Tag: past tense

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.


Novelette: “Passion”

“Passion,” by Alice Munro

Appeared in the New Yorker, March 22nd, 2004 (online here); collected in Runaway (McClelland and Stewart, 2004), which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize (2004), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in Caribbean and Canada (2005), and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (2004); anthologized in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006

11,319 words

I had to think a bit about the title. It’s Grace’s passion, isn’t it, that drives the story? She’s young and badly in need of stimulation—you can see that in her studies and her reading and her feeling for Mrs. Travers. The stimulation she gets from Neil is along the same lines but more intense than what she’s gotten elsewhere. She learns to drive, and she has an erotic experience, and she has an intense laconic conversation, and she encounters despair—a despair she must have gotten only a dim inkling of, if she got any intimation of it at all, from the end of Anna Karenina. (I wonder which character she identified with. I read it at about age eighteen and don’t recall having a particular affinity for any of them. Maybe for Levin.)

(At my age, I should be feeling how very young twenty is, but I associate Grace’s receptive quality, her passion, with an even earlier age. Maybe I’m not so old, or maybe I was already old—albeit not wise—at twenty.)

What are we to make of Grace’s return more than forty years later? The place means a great deal to her, but why now? We learn only a little about her—that she is an excellent conversationalist, evidently after the example of the Travers family, and sometimes gets sick of hearing herself talk. Is she trying to rediscover the passion she’s lost? Has her passion gotten tucked away behind the laundry basin?

Short story: “Waypoint”

“Waypoint,” by K. C. Vance

Appeared in Zone 3, Vol. 33, No. 1, Spring 2018

About five and a half pages, maybe a few thousand words?

The way this story is written is interestingly oblique. The downplaying of the lost child, the lost marriage, in favor of the lost parakeets. The marriage, too, seems to have ended because of the pregnancy, so losing the pregnancy must be like losing her husband a second time. A lot of unstated emotion.

I like how we learn that she doesn’t tell her estranged husband about her miscarriage only when we’re told she left a message about the birds.

There was one paragraph where I had trouble with a flashback because it was in simple past tense instead of past perfect. I wish writers would stop avoiding the word “had.” It’s a useful word.

Short story: “Dead in the Eye”

“Dead in the Eye,” by Melissa Mesku

Appeared in FLAPPERHOUSE #17, Spring 2018

1,492 words

I like the last paragraph. It seems to tie everything together.

Is every adolescence story a coming-of-age story? Surely not. Surely some of them are just life experience stories. Here, the protagonist doesn’t yet understand the difference between her and Violet; she’s still, as it were, innocent. It’s her adult self who marks that difference.

Short story: “Revision”

“Revision,” by William Walsh

Collected in Pathologies (Keyhole Press); readable online here

518 words

So far, all the pieces in this collection are beautifully crafted and eerie in a literary way. (As with any beautifully crafted literary fiction, I can only stomach a bit at a time.) This piece depicts a peculiar state of mind, sort of emotionally simplified by physical exhaustion and narrow escape from death: “I belonged to them now.” Interesting, now that I think about it, that it’s in past tense—it has a very present-tense feel.

Short story: “Star-Crossed”

“Star-Crossed,” by Kimberly Van Ginkel

Appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, volume 9, issue 1 (otherwise known as issue 49), second half of January 2011 (as far as I can tell; there’s no date on the issue itself)

5,559 words

I got a little impatient with this pair of lovers—like a lot of characters in fiction, they could have avoided a lot of trouble with one or two quick conversations—but I’ll admit I was hooked. There’s nothing like misunderstandings and pining to make a love story sing.

Short story: “The Dupe”

“The Dupe,” by Jim Fusilli

Appeared in D.C. Noir (2006, part of the Akashic Books Noir Series), edited by George Pelecanos

About 15.25 pages in the anthology, unknown number of words

A good little yarn.

I thought opening the story on the day of the crime was a bad idea, especially because the author (or editor?) avoids past pluperfect, resulting in awkwardness (“Five days earlier, Port was summoned”). I understand the need to put the drama up front, but I would have opened with “My father is disappointed, Jordie.”

Short story: “A snapchat is sent.”

Untitled piece whose first line is “A snapchat is sent.”; no byline, may be by editor Spencer Madsen

Appeared on the sorry house tumblr on September 22nd, 2013

179 words

Great use of the social media format. I’ve never even snapchatted, but I understand the feeling very well.

Short story: “Things You Can Buy for a Penny”

“Things You Can Buy for a Penny,” by Will Kaufman

Appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, February 2015

4198 words

A fun read. I admire the way the nested stories flow smoothly from one to the next.

Short story: “The Eyes”

“The Eyes,” by Edith Wharton

Collected in Tales of Men and Ghosts (on Project Gutenberg), 1910; online here; looks like there’s an inexpensive audio version here

8,081 words

One of those horror stories where the horror is all unstated. The biggest hint about the nature of that horror is Culwin’s apparent willingness to believe, even now, that he was being kind to Nowell and Noyes (“making people happy”!). The other big hint is at the end, when he sees his own face in the mirror. Up until that moment, Culwin failed to grasp the meaning of his own “ghost” story. The revelation is carefully foreshadowed:

“[T]here came over me a sense of [the eyes’] tacit complicity, of a deep hidden understanding between us that was worse than the first shock of their strangeness. Not that I understood them; but that they made it so clear that some day I should …”

If Culwin is gay, as seems plausible, then his first self-betrayal lies in making a sham attempt at heterosexuality, his second in a failure to treat the man he admires with respect. He even uses the former to excuse the latter (“I’d done it for his cousin’s sake, not his”), as though, in his self-loathing, he thinks he can cancel out a homosexual love affair by invoking a heterosexual one.

This essay tries to paint Culwin as basically admirable, but I don’t think that interpretation holds up. Frenham’s reaction is too extreme to be simple fear of losing his relationship with his mentor; it’s the reaction of someone who’s lost faith in his hero. Besides, Frenham is too minor a character for his personal feelings to set off the climax of the story, even considering his parallels to Noyes; rather, his breakdown is significant because of what it reveals about Culwin.

I don’t know whether Culwin has mistreated Frenham, and I’m not sure I care. (The narrator seems to think not.) What’s at stake here is Culwin’s soul.

I want to read some double meaning into “No well” and “No yes!”

Another interesting essay here.