Tag: present 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: “Restroom”

“Restroom,” by Kim Gibson

Appeared in Defenestration, December 20th, 2017

2,746 words

A charming story of unexpected kindness. Tight and fast-paced enough to feel shorter than it is.

I found the narrator enjoyable even though he starts out cynical and hostile towards this perfectly innocent stranger. I’ve been working on a story with a similar character arc, and I’m curious what makes a reader keep reading when the main character at first seems unlikable. In this case, perhaps the humor woven into the character’s cynical commentary.

Short story: “Toothless”

“Toothless,” by Cara Dempsey

Appeared on Monkeybicycle July 8th, 2016

587 words

A good nightmare.

Short story: “Five-Year Plan”

“Five-Year Plan,” by Jason Marak

Appeared on matchbook, March 2016

386 words

Nicely captures a certain hopeless hope.

The author says, “I let the character’s words (rhythm, diction) do the work.” That’s probably what holds the piece together so well.

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: “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: “Among the Sighs of the Violoncellos”

“Among the Sighs of the Violoncellos,” by Daniel Ausema

Appeared in Strange Horizons, April 13th, 2015 (read / listen)

1,529 words

Delightfully clever and weird. This is the bit that won me over:

Two philosophers once had a sword duel there, arguing whether the lack of water below made it a true or false bridge. To one it undermined the very concept of bridge-ness and made mockery of such categories. To the other, the word could have many meanings, could signify countless things, each in its own context.

Who won the duel depends on how you define words like winner and duel and death. In the eyes of the law, the winner was the one who defined sword to mean whatever weapon he could lay his hands on. And the sign winner signified a cell with bars and a locked door.

Short story: “Robots Make Babies”

“Robots Make Babies,” by Rachel Adams

Appeared in issue fifty-four of The Collagist, January 2014; found via Wigleaf‘s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions of 2015, edited by Roxane Gay

364 words

I’m not sure I understand what this story is about, but I like it. Especially this line: “Now the babies are growing into tiny people the robots do not love.”

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before the robots realize that the distinction between their creators and their creations is arbitrary, and that their love is meaningless.

Short story: “The Trampling”

“The Trampling,” by Christopher Barzak

Appeared in issue 28 of Nightmare Magazine, January 2015

4,478 words

I would not have expected a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fanfiction to comment on modern-day worker exploitation so explicitly and so gracefully, but here we are.

What really impresses me about this story is more technical: the use of an omniscient narrator, the smooth point of view transitions, the old-fashioned authorial “we” that seems to invite the reader to sit down and have a drink. The section breaks help, I think, though there are only two. The opening paragraph is an excellent model of how omniscient narration works.