Tag: twentieth century

On our resources

“A writer—and, I believe, generally all persons—must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

—Jorge Luis Borges in Twenty-Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983, can’t identify the translator by googling (quote found here)


Short story: “Jelly and Jack”

“Jelly and Jack,” by Dana Spiotti

Excerpted from Spiotti’s novel Innocents and Others (Scribner, March 2016); appeared in the New Yorker, December 14th, 2015 (online here); anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2016

6,979 words, 17.5 pages in BANR

Jelly is a fascinating character. I can feel the allure of being in a pretend relationship with no pressure to look good or live well or be a success. Being free to invent your life afresh and even, occasionally, to tell a truth. I love the ending. Though I suppose it’s predictable.

I just realized this takes place in 1985. I had picked up on the landline phones but for some reason glossed over the total lack of internet, which is really crucial to the story.

I’m very much in the minority on this, I know

I don’t quite like the first paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson, Viking, 1959). It feels melodramatic to me. The rest of the book is so much more subtle and so damn good.

So many people have written praise for this paragraph. Benjamin Dreyer has written some wonderful commentary on it. But I don’t like the talk about sanity and insanity; I don’t like the doors being “sensibly shut” (why shouldn’t they be? I don’t like that sensibly, somehow); I’m not sure I like the image of silence lying steadily against anything (how could it, being immaterial?); I don’t like that dramatic “whatever walked there, walked alone” (although I agree with Dreyer that the comma makes for a good rhythm). I don’t even like the use of semicolons—too dramatic for me—although I adore semicolons generally.

I do like “larks and katydids,” and the idea that they dream.

In defense of semicolons

“Any number of celebrated writers who ought to know better—I’ll name no names—have said any number of foolish, disparaging things about semicolons. [Shirley] Jackson uses them, beautifully, to hold her sentences tightly together. Commas, semicolons, periods: This is how the prose breathes.”

—Benjamin Dreyer (x)

Short story: “The White Spot”

“The White Spot,” by Jonathan Blum

Appeared in the Kenyon Review, Sept/Oct 2018; read, I think by the author, for the Kenyon Review Out Loud: Audio Selections from the Kenyon Review podcast—listen here

A few thousand words?

This is so good. I wonder what the old anti-Semite was thinking, hearing that story? Did it move her at all? Did she hate the two of them more than ever?

It’s certainly wrong for the father to use his son this way, exposing him to anti-Semitism at such an early age, and to torment a dying woman, however vile she may be. But how human of him!

Short story: “Definitely Maybe”

“Definitely Maybe,” by Allee Richards

Appeared in The Lifted Brow, issue 38, June 2018 (buy the issue or read an excerpt of the story)

Several thousand words; I’m getting lazy about word count

A story about being in a bad relationship and very aware of it, and the desperate inadequacy of nineties-style “Girl Power.” Perhaps the inadequacy of more contemporary feminist thinking, too? I like the character bragging about how she used to grow out her underarm hair, to prove she’s better than this.

I can’t get over how much this magazine costs to ship to the U.S. Not sure it contains enough fiction to be worth it, but at least the fiction is good.

Short story: “Audition”

“Audition,” by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

Appeared in the September 10th, 2018 issue of the New Yorker; read by the author on The Writer’s Voice: New Fiction from the New Yorker, September 4th

6,708 words

An engrossing story. At the end I worry that the main character is lost, that he will go on smoking crack (quite possible, and the author implies in an interview that he’s doomed) and never move to LA (almost certain). And I don’t want him to move to LA, because that way lies a miserable disillusionment—at least in my mind.

Sayrafiezadeh has, of course, been published in the New Yorker, which makes him the kind of success in his field that the main character dreams of being. I wonder what it’s like writing such a character from such a vantage point.

Short story: “Cookie Jar”

“Cookie Jar,” by Stephen King

Appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), apparently in spring of 2016, online here


Really enjoyed this.

Interesting to see a literary-type magazine publishing a speculative piece by a well-known genre writer. Their submissions page says they’re generally not interested in genre.

Short story: “Beyond the Dead Reef”

“Beyond the Dead Reef,” by James Tiptree, Jr.

Appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 1983; won a 1983 Locus Award for best short story; collected in Tales of the Quintana Roo (Arkham House, 1986), which won a 1987 World Fantasy Award for best collection); appeared in PseudoPod 603, July 13th, 2018 (though not reprinted as text—perhaps there was a problem getting the rights)

A few thousand words

Interesting, but the initial buildup strikes me as long and not closely related to the main story (even though I love the murder plot), the monster is silly, and the moral at least borders on heavy-handed. Perhaps I’m reading it from the wrong era.

The framing comments on how unreliable the narrator is ought to undermine the story, it seems to me, but don’t. Is that typically the case? Are we wired to enjoy a good story regardless of what we think about the storyteller?

Short story: “The Plutonian Drug”

“The Plutonian Drug,” by Clark Ashton Smith

First published in Amazing Stories, September 1934; appeared in PseudoPod 591, April 20th, 2018, and replayed July 27th of the same year; also online here

4,072 words

Clever. The initial dialogue infodump is a bit clumsy, but maybe that was a common convention at the time. (Or does it count as infodump if it’s mainly for worldbuilding rather than having much effect on the plot?)