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Tag: t. c. boyle

On art and advocacy

“I don’t believe that art and advocacy really can coexist. If you want to advocate a position, write nonfiction, give a speech. Art is supposed to be a seduction, and good fiction is supposed to invite the reader in to decide for him or herself how they feel, so I never try to push anything on anybody.”

—T. C. Boyle in an interview with The Coffin Factory Inc., found in Tweed’s

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Short story: “Are We Not Men?”

“Are We Not Men?”, by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Appeared in the November 7th, 2016 issue of the New Yorker, read by the author in The Writer’s Voice

7,010 words, which is not enough or possibly too many

I settled into this story with the welcome feeling that I might be listening to Escape Pod or Lightspeed—playful worldbuilding and straightforward, emotionally accessible storytelling. But “Are We Not Men?” ends right when I’m expecting it to get started. The ending is presumably supposed to be a revelation of sorts: in a few small ways, wild nature kicks back against controlled technology. It’s a trite dichotomy, and the story doesn’t develop much tension between the two.

Short story: “Chicxulub”

“Chicxulub,” by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Appeared in the New Yorker, March 1st, 2004 (online here); featured in the September 2015 episode of the New Yorker Fiction Podcast

4,463 words (my guess was 4,000)

This story reminds me of “Bullet in the Brain,” although it is more linear, and “Forever Overhead,” although it uses a different technique. I find it pretty impressive. Lionel Shriver reads it well—sort of coldly. To read it with too much emotion would kill it.

Shriver and Deborah Treisman talk about the strangeness of writing an experience you haven’t had, and seeing it move someone who has. Shriver takes it rather lightly. But how much of a compliment is it, really, if a stranger sobs over your story? Couldn’t it also be a condemnation? How much of other people’s pain belongs to the writer, and how much does not?

Short story: “Game”

“Game,” by Donald Barthelme

First appeared in the July 31st, 1965 issue of the New Yorker (subscribers can read here); online here; read aloud on YouTube; collected in Sixty Stories; read aloud for the February 2014 New Yorker Fiction Podcast

1,926 words; 4.5 pages in Sixty Stories

A necessary precursor to DeLillo’s “Human Moments in World War III”?

Edit to say what a great bit of mental bargaining this is:

“Perhaps the plan is for us to stay here permanently, or if not permanently at least for a year, for three hundred sixty-five days. Or if not for a year for some number of days known to them and not known to us, such as two hundred days. It may be that they are pleased with us, with our behavior, not in every detail but in sum.”

Another edit to say I think this is the only first-person narrator I’ve read who claims to have omniscient knowledge and first-person limitations in the same breath. A good way to show the character’s breakdown. He’s unable to articulate “I am not supposed to know about Shotwell’s gun, but I do know about it, and he is not supposed to know that I know about it, but he does know I know about it” (et cetera), perhaps because he’s lost his grip on the boundaries of his identity.

Another edit to say that that quote above really reminds me of Kafka.

Short story: “The School”

“The School,” by Donald Barthelme

Appeared in the New Yorker on June 17th, 1974 (subscribers can read it here); available here on the NPR website; apparently also here; also, there’s a YouTube clip from a reading here, a full YouTube reading here, and another audio interpretation here; collected in Sixty Stories; read aloud for the February 2014 New Yorker Fiction Podcast

1,207 words; about three pages in this copy of Sixty Stories

I’ve read a few Barthelme stories but until recently I was mostly bemused. I didn’t get what he was trying to do. Then I happened to hear a clip of this one read aloud on YouTube—I think certain types of humor just work better out loud, you don’t get the full effect of the absurdity on the page. Or maybe I’m relying too much on tone of voice and audience response as cues. The words still seem alien to me.

I’ve read this several times over now. It summarizes the problem of death about as well as anything I’ve ever read or come up with.

They said, we don’t like it.

I said, that’s sound.