Tag: short stories

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.


Short story: “Miracle Polish”

“Miracle Polish,” by Steven Millhauser

Appeared in the New Yorker, November 14th, 2011 (read here), and read by Stuart Dybek for the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, November 1st, 2018 (listen here); also anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2012 (Heidi Pitlor and Tom Perrotta)

6,482 words

I listened to this story in two parts and in between the parts I forgot that it was in first person. The narrator’s life seems almost too depressing for first person. Millhauser captures a sense of muted despair, a despair too muted, too drenched in mediocrity and banality, even to be satisfyingly painful. At the end, I wonder if his terrible choice even matters; he’s already irrevocably addicted to what the mirrors show him, and things would have ended just as wretchedly if he had deliberately chosen Miracle Polish over Monica.

That repeated “Are you?” is so awful. You just want it to stop! A good scene, though I suppose you can see where it’s going after a certain point.

I was surprised when I saw the story on the page to notice all the commas and comma splices in the first two sentences. I wonder why Millhauser made that choice? Maybe to show the narrator’s impatience?

Short story: “Omakase”

“Omakase,” by Weike Wang

Appeared in the New Yorker, June 18th, 2018, and on The Writer’s Voice (read and listen)

Several thousand words

This fucking guy. I love the subtle ways the story shows that he’s a bit of a jerk. He tells the woman (neither are ever named, I’m not sure why) she’s overthinking, and perhaps he means it, and the truth is she’s not, she’s just sensitive to matters of race and to the man’s respect for her.

Even his impressive knowledge of foreign cultures is irritating to me somehow, it’s like he’s using Chinese pottery and sushi and expert chopstick technique to prove how cosmopolitan he is. And it’s subtle enough that it’s hard to put your finger on what’s wrong. I hope the woman realizes all this before it’s too late.

Flash fiction story: “Vodka Vodka Vodka”

“Vodka Vodka Vodka,” by Cindy House

Appeared here in Wigleaf, October 22nd, 2018

930 words

This therapist annoys me so much, laughing the way she does. The bar story the narrator tells her is funny, sure, but also—probably scary? Probably sad, that the narrator spent time in places where things like that happen? It could be a lot of things. And then the jaw story, where the therapist annoys me again by not laughing.  Maybe she can’t be expected to read things like “And then I never saw him again, never answered his calls after that” between the lines, since those admissions are given only to us readers, but she should be able to guess this: “I couldn’t stand the idea that he’d seen me like that, that he knew me at my worst.”

I like “My stilettos never hurt my feet. My jewelry is insured. My car is serviced regularly.”

Short story: “Some Things I Probably Should Have Mentioned Earlier”

“Some Things I Probably Should Have Mentioned Earlier,” by Laura Pearlman

First appeared in Mothership Zeta, May 2016; read live at Worldcon for Escape Pod 650, October 18th, 2018

1,767 words

Ha! Good piece. The live reading format didn’t hurt. I like hearing audience reactions.

Short story: “Under the Wave”

“Under the Wave,” by Lauren Groff

Appeared in the New Yorker, July 9th & 16th, 2018, and read by the author on The Writer’s Voice (read and listen)

Several thousand words

Wow, this is so interesting. I wonder if the woman has a plan for when the child reaches puberty. She seems like she doesn’t look beyond the present moment much; if she did, she might be overwhelmed by grief for the past.

Short story: “Loyalty Test”

“Loyalty Test,” by Andrew Gudgel

Featured in Escape Pod 649, October 11th, 2018

2,561 words

An enjoyable yarn. I didn’t see the ending coming—I wonder if I should have? Either way, fun.

Short story: “What You Eat”

“What You Eat,” by Ben Ehrenreich

First appeared in BOMB Magazine, April 1st, 2003 (online here); anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2004; apparently also made into a film

4,440 words, a little over ten pages in BANR

Oh, I like this. The kid seems to have a compulsive need to push boundaries—first with his slingshot, then with his incredible perversity at the end. You’d think giving his father the scare of his life would be enough, but he has to go all the way, and I like that.

I wonder if many kids brought up in rigidly authoritarian households end up boundary-pushing like this?

Short story cycle/fictional essay: “Good World”

“Good World,” by John Haskell

Appeared in Blind Spot, issue 23, and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2004

Ten and two thirds pages in BANR, which probably means it’s in the range of four thousand words

That “powerlessness and optimism” is heavy stuff. How can we change our habits, make ourselves good? The little girl in the well seems to know, or perhaps it’s not knowledge but something else that makes her abruptly choose to act. The woman Anne is trapped in her habits. Laika’s habits make her happy—don’t they?—as well as good.

What is a good world?

Short story: “Ways and Means”

“Ways and Means,” by Sana Krasikov

Appeared in the New Yorker, August 27th, 2018 and read by the author on The Writer’s Voice, August 21st (read, listen)

7,717 words

I find myself bristling at the way Hal excuses Riff’s harassment of Molly, and I think this is the crux of the story, the tension between where readers (readers of my sort, anyway) want Hal to draw the line and where she actually does. Early on, we see her seemingly unimpressed with Riff’s bullshit about ring groping, which gives us a hope that is ultimately shot down. Meanwhile, it seems Riff really was fired partly for business reasons that had nothing to do with #MeToo; I suspect the author introduces this complication purely to give Hal the choice she faces at the end. Though you could certainly read it as a mealy-mouthed “Both sides are partly at fault” moral.

After writing the above, I read the author’s interview and didn’t get anything in particular out of it. It’s possible I’ve missed her intended point entirely. I think writers sometimes write with a grand message in mind and accidentally produce a work of art as a sort of byproduct.