~ post by Ben
It seems my supervisors are foolish enough to let this madness continue. So, once again, it’s short fiction time.
Time has passed. Perhaps we’ve started to branch out since the last post. A short story collection or two may have passed over our bedside tables, or at least they’ve begun to inhabit our bookshelves and reading lists. We’re growing comfortable navigating through the condensed and beautiful gems that the short form creates. Goodness, we’ve probably developed our own taste by now! What joy.
Yet, there are difficulties that come with knowing what you enjoy. Taste is great because it’s yours and you are always right about what you like. But, at least for me, once I know what I want, sometimes it’s difficult to move out of my comfort zone. So I’ll be in the store (and I work here, so I’m here a lot), and there’s that debut collection from what’s-their-face and Tenth of December by George Saunders awaiting the spending of my shiny blue BookPeople gift card. Which do I pick? The answer is easy. Sorry what’s-their-face, but with George and me, it’s pure literary love.
Why is this a problem you ask? Well, we can’t give all the fuddy duddy authors the love (sorry George). There are new, wonderful authors appearing all the time. Or, perhaps there is an established author we’ve missed because we’ve been reading the same ones for so long. Or, a writer long since departed who’s work is just what we need today. New is scary, but more often than not, new is good too. So today, I’ve gone and added a few great stories from anthologies I’ve come across. Anthologies can act as a short story sampler for readers. There are a variety of voices unified by a theme or an editor which give us, the readers, the ultimate smorgasbord of short fiction. The anthology gives us the chance to try new things without committing entirely. Doesn’t that sound nice? A big serving of sweet, sweet, short fiction smorgasbord.
But please, remember to avoid salivating on the pages.
The Other Place by Mary Gaitskill
Featured in “Best American Short Stories 2012”
Originally published in The New Yorker
I will admit that I was a latecomer to the work of Mary Gaitskill. This is probably a good thing, because a younger me would have wet his pants reading this story. Terrifying, intimate, and all too feasible, Gaitskill explores the relationship between father and son, and how we relate to the irrepressible desires imprinted on our psyche. I don’t look at late night walks the same way anymore. Or anything really…
The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin
Featured in “Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story”
This may be cheating, but Lorrie Moore was the writer who chose and introduced this story in the anthology. Need I say more? A expansive and captivating tale of a schoolteacher watching the seeds of corruption grow in his student over the years, The Palace Thief is also the title story of a collection by Canin (a new addition to my reading list). I first encountered the story in this anthology, and needed more. See? Proof that the system works. Fans of Salinger might enjoy this one.
The Private Room by Merritt Tierce
Featured in “Dallas Noir”
If the last pick was potentially cheating, this pick is definitely cheating. The Private Room is a chapter of Tierce’s upcoming novel, Love Me Back. But if you don’t believe chapters can act as short stories, feel free to talk to Justin Torres’ We the Animals or Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street about it. This story hums on its own, and as part of the novel, well, it’s crushingly powerful. This is the raw story of service industry and self-destruction at an upscale restaurant in Dallas. In either form, long or short, Tierce does not play games. Her prose works like steak knives on the heart.
Nilda by Junot Díaz
Featured in “This Is How You Lose Her”
For these last two, we return to the old fashioned story collection. This is easily my favorite story from Mr. Díaz. Following the trajectory of these characters, I felt the lurch in my stomach before I realized that my seat was locked in and the only way to go was down. While I will admit to preferring Drown as a collection, I’ll put Nilda up toe-to-toe with any story and not back down. Both for this story and my final recommendation, the ending is supreme.
Dundun by Denis Johnson
Featured in “Jesus’ Son”
I read this story for an assignment as an undergrad. Afterwards, I couldn’t remember who wrote it or the title of the collection, but I remembered the story title and the ending. Dundun. Perhaps the crown jewel of this iconic collection, it somehow transcends the seemingly standard cast of drug users and ne’er-do-gooders we’ve grown accustomed to in the US canon. Like Gaitskill’s The Other Side, this story changed how I looked at the world. The ending paragraph haunts me still. Especially if I have an insatiable itch on my head.
Short form fictioneers! Don’t miss out on The New Yorker archives which are free and available this summer and make your procrastination time suffocatingly literary! Also, if you missed out on the last five recs, feel free to check out the last post too. Until next time friends.