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Tag: the new yorker fiction podcast

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?

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Short story: “New York Girl”

“New York Girl,” by John Updike

Appeared in the New Yorker, April 1st, 1996 (subscribers can read here, I think); read by Tessa Hadley on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, September 3rd, 2018 (listen here)

Several thousand words, I imagine

I haven’t read much Updike. I rather like this, especially the last few lines, where—as Hadley and Treisman point out—the dream the protagonist cherished, represented by this sometime lover, is gently obliterated. Though I personally never got a strong sense of what that dream was—too subtle for me maybe.

Short story: “Jack’s Garden”

“Jack’s Garden,” by V. S. Naipaul

Appeared in the New Yorker October 6th, 1986 (online to subscribers here); read by Karl Ove Knausgaard for the New Yorker Fiction Podcast episode released June 1st, 2016

A lot of words

I was barely able to follow this story on the podcast. I have to agree with Knausgaard that it’s “boring,” but unfortunately I didn’t recognize the redeeming quality he sees in it. At the end it did feel like there was a small, meaningful revelation—too late to capture my attention.

Short story: “Stone Mattress”

“Stone Mattress,” by Margaret Atwood

Appeared in the New Yorker, December 19th, 2011, online here; collected in Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales (Nan A. Talese, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday, 2014); read by A. M. Homes for the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, June 1st, 2018, online here

7,156 words, though it feels much shorter

(Spoilers.) Verna is charmingly believable. It seems like such a leap from her quiet, almost passive-aggressive husband murders (and not all of them even qualify as murders, I feel like) to the swift brutal one she enacts on Bob—I wasn’t sure if she could go through with it. But then she did. And I liked it.

What to make of the ending? I think she’s going to get away with it, but it’s striking how apathetic she is about the whole plan, how distractable. “She ought to care more about that—she ought to find it an exciting challenge—but right now she just feels tired and somewhat empty.

“Though at peace, though safe.” Is she lying to herself about feeling at peace? Surely she is. Surely her revenge hasn’t solved the problem of her life, her bitterness about the long-lasting effects of her trauma.

Edited to add: “kind, soft, insulating money” is so great. Listening to the podcast, I was waiting for the noun (“love,” perhaps?) and “money” came as a delightful surprise.

Short story: “The Surrogate”

“The Surrogate,” by Tessa Hadley

Appeared in the New Yorker (online here), September 15th, 2003; read by Curtis Sittenfeld on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, September 1st, 2017 (online here)

4,607 words

(Spoilers.) A really interesting, if sad, story. The main character’s fantasy is always something out of reach. I’m tagging this “failures of human connection” because Dave, who goes unnamed for such a long time, remains such a mystery; all we can sense about him, wistfully, is that he would have liked to have a real girlfriend instead of just a sex partner. It’s impossible to know whether the main character’s missed opportunity with Dave is a tragedy or just a wrinkle in her life, something to fantasize about now that they’ve gone on their very different paths.

Short story: “A Visit”

“A Visit,” by Steven Millhauser

Appeared in the New Yorker, August 25th, 1997 (online for subscribers); collected in The Knife-Thrower (1998); read by Richard Powers for the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, January 3rd, 2017

Maybe 4,000 words? Not long

This story feels sad to me—the failure of the narrator to make a meaningful connection with his old friend and his friend’s new wife. It occurs to me that this story could be a parable for a prejudiced person’s reaction to an interracial marriage, or a same-sex marriage, or perhaps a marriage to a transgender person or a severely handicapped person by someone who’s neither: How grotesque this is, how wrong! Yet the narrator does get an intimation of a real and healthy marriage, a thing he’s never achieved himself.

Short story: “The Frog Prince”

“The Frog Prince,” by Robert Coover

Appeared in the New Yorker, January 27th, 2014 (online here); read by Gabe Hudson on the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, July 3rd, 2017 (online here)

“Just under 1200 words,” according to Deborah Treisman; 1,168 by my word processor

An odd story. The moral, perhaps: “[T]hey found a certain contentment, living more or less happily ever after, which is what ‘now’ is while one’s in it.”

I like what Hudson says about not trusting writers.

Short story: “Leopard”

“Leopard,” by Wells Tower

Appeared in the New Yorker, November 10th, 2008 (online here); read by David Sedaris for the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, January 2nd, 2018 (online here)

Maybe 4,000 words? Feels rather concise

I wanted this story to keep going. I was startled when it ended where it did.

I take the leopard to be a symbol of the boy’s inner life, his (justified) anger at his stepfather, and the power he wants to wield in the world. It’s scrawny and half-tame, much like a typical eleven-year-old boy.

When a story is in the second person, inevitably, that’s the first thing reviewers pounce on. Why is it in second person, does it place you more fully in the character’s shoes, does it demand too much identification from the reader, et cetera. I don’t usually care if a story is in second person or not. But I did notice that parts of this story were in the imperative mood, and they stuck out slightly. I feel like it works, overall.

Short story: “Father’s Last Escape”

“Father’s Last Escape,” by Bruno Schulz, translated from the Polish by Celina Wieniewska

Originally collected in Street of Crocodiles; appeared in the New Yorker (online here), January 2nd, 1978; PDF here; read by Nicole Krauss in the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, February 2012

Probably 2,000 words or even less

I listened to this a long time ago and it never completely left me. It makes me think of a parent slowly giving way to Alzheimer’s or some similar mind-wasting disease, so that the survivors bid him goodbye a little bit at a time, first one memory, then another. (I’m not the first to make this comparison.)

Short story: “A Dream of Men”

“A Dream of Men,” also apparently titled “An Old Virgin,” by Mary Gaitskill

Appeared in the New Yorker, November 23rd, 1998 (subscribers can read here, also online here); collected in Don’t Cry; featured in the New Yorker Fiction Podcast

5059 words

A strange story; the plot takes place in the main character’s seemingly unordered thoughts. Men, women, sexual violence, sexual chivalry, sexual “honor,” sexual vulnerability, the working out of some complicated grief.