Tag: third-person omniscient narration

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: “Insurance”

“Insurance,” by Thomas Bolt

Appeared in n+1‘s online-only edition, September 1st, 2017

3024 words

Maybe more of a vignette, a slice of life, than a story. A family beset by small, everyday inconveniences that somehow seem bigger than they are.

Short story: “About the Author”

“About the Author,” by Alina Stefanescu

Appeared in Menacing Hedge, issue 6.03, winter 2017

1148 words

This is pretty cool. I like the knife’s suggestion of violence and the unanswered question about Suzanne.

“Gabe sits in the church pew next to her. He is surrounded by his happy, well-functioning nuclear family. During communion, he describes their splendid family road trip. When he fails to mention a single road-stop fight, the girl is overcome by nausea. She begins to despise Gabe but the hatred does not flare into its usual livid orange rocket. Instead, it rolls about the room like seasickness, a gunky green.”

Short story: “An Honest Woman”

“An Honest Woman,” by Ottessa Moshfegh

Appeared in the October 24th, 2016 issue of the New Yorker and was read by the author on The Writer’s Voice

6486 words

Jeb’s desire is typical of a certain type of man. Sex and romantic affection seem utterly out of his reach, but he keeps maneuvering, keeps playing his game, as though he hopes to annoy her enough that she notices him, or perhaps make her defensive enough that she’s almost afraid. Meanwhile, the “girl” plays a similar if less twisted game: she doesn’t stay at his house in order to make a human connection, she just wants to be right, to feel smart and contemptuous at his expense. The author says, “She’s just as wily as Jeb is, I think. She wants something from the exchange, too—revenge, empowerment.”

Edited to add: Some odd point of view shifts, slightly distracting. It’s meant to be omniscient, but it feels like we spend a lot of time inside Jeb’s head.

Short story: “Then We’ll Set It Right”

“Then We’ll Set It Right,” by Robert Gorham Davis

Appeared in the New Yorker, August 28th, 1943 (subscribers can read here); read by Lydia Davis, his daughter, in the November 2015 episode of the New Yorker Fiction Podcast; also appeared in 55 Short Stories from the New Yorker

Perhaps 2,000 words?

This story impresses me with how plain and straightforward it is. I suppose being plain, straightforward, and wickedly understated are the traits of a classic New Yorker story. And the general point of view is distant enough that the point of view shifts don’t register as distracting—an omniscient trick that doesn’t seem to be as common today. The title is a bit unsubtle though.

Short story: “Woman of the Week”

“Woman of the Week,” by Claire Polders

Appeared in matchbook in February 2016

449 words

A neat piece. Sort of celebrating the individuality of somebody who appears superficially uninteresting.

Short story: “At the Zoo”

“At the Zoo,” by Caitlin Horrocks

Appeared in Issue No. 188 of the Paris Review, Spring 2009 and online here; collected in This Is Not Your City (Sarabande Books, July 2011)

4,709 words

This is good.

The story is set up so that we first wonder if the mad scientist is secretly the grandfather, then eventually discover that he doesn’t seem to know anything about it. And then—memory loss? Time travel? He doesn’t seem forgetful. It’s a mystery.

Short story: “Suicide as a Sort of Present”

“Suicide as a Sort of Present,” by David Foster Wallace

Collected in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (May 28th, 1999, Little, Brown and Company); read by the author on YouTube; part of the story is excerpted here

Maybe 1500 words?

This is such a good story.

Of course Wallace’s death complicates (or rather, oversimplifies) the way we read it, and probably makes it horribly cruel to his family. All the same, it’s really good.

I’m pretty sure the suicide/present is the son’s, and I suspect he took others with him.

Short story: “The Tower”

“The Tower,” by Steven Millhauser

Appeared in Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern 25, 2007

16 1/3 pages in McSweeney’s

Millhauser is always good but rarely as good as I want him to be. This story is a very long parable, maybe too long. When I reread it after some years, I realized I had forgotten the ending—not because the ending is arbitrary, but because it’s sort of parabolically inevitable, like the endings of “Paradise Park” and “The Dream of the Consortium.”

I really like this line, for no special reason: “a row of sparrows rose into the air with beating wings, like the sound of a shaken rug.”

Short story: “The Trampling”

“The Trampling,” by Christopher Barzak

Appeared in issue 28 of Nightmare Magazine, January 2015

4478 words

I would not have expected a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fanfiction to comment on modern-day worker exploitation so explicitly and so gracefully, but here we are.

What really impresses me about this story is more technical: the use of an omniscient narrator, the smooth point of view transitions, the old-fashioned authorial “we” that seems to invite the reader to sit down and have a drink. The section breaks help, I think, though there are only two. The opening paragraph is an excellent model of how omniscient narration works.