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Tag: hierarchical power

Short story: “On the Universal Rights of Ducks and Girls”

“On the Universal Rights of Ducks and Girls,” by Tara Campbell

Appeared in CRAFT, July 10th, 2020

1,444 words

Rather fascinating look at teenagers’ sensitivity and the clumsy ways adults deal with it. I have to say, guiltily, that I sympathize more with the adults than with the poor girl.

Forced copulation in the animal kingdom is truly disturbing though.

Short story: “Love Letter”

“Love Letter,” by George Saunders

Appeared in the April 6th, 2020 New Yorker and on The Writer’s Voice, March 31st, 2020 (read and listen)

2,864 words

Terrifying. Believable. Loving, too: full of love for the grandson and the country. Sort of wish I had written this myself.

A few commenters on Biblioklept argue that the grandfather’s attitude is basically Saunders’, but I can’t see it that way at all. For one thing, the supposedly too late time from which the grandfather writes is clearly a few years in our future; I feel (though some will disagree) that Saunders could have set the story much closer to the present and given it the same hopelessness, if he’d wanted to make the point that there is nothing to be done. For another thing, I have faith in Saunders: his humanity, his idealism. “I have lived this long and have the right[,]” says the grandfather, and I feel Saunders saying, No he doesn’t, even as he allows the character his dignity, his honesty.

After listening to the podcast episode I went and wrote a few more postcards to potential voters, asking them to vote (ha) for a Democrat (ha). There is so much more to be done, but it’s a start. (To do something similar, join postcardstovoters.org.) (Or votefwd.org.)


Marcella Prokop, in an interesting post on Writing from the Core, says this story is an exercise in futility: “I argue that the people who are putting kids in cages or supporting ICE raids (some of the things that come to mind as I read ‘Love Letter’) aren’t reading The New Yorker, so the story and its lessons are lost on them.”

I can’t disagree more. This story isn’t for the people who want to cage kids, it’s for people like me. People who hate the idea of caging kids but, well, the nearest concentration camp is a long ways away and writing letters to the editor feels futile and my elected officials either agree with me or can afford to ignore me and I’m not made of money. This story is designed to prod us into action—some kind of action. It’s not enough, but then, what is?


Edwin Turner of Biblioklept says in the post mentioned above, “It might be possible to read the story as a critique of the narrator’s inaction, but any such reading would have to ultimately dismiss the sympathy and love with which Saunders crafts this grandfather.” Again, I disagree totally. You don’t have to dismiss anything. Just hold these two things in tension.

Novelette: “Anda’s Game”

“Anda’s Game,” by Cory Doctorow

Appeared in Salon, November 16th, 2004; anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2005 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, edited by Katrina Kenison and guest editor Michael Chabon); also anthologized in Dangerous Games (Ace Books, 2007, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois); collected in Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2007)

10,287 words

This is very charming and hopeful. I wouldn’t call it an answer to Ender’s Game, more like a riff on tangentially related ideas.

I like the way Doctorow makes it clear that Anda’s gaming has good and bad aspects. It’s taught her effective teamwork and perhaps helped her value herself as a girl, but because she does it in excess, it takes up too much of her time and energy and leaves her physically out of shape.

Short story: "The Missing Are Considered Dead"

“The Missing Are Considered Dead,” by V. V. Ganeshananthan

Appeared in Copper Nickel at some point, featured online here as of January 28th, 2020

3,373 words

A story rich with fine observations about people:

“[S]he wanted to be included in my loss.”

“The gossips whispered to each other, asking what was wrong with me. I heard them, and wondered too, which was what they wanted.”

“Had he thought he was freeing us?”

At first I was almost convinced the handcuffed man was her husband, beaten and broken, and that she rejected him for her own sanity, or perhaps failed to recognize him at all. Now I think he was truly a stranger, but still I wonder.

Short story: “Happy to Be Nice”

“Happy to Be Nice,” by Scott Bradfield

Appeared in the defunct but still delightful Black Clock (edited by Steve Erickson), issue 14, August 11th, 2011

A few thousand words

I was interested to see another story by Bradfield—I had read only one thing by him, and that’s a real shame. This piece uses a heavy irony similar to “The Darling”‘s, but didn’t speak to me the same way. Maybe the incoherence of the main character’s mind distances him. I do enjoy the incoherence of the narration (reflected in the title). Everyone is intensely miserable under a thin layer of manic happiness, and I enjoy that too.

Short story: “Breathing Exercise”

“Breathing Exercise,” by Raven Leilani

Appeared in The Yale Review at some point in early 2020 (online here)

3,327 words

A harsh story. I should have seen the ending coming but I most certainly did not. Does Myriam really want herself, her power, “reduced”? I feel like she feels powerless and scared and tries to turn her body into art as a self-protective measure. But I’m not up on the psychology of extreme art.

Love this:

the cute, indelible madness of female error

Flash fiction story: “The Sub”

“The Sub,” by Allie Torgan

Runner-up in The Academy for Teachers “Stories Out of School” 2019 flash fiction contest (selected by Susan Choi); published in Electric Literature‘s Commuter feature here, February 3rd, 2020, issue no 101

715 words

Camilla’s father’s note is such a terribly sad thing. I didn’t tear up or whatever, but it was a closer thing than usual.

The shift from timestamps to no timestamps didn’t bother me while I was reading, but I wonder what the rationale was. I guess the sub stops counting the minutes on her second day.

Short story: “The Recollection”

“The Recollection,” by Julia Baggott

Appeared in the online edition of Conjunctions, January 21st, 2020

2,779 words

“This war was the Forced March, the Great Diaspora, the Systematic Displacement, the lock-step shattering of communities and families, dispersing humans, fracturing networks.” The worldbuilding doesn’t quite map to our world, but you can taste real-world genocide in it: these people were caged by the old regime, hunted down and left to die (after escaping?), resuscitated and in theory reunited under the new regime.

The new regime operates coldly, according to arbitrary laws, which makes it cruel, though it ought to seem kind by contrast, and perhaps its architects mean to be kind.

Short story: “Hair”

“Hair,” by Weike Wang

In Boulevard, Fall 2018, Vol. 34, 1, and on their blog

2,231 words

The impossible standards women face in society are depicted here with a rather light touch—the girls/young women are almost forced to obsess over their hair, and the men they meet, having no idea what they go through every day, simply consider them shallow. The first-person plural narration strikes me as very apt, making the problem seem like an epidemic.

Great line: “We stand in the bathroom like this for years, and when we finally come out, our brothers’ puny legs have grown massive.”

Short story: “The Trump Wedding”

“The Trump Wedding,” by E. L. Siegelstein

Appeared in FLAPPERHOUSE XX (Winter 2019), even though the magazine was supposedly shutting down after 2018; I’m thinking that was a typo and it was actually 2019

5,767 words

Morbidly compelling. By the end I was whole-heartedly rooting for the protagonist in spite of everything.

Please let this not be a vision of the future.