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Tag: third-person narration

Flash fiction story: “The Exhibit”

“The Exhibit,” by Samantha Kimmey

Appeared in Split Lip Magazine, September 2018

395 words

Great atmosphere. I like how the woman who ends up acting more or less as the main character only appears as an individual halfway through (after 199 words). The real main character seems to be the crowd.

I like the satire here too, the way the visitors assess their own reactions to the art rather than actually responding to it. They don’t recognize it as actual real-life cruelty because the context is so alienating.

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Novelette: “Sarrasine”

“Sarrasine,” by Honoré de Balzac

Original on Wikisource; translation by “Clara Bell and others” (?) on Gutenberg

13,137 words in translation, not counting a footnote that appears to be the translators’

Most famous for its analysis by Barthes. I haven’t read S/Z because I am too cheap to buy a copy and Barthes mostly confuses me anyway.

The frame story is one of the great failed pick-ups of literature. Narrator, why oh why did you think talking about some guy’s unrequited passion for a castrato would get you anywhere? I love his lady friend’s reaction: seeing that all earthly love is doomed to disillusionment, she resolves to be “pure” all her life. Extreme, perhaps, but I think she understands the story better than he does. There’s a certain pleasure in seeing him hoist by his own petard that way.

There’s also a pleasure in seeing Sarrasine suffer for his selfish “love.” Did Balzac intend that? The readers of his time must have sympathized with Sarrasine’s fury at being duped. And yet Balzac is careful to show us that Zambinella is never cruel, merely foolish. The singer even asks, “Suppose I were not a woman?”—hoping for acceptance, empathy, love. Like many trans women today, he (?) is nearly murdered for daring to exist.

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.

Short story: “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”

“‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” by Harlan Ellison

Appeared in Galaxy in December 1965; won the 1966 Hugo Award for best short story; won the 1965 Nebula Award; anthologized in World’s Best Science Fiction: 1966

Not sure how many words

I was pretty underwhelmed when I finally got around to reading this. I’ll admit that the prose style and the unserious tone are awesome, especially the cheeky 1984 reference. Maybe that stuff was striking and innovative when this piece was first published, but today, treating serious subject matter with complete irreverence is unremarkable. The same goes for the dystopian plot. (Maybe the moral is that even small, doomed acts of rebellion can make a difference in the long run? Sure, whatever.) It doesn’t help that the characters are deliberately paper-thin.

This essay describes the story as a self-subverting fable, which is fair enough. Another essay says it’s about “the futility of protest in effecting social change.”

I feel like “‘Repent'” fails for the same reason any story of its kind must fail. You can use the techniques of storytelling to deny that stories hold meaning, but you just end up undermining yourself.

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: “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: “Jimmy’s Roadside Cafe”

“Jimmy’s Roadside Cafe,” by Ramsey Shehadeh

First published in Strange Horizons, June 30th, 2008; appeared in Drabblecast 249, July 12th, 2012, and in one of Drabblecast‘s Director’s Cut Specials, August 16th, 2018

4,348 words

What an excellent story. The slightly distant point of view (Is it omniscient? Seems like we get a tiny glimpse into Patrick’s mind when he blurts out that line about cigarettes) works well, letting us understand Jimmy’s motivations without hammering us over the head. The first sentence is also great, opening with a bombshell and tapering off, deadpan, into the minor details of the cafe’s location.

Short story: “Birthday Boy”

“Birthday Boy,” by Amy Lukavics

Appeared in Unnerving Magazine, issue #6 (it’s the first story in the issue)

Maybe 3,000 words? I’m hopeless at estimating these things

Clever, and the mother’s emotional arc feels believable, at least to me. Of course, the story cheats by withholding information that the point-of-view character knows, but I think it gets away with it.

 

 

Short story: “Monsters”

“Monsters,” by Scott Cheshire

Appeared in Catapult, September 30th, 2015

5762 words

This story ends at exactly the right point.

Short story: “George and Elizabeth”

“George and Elizabeth,” by Ben Marcus

Appeared in Granta 133: What Have We Done (online here, behind a paywall), November 18th, 2015

8273 words

The relentless cynicism (detachment? deflection? cruel superficiality?) of the narration is all worth it for that last line.