We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
Published in 1962 by Viking Press
160 pages in the Penguin Classics Deluxe paperback
This book feels like the purest and most beautifully executed piece of wish fulfillment I’ve ever read. (The thing that comes closest to it is The Talented Mr. Ripley.) When I say wish fulfillment, I guess I mean that Merricat never has to grow up, never has to learn her lesson. Constance never has to grow up either, and after the brief temptation of adulthood passes, she returns happily (?) and with relief to the safety of Merricat’s little world. They win. They triumph. And the twistedness of their triumph is a pleasure in itself, which is only enhanced by the cruelty of the outside world—it’s as though Merricat’s madness is a reaction to that cruelty (though of course it needs no justification beyond itself) and a taunt to throw back against the taunts of the hostile neighbors.
“Horse Master” (version 2.01), written in Twine 1.4.2 by Tom McHenry
Copyright 2013, playable at the creator’s website
I can’t find an easy way to do a word count on a Twine game, but the file is 179 kilobytes; if it were a straight-up prose piece, my guess is that it would run to 4,000 words
I haven’t written much about games and game writing before now. This one is worth playing/reading. The ending varies, but (spoilers!) it is consistently bleak and painful.
“Empty Planets,” by Rahul Kanakia
Appeared in Interzone, issue 262, January–February 2016
10 pages in the magazine, maybe 4k words?
Is there a word for bleak hopefulness? Cheerful meaninglessness? It’s not a feeling I enjoy, but I admire fiction that manages to replicate it. (Like “Reasons to Be Cheerful,” which is one of Kanakia’s favorites.)
“When you have an entire story about a guy who struggles to articulate the inarticulable, you really want an ending that says something. And yet what is there to say that can’t be banal? I got a few rejections from editors where they said everything was working except for the ending.
“However, I loved the ending. I’ve rarely been more sure that I’ve found the right ending for a story. And after reading through it just now, I was struck by how well the story articulated the problems I’m still facing, two years after writing it.”
“Bang,” by Lisa Teasley
Appeared in Black Clock, issue 21, spring/summer 2016
A little under 4 pages; 2,077 words
This is the final issue of Black Clock, so all the pieces are titled “Whimper” or “Bang” or variations on the theme, and they’re all about apocalypses or deaths or endings. It’s a pretty sweet conceit but it tends to deemphasize the individuality of each story, and this one feels like it could have gotten its own title and its own ending that might not fit the Procrustean cot.
“Great Oak,” by Jason Rush
Featured in Pseudopod episode 460, October 16th, 2015
Maybe 4,000 words?
Predictable but good. As Alasdair Stuart says, the horror lies in the choice to go on like this rather than risk the unknown.
One basic thing that makes this story work is that it introduces the protagonist when he’s going home to his partner. So we start out understanding that he’s a desperate but basically gentle person, and when we find out what he’s doing, we carry that understanding with us.
“Singularity,” by Melanie Tem
Appeared in Crimewave 12: Hurts, 2013
A bit under 14 pages in the issue, which comes to about 5200 words
A fine, bittersweet story of friendship. I like how Crimewave deals with literary stuff like this that might not even qualify as “crime fiction”—it’s fiction about the repercussions of crimes, which is a different thing.
The physics metaphors didn’t bother me so much in this story (except when the narrator seemed to be using them to dodge responsibility), because they arose naturally from his interests. On reflection, though, they don’t add much, and they feel less organic and relevant towards the end of the piece.
“Think,” by David Foster Wallace
Appeared in Conjunctions issue 28, spring 1997, alongside another Wallace story; collected in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
About 2 pages in the book; 738 words (my guess was gonna be 1,000)
When I first read this it felt slight and excerpt-ish, but on a reread I find it excellent. A single scene implies a plot in which the main character’s soul or honor hangs in the balance, and Wallacianly, he has to make himself a bit hokey and ridiculous—in this case, he literally humbles himself—to earn his right to that soul/honor.
I really like “snaps clear” as a description of what your forehead does when you suddenly realize something.