Tag: the new yorker

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: “Passion”

“Passion,” by Alice Munro

Appeared in the New Yorker, March 22nd, 2004 (online here); collected in Runaway (McClelland and Stewart, 2004), which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize (2004), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book in Caribbean and Canada (2005), and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (2004); anthologized in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006

11,319 words

I had to think a bit about the title. It’s Grace’s passion, isn’t it, that drives the story? She’s young and badly in need of stimulation—you can see that in her studies and her reading and her feeling for Mrs. Travers. The stimulation she gets from Neil is along the same lines but more intense than what she’s gotten elsewhere. She learns to drive, and she has an erotic experience, and she has an intense laconic conversation, and she encounters despair—a despair she must have gotten only a dim inkling of, if she got any intimation of it at all, from the end of Anna Karenina. (I wonder which character she identified with. I read it at about age eighteen and don’t recall having a particular affinity for any of them. Maybe for Levin.)

(At my age, I should be feeling how very young twenty is, but I associate Grace’s receptive quality, her passion, with an even earlier age. Maybe I’m not so old, or maybe I was already old—albeit not wise—at twenty.)

What are we to make of Grace’s return more than forty years later? The place means a great deal to her, but why now? We learn only a little about her—that she is an excellent conversationalist, evidently after the example of the Travers family, and sometimes gets sick of hearing herself talk. Is she trying to rediscover the passion she’s lost? Has her passion gotten tucked away behind the laundry basin?

Publications mentioned in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2004

Publications the anthology draws from:

Publications under the heading “Notable Nonrequired Reading of 2003”:

  • The Antioch Review
  • The Sun
  • L.A. Weekly
  • Land Grant College Review
  • Open City (twice)
  • eyeshot.net, now defunct
  • Mother Jones
  • The Kenyon Review (twice)
  • Parabola
  • Five Points
  • Fence
  • Southern Review (twice)
  • Indiana Review
  • The New Yorker again (twice)
  • Mid-American Review again (twice)
  • Tin House again (three times)
  • Salt Hill
  • Epoch
  • Nation
  • Painted Bride Quarterly
  • Grandstreet (I assume this refers to Grand Street, now defunct?) (twice)
  • StoryQuarterly again
  • Autobiographix
  • sweetfancymoses.com
  • Ploughshares
  • Speakeasy again
  • Other Voices
  • Bitch
  • Black Warrior Review, another one I should get around to reading
  • The American Scholar
  • The Believer again
  • AGNI, styled Agni
  • One Story
  • Conjunctions again
  • Zoetrope again
  • Hayden’s Ferry
  • The New York Times Magazine

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: “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: “Waugh”

“Waugh,” by Bryan Washington

Appeared in the New Yorker, October 29th, 2018, and on The Writer’s Voice (read and listen)

Several thousand words

Harsh and sad, and sparely written. Interesting how Emil (?) disappears at the end—it seemed as though he and Poke might be forming a real connection, but in reality Poke is only thinking of Emil’s value to Rod. The point of view stays outside of Poke’s emotional center, perhaps because that’s just the way his character is. Very masculine, that aloofness of point of view.

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.

Novel excerpt/novelette?: “The Luck of Kokura”

“The Luck of Kokura,” by Gary Shteyngart

Excerpted from Lake Success, published in the New Yorker (June 25th, 2018) and on The Writer’s Voice

9,315 words

A portrait of an asshole who doesn’t know he’s an asshole, and perhaps for that reason is strangely likable. And of a friendship, limited though it is, a genuine friendship between two assholes.

The title underlines the thoughtless assholery of the two men—Jeff Park’s pleasure at the good fortune of Kokura at Nagasaki’s expense. Is that the whole point of the story, the way we can fail to recognize our own selfishness and smallness (I can’t come up with a better word than smallness, somehow—I mean a certain narrowness of outlook)? Barry doesn’t learn anything from his experience, does he? He’s simply defeated. I suppose there’s hope that he will return to his wife and make a not totally unsuccessful attempt to be a good father. Have to read the novel to find out.

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: “I Walk Between the Raindrops”

“I Walk Between the Raindrops,” by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Appeared in the New Yorker, June 30th, 2018, and in The Writer’s Voice (read and listen)

6,993 words

A peculiar story, changing from topic to topic with very little connection between them. I feel like it’s basically a story about guilt. The main character is so painfully mediocre, neither especially cruel nor especially kind, doing so little to make the world a better place, and I think he knows it.

Deborah Treisman: There seem to be two narratives here: one in which a relatively contented, happily married, satisfied man recounts some events that revolve around the misfortunes of others, and another, in which he is subconsciously aware of the role that he played in those misfortunes and is subtly trying to deflect guilt. How hard is it to channel those two narratives into one?

T. Coraghessan Boyle: This is the beauty of first-person narration: the reader can never be sure whether the narrator is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth or fudging things just a wee bit in order to assemble the psychological blocks of his own self-defensive version of events. I do like the way you put it, Deborah, with regard to the conflict here, and, of course, there is the revelation near the end in which Serena, the ESP woman, calls Brandon out for what he is.