Tag: third-person omniscient 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.


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: “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.