Tag: socioeconomic class

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.

On writing about the world outside ourselves

“[T]he counterintuitive landscapes and stories one finds in other cultures are just another version of the unexpected and counterintuitive landscapes and stories we all find in the world outside ourselves. In describing and moving through these landscapes, the only real recourse we have against charges of exploitation or tone-deafness is to bring as much empathy and as wide a consciousness as we can manage.”

—Elif Batuman (x)

On becoming a lefty

“I went from being a liberal Peace Corps-type Democrat to a raging, maniacal lefty.”

—one of the volunteers for Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964 (Freedom Summer, Bruce Watson, 2010)

When you have actual contact with people affected by civil rights, can you help becoming a lefty? I ask this rhetorically.

Short story: “Gender Studies”

“Gender Studies,” by Curtis Sittenfeld

Appeared in the August 29th, 2016 issue of the New Yorker (read or listen online here)

4,720 words

Rather depressing, given how much of my own social set I can see in Nell. A small, memorable failure of imagination and humility.