of the form, and the sense of barely restrained fury and grief. I’m reminded of the parents in “People Like That Are the Only People Here” (the coping mechanism feels similar even if the emotion is quite different) and “Incarnations of Burned Children.”

Nice work on Fireside‘s part, formatting this. I wonder how accessible it is to people using screen readers though? I imagine they probably figured something out.

Short story: “Time Bomb Time”

“Time Bomb Time,” by C. C. Finlay

Appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, issue 60, May 2015 (read online or buy the issue)

3,135 words

Marvelously clever, perhaps even better than “Crab Canon” in Gödel, Escher, Bach, because it weaves in the theme of time shenanigans so well. And I knew what was coming!—I just somehow didn’t realize each paragraph led backwards as well as forwards so neatly. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have much plot movement or action; it’s more like a tense prolonged moment.

Flash fiction story cycle: “Dear 8B”

“Dear 8B,” by Matt Mikalatos

Appeared in Daily Science Fiction, September 16th, 2015, (read here) and Toasted Cake 193, September 30th, 2018 (listen here)

591 words

A fun piece. Good to know Daily SF and Toasted Cake enjoy this sort of format. I wonder why “8B” though? Is the columnist a robot?

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.

Novelette: “Dead Air”

“Dead Air,” by Nino Cipri

Appeared in Nightmare Magazine and dramatized really well in the podcast (some excellent acting!) and featured on Dread Central

10,284 words

I enjoyed the peculiar form and the building mystery—and the fact that it’s Maddie who turns out to be the weird one, not eccentric artist Nita—but I wanted the story to reveal something at the end, something a little more definite than what was revealed. I’ve talked about big reveals in stories sometimes being disappointing, but I feel certain the author could have made it work.

I’m envious of the way the author uses the transcript format and blithely violates it with narrative interpolations (“[It’s a goodbye kiss, but Nita doesn’t know that.]”). How does that work so well?

Short story: “A Howling Dog”

“A Howling Dog,” by Nick Mamatas

Featured in PseudoPod 562, September 29th, 2017

2,166 words

Clever, though I thought the ending was rather abrupt and over the top. Of course, if you leave off the ending, it’s not horror.