There are a lot of amazing story writers–more every day, I think. What makes a short story brilliant? Well, that’s a matter of opinion. Some want to define it or find a formula; I used to be one of those. Anymore, I’ve given into my tendency to feel instead of think. Rather, my tendency to feel while thinking, and think about my feelings.
You know the Myers-Briggs test? I like to think I’m an INFTP, because when it comes to the think vs. feel questions, I always think, “Why not both?”
Reading her short stories, I get the feeling that Amy Hempel is the same way. If you haven’t read her stuff, I want you to click on this link and read “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” over at Fictionaut. I’ll wait. Continue reading
I’ve been poking around on a lot of flash fiction websites lately. I love flash fiction. I don’t always love every piece of flash–there’s a lot of difference of opinion about what makes it work, how it should work, etc–but I’m always curious how different writers work within this very limited (usually 500 to 1000 words–there are disagreements about that, too, and some writers would consider some of these pieces “short-shorts” rather than flash) form.
These are the four I’ve enjoyed the most this week, and I’ve found a common theme: they’re all by women, about women. Otherwise, they each approach the form quite differently, their styles are different, their characters are different. Continue reading
Both of these stories come from the magazine, Willow Springs:–the litmag where I interned during grad school–and I had the pleasure of editing both stories. “Sine Die” was actually the winner of our yearly contest the year I was in charge of it, though the official decision was made by our editor-in-chief with the support of his editors. Maybe I’m biased, but I believe these are two amazing pieces of short fiction. Both deal with the subject of memory, and both stand out as favorites, from my first year working at Willow Springs to my last.
“Sine Die” by Sarah Hulse, from Willow Springs 71
The doctors claim that Jeremiah’s awareness of his own condition is a blessing. Often, they’ve told us, people with anterograde amnesia don’t know they have it; they are constantly surprised by their own inability to remember.
“The Receiving Tower” by Matt Bell from Willow Springs 65
The captain lets the men speak, and then, calmly, asks each of the dissenters where they are from, knowing these men will not be able to remember their hometowns, that they haven’t been able to for years.
The captain, he always knows how to quiet us.
These are three very different stories, both in the sense that they are not your everyday reads and that they are very different from each other. All smart, all sharp, all at least a little bit strange–all favorites.
So: a link and a snippet for each.
This was after the pie was opened, after the king had turned to the bottle, and the queen to one of her young lovers. It was a pattern with them, part of the reason for all the laundry — the king soiling his robes and pantaloons, the queen binging and purging and fornicating all over the castle. They were horrible people, the king and queen.
Of course, we were identical genetically; what’s more, we shared a placenta; but inside, in our brains, souls, and hearts, we weren’t the same. This became apparent slowly, even though I knew what Samantha was going to say before she said it, and I knew which boys she’d like before she met them, and we always got up at the same time in the night to pee, among other uncanny similarities.
They had cats instead of children—George had raised scores of lions while Joy had moved on from lions to cheetahs to leopards—and lions and leopards could not cohabit, so George and Joy also lived apart.
It’s the Halloween season, with candy corn in all the stores and Hocus Pocus playing constantly on ABC Family (or whatever they changed the name to) but that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to read a Halloween book. Horror isn’t for all of us, and you can only read Dracula so many times (I maxed out at three). But if you want to read something sort of eerie, a little bit creepy, or slightly strange this month, something with a little substance and no real scares, you might want to pick up one (or all) of these titles.
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
Karen Russell is one of my absolute favorite authors. This collection of short stories is probably my favorite, with women turning into silk worms, girls struggling with their feral natures, and as much sparky, sparkling prose as you could ever want.
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
Aimee Bender is so weird but also sort of incredibly normal. There’s a lot of magic in the mundane in her fictional world, and I think that’s what makes her work so special.
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
We all know Haruki Murakami is a genius, but I think his work isn’t always the most accessible. I think one way he really connects with his readers is through the use of magical realism (or whatever you want to call that phenomenon of using magic and fantasy within a realistic story–something all of the books in this list do), which gives the reader a metaphorical way of understanding his stories. Plus, giant toads and little green monsters are amusing.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
You probably heard that Kazuo Ishiguro just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, which I think is awesome. He’s such a fantastic writer, and this is my favorite of his novels (though I admittedly haven’t read them all). Closer to science fiction than fantasy, this book presents the perspective of a very special young woman who was not meant to be special at all. I don’t want to give anything away, though they did make this into a movie a few years ago so you might already know the gist of it. But even if you saw the movie, read the book. It’s so totally worth it.
My first thought upon seeing Leyna is that she’s taller. Not that it’s physically possible–when I knew her in grad school we were both in our mid twenties and we’re in our early thirties now, and people don’t tend to grow at our age–but perhaps she stands straighter than the girl I knew: this woman in a soft black blouse instead of a Ramones t-shirt (though I’m sure that shirt is at home). This woman who has penned some of the best short stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and who is on the last stop of her first book tour. Her first of many, I hope.
The stories in I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking deal with a world not quite level with our own, but not so magical that any plot point seems impossible. Strange happenings abound. A tiger is being kept in a suburban neighborhood; a giant squid haunts a wayward trimaran; sea life does its best to escape the sea. The end of the world, we are told, will begin with a series of beeps. Continue reading