Tag: socioeconomic class

Short story: “Secret Identity”

“Secret Identity,” by Eric Gansworth

Appeared in the Kenyon Review MAR/APR 2019,
Volume XLI Number 2; read on Kenyon Review Out Loud; excerpt and audio here

Several thousand words

Very relatable story—relatable though I’ve never been strictly speaking poor. The need to have the right shoes and glasses to fit in, and so on.

The Kenyon Review seems to run a lot of straightforwardly realistic fiction. This is at least the second such story I’ve heard on Kenyon Review Out Loud that’s told in first person with a child protagonist.


Short story: “A Party Down at the Square”

“A Party Down at the Square,” by Ralph Ellison

First appeared, as far as I can tell, in the posthumous collection Flying Home and Other Stories (published in 1996 or 1997); downloadable in .doc format; online here; also at Scribd behind a login wall

3,063 words

It’s hard to know what to say about this story. It’s so grotesque, so evocative of the banality of evil. I feel it doesn’t affect me as strongly as it should, to be honest. Shouldn’t I be angry? Horrified? Revolted? I’m white, and even modern-day hate crimes rarely make me anything more than sad.

I like that the narrator puts his hands in his pockets almost immediately after the lynching victim does. It may make the narrator feel a modicum of empathy—and certainly we readers know that it ought to. I also really like the line “I guess that’s what made me sick”: the way the narrator doesn’t even fully understand that he’s sickened by what he’s seen.

I wonder what Ellison was thinking as he got inside the mind of his oppressors this way? Is this an admirable feat of imagination, or a futile one? Is there anything to learn from it?

Short story: “The Gifts of War”

“The Gifts of War,” by Margaret Drabble

Appeared in Winter’s Tales 16 in 1970; collected in A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories; also in the anthology Into the Widening World: International Coming-of-Age Stories, edited by John Loughery

About 16 pages in my library’s copy of A Day in the Life; ? words

A story of accidental cruelty that has stuck with me for years. Now that I think about it, the plot sort of reminds me George Saunders’ “Puppy,” but this story is quieter and the heartbreak happens onstage, from an outsider’s point of view. The clash between different social classes is similar too. As in “Puppy,” the point of view stays close to one character and then switches to another about halfway through, at a section break. This story is way more successful at differentiating the two voices.

If there’s a social message/satire intended here, I don’t get it. The title and epigraph seem out of place to me. I see it as loss-of-innocence story, with the college kids’ naive politics being nothing more of a foil for the unhappy woman’s jadedness and involuted life. Joyce Carol Oates actually described this as “an antiwar story” in the New Yorker, so consider me entirely out of the loop on this one.

I first read this in the coming-of-age anthology mentioned above, and I’m still not sure which character is supposed to be coming of age.

Novelette: “The Real Thing”

“The Real Thing,” by Henry James

According to Wikipedia, this was “first syndicated by S. S. McClure in multiple American newspapers” and then appeared in Black and White, which I assume is long since defunct, on April 16, 1892; it was then collected in The Real Thing and Other Tales (1893, McMillan and Co., on Project Gutenberg); also recorded for LibriVox

10,608 words

A charming, if grim, parable about reality’s relationship with “realistic” art. It reminds me of that passage in Dorian Gray in which the gifted young actress loses her ability to play Juliet the moment she falls in love for real. I wonder, though, if this clever reversal of expectations reflects any real truth. Perhaps it is the author’s way of cautioning us against his own work; perhaps he senses that he’s in danger of convincing his readership too easily of the reality of his depictions, of lulling us into complacency; perhaps, like the post-modernists, he wants to remind us, however much more subtly, that we’re reading a story.

Side note: It’s amazing that I don’t already have an “Oscar Wilde” tag. What’s the matter with me?

Short story: “Backpack”

“Backpack,” by Tony Earley

Appeared in the New Yorker, November 5th, 2018, and in The Writer’s Voice (read and listen)

6,904 words

I love the long buildup, with all the details of the plan hinting at suicide, and the way we come to understand (in an intuitive, unarticulatable sense) why John/Jimmy Ray does what he does, and the way the narration keeps switching between the two names (which somehow never becomes confusing—the fact that they start with the same letter helps), and the character of Carmen, naive yet capable of remarkable things.

Most of the other reviews I’ve seen of this story have been very negative, with one person complaining that the initial plan looked like murder rather than suicide—something that never occurred to me.

I notice the three women all practically have the same name. Carly Charlotte Carmen. Wonder why.

Short story: “Ormonde and Chase”

“Ormonde and Chase,” by Ian Creasey

Appeared in Asimov’s #461, June 2014; read for StarShipSofa No 533, April 18th, 2018

5,300 words, according to the author

An enjoyable yarn with a touch of (rather nonspecific) satire. (At least, my American ear didn’t pick up on the specifics.)

Flash fiction story: “Everything Is Green”

“Everything Is Green,” by David Foster Wallace

Appeared in the collection Girl with Curious Hair, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1989 (though Goodreads for some reason says November 1st, 1988); then in Harper’s (PDF), September 1989; read by George Carr for Miette’s Bedtime Story Podcast; also read and discussed by the Austin Writing Workshop in 2015 in the podcast Saturday Show, episode #87

Less than 700 words, I’m told; less than a page in Harper’s

A thoughtful slice of life. Certainly not the kind of thing I usually expect from Wallace, but he’s a versatile writer.

Curious whether they’re arguing over an affair or perhaps (since Mayfly’s name, as pointed out in a comment here, suggests rapid reproduction) a pregnancy. It doesn’t seem to matter. That post I linked to posits that Mayfly’s name means she will be part of Mitch’s life only fleetingly—though I wonder if that name might instead suggest her youthful flightiness, her tendency to indulge in brief flings and fancies. That could be the source of the friction.

At the end, you can feel how Mitch loves her.

Edited to add: I wonder how authentic the voice is. I don’t know any trailer dwellers, but presumably Wallace knew some. In his essay “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All,” he seemed contemptuous of a certain type of insulated white lower-class people—”trash,” as I think they’re popularly called—who wear T-shirts with unfunny, sometimes misspelled slogans and want a Republican in the White House. Here, though, you can see his compassionate interest in Mitch and hear the music in Mitch’s voice. I wonder if someone as urbane as Wallace putting on this kind of voice—this kind of life—is necessarily being a little patronizing, a little inauthentic.

Edited again to add: I notice the window is “her window” but the sofa lounger is “my sofa lounger.” Intimacy, the way their separate possessions mingle. But more than that, distance, since he’s separating those possessions in his mind; they’re not “our window” and “our sofa lounger.”

Regarding the Austin Writing Workshop discussion: I disagree that the narrator is inarticulate or sounds drugged. It seems to me he’s expressing almost exactly what he means to express (at least to the reader—he fails to get through to Mayfly) and his thinking is reasonably clear. I think these readers are being misled by the rough simplicity of the style, what they call “redneckese.” I also disagree that Mitch idolizes Mayfly; his attitude towards her feels realistic, though loving, and the ending feels bittersweet to me, tinged with the awareness of their incompatibility. I also disagree that the story is too simple.

Mitch shows an admirable, perhaps unusual emotional openness. Not what you would stereotypically expect from a man of his social class, or any man.

Flash fiction story or fictional essay: “Columbia Market”

“Columbia Market,” by Paul Beckman

Appeared in Bartleby Snopes and winner of their December 2016 Story of the Month poll

712 words

I didn’t really get this, it felt more like a fictional essay than a story. The experiences of this impoverished thirteen-year-old are certainly interesting, but there’s no plot movement.

Short story: “Teeth”

“Teeth,” by Erin McGraw

Appeared in the Kenyon Review Online, January/February 2018

1,382 words

An interesting piece about the social markers that categorize us in other people’s minds, and the problem of money.

Found via a recommendation here.

On giving people their rights

“We gave [Martin Luther King, Jr.] the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we gave him the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we gave him the War on Poverty. What more does he want?”

—President Lyndon Johnson (reportedly) after King criticized the war in Vietnam

This is a dangerous idea and one that’s easy to fall for if you’re inured to the status quo. Rights are not given. They are owed. That’s what makes them rights.

Found here.