Friday, May 15, 2015

Short story roundup: week two

This week, this stack is short, but three stories were found in the Atwood and another was on my ipad, which is at the bottom of the pile. I found Neil Gaiman's latest book at the library as a "lucky day book" and so only had it for a week.

"Origin Story" by Kelly Link in Get in Trouble
I have long been curious about Kelly Link. And although her reputation preceded her, I can't say I join the choir. Her style can best be described as surreal--melting clocks, floating/hovering characters, and so on--which I thought I'd really like. And, I did like some of collection's stories, prior to this challenge, such as "The Summer People" and "Valley of the Girls," which were fantastical and weird but enjoyable. Mostly, I didn't get "Origin Story," but fortunately Scarlett Thomas in the New York Times Book Review admitted she struggled with this story, too. I recall the main character, Bunnatine, and her superhero boyfriend, as well as references to mutants and the Wizard of Oz. But that is all.

"The Lady with the Dog" by Anton Chekhov in the public domain
When I mentioned to my reading circle that I was doing a short story challenge, my friend Susan suggested reading Chekhov. It occurred to me that I had never knowingly read Chekhov. A quick internet search lead to tons of stories, many of which had links to public domain versions. Snap! "The Lady with the Dog" was a top-searched story, and so it was my entry to Chekhov. It is the story of a adulterous affair conducted by a businessman and a housewife, each of whom were vacationing in Yalta. The story starts with the couple's first encounter and culminates in an ambiguous ending. It was very satisfying in its brevity (most of the contemporary stories I am reading clock in at 30-50 pages = not short). And, I also felt that this was the sort of classic story from which I can see current writers borrowing themes. I will read more Chekhov and entertain recommendations.

"All Aunt Hagar's Children" by Edward P. Jones in All Aunt Hagar's Children
Edward P. Jones is another author who has long been on my radar, and I was not disappointed. The collection focuses on African Americans in Washington D.C. (where Jones was raised and lives) and feature journey as a theme--journeys planned and unplanned, taken and failed. I read the title story, in which the protagonist is asked by his aunt to solve the murder of her son. The story has a decidedly noir tone and is, even though considered one of the weaker stories in the collection, complex and interesting with an unpredictable ending. I will absolutely read more Edward P. Jones.

"Orange" by Neil Gaiman in Trigger Warning
Trigger Warning--images or ideas that could be upsetting--was another recommendation from Susan on the reading circle. Gaiman offers a collection of short fictions and "disturbances," some of which were commissioned by anthologists and others of which were never published and thus were given an opportunity to be reworked. I dipped into many enticing stories where Gaiman takes liberties with characters and form. In the introduction, Gaiman also offers a backstory for each story to help you decide to read it. There is a story that was meant to accompany a David  Bowie/Iman photo shoot, called "The Return of the Thin White Duke," another is a Dr. Who story, a Sherlock Holmes story, one that was written for This American Life...a real hodgepodge. "Orange" is told from the point of view of a girl whose sister disappears. The story's form takes shape through an questionnaire where the reader does not see the questions, but has no difficulty filling in the blank.

"Alphinland", "Revenant", and "Dark Lady" by Margaret Atwood in Stone Mattress
These three stories form the Dark Lady cycle in Atwood's fall 2014 collection, Stone Mattress. Each is linked by characters--a group of artists who are married to or have been married to Gavin, a poet. They explore themes of youth, art, fame/success, and aging. And, they are brilliant. So is the author.

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