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2010 Stories 67 - 71

The final batch from The Best American Short Stories 2009:

67. Into The Gorge by Ron Rash  This felt like an odd story to me; it had the potential to go in so many directions that I'm not really sure how it ultimately found its way to the satisfying resolution it did find.  There's a bit of a ghost story in here, although that's not the focus. There's a bit of talk of how reputation affects a property's saleability. There's the part about how hard it is to grow old and still survive financially in this day and age, and the part about the present repeating the past, and I think a bit about over-reaction both on the part of law enforcement officials and the general public.  Somehow, as I said, this all comes together to an ending that makes sense within the context of the story.  I can't say the main character is either very likable or very unlikable ... he seems to simply an average person trying to muddle through.

68. Ostracon by Alex Rose  The author absolutely tried something different and unique here.  He structured the story in short bursts, paragraphs that all have a point to make.  There's not really any extraneous detail.  The style fits the problem the main character faces, which is the onset of Alzheimer's Disease / dementia / senility.  Paragraphs from the main character's scattered point of view alternate with paragraphs about the science of researching the brain and occasional glimpses into what the main character's husband thinks.  Sadly, even with this innovative way of telling the story, the story overall just didn't work for me even though the individual pieces did.  I think the problem is more with me than with the story, though.

69. The Peripatetic Coffin
by Ethan Rutherford  People either love historical fiction or they hate it; you either like seeing real events fleshed out through the eyes of fictional characters, or the blurring of fact and fiction annoys you.  I'm one of those who tends to enjoy historical fiction for what it is -- fiction -- and understand that if I want the facts, I need to visit an encyclopedia or some well-researched factual tome with no fictional characters interfering with the details.  This story really pulled me in.  I have visited the setting of the story, Charleston SC, several times.  I'm not as interested in Civil War history as I am Revolutionary War history, but Charleston has plenty of both.  The story takes place late in the Civil War and focuses on the third crew of the submersible ship Hunley.  Told from the POV of one particular crew member, it asks the question "what would bring someone to the point of taking on what is essentially a suicide mission?"  While I'm not sure it completely answers that question, it definitely provides strong hints to an answer.

70. Mazungu
by Namwali Serpell  is one of the darker stories in this volume.  Not an outright horror story, to be sure, but still horrific in the details.  It starts out as a bit of a slice-of-life of whites living in Africa, told from the POV of a nine year old girl; the girl comes to realize on the particular night of the story what the difference is between herself and the children of the black servants -- not just in skin color but in culture. There are some beautifully rendered sentences that set the scene, and some that truly put a chill in me as I was reading.  One part of the story in particular, while not described in the kind of detail a horror novelist might use, definitely is not for the squeamish.

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and my latest listen on cd:

71. Ur by Stephen King (read by Holter Graham; also available to read on the Amazon Kindle).  The box for the two-cd set points out that Stephen King has a knack for making us afraid of our own technology, from possessed super-car Christine to modern Cell phones. This story falls right in line with that. Written specifically for the Amazon Kindle and finally released in a format those who don't have a Kindle can access, King's story centers on a somewhat hapless college professor in the midst of a break-up in which his girlfriend asks why he can't "read off the computer, like the rest of us!"  In spite, he orders a Kindle, but what comes is not your average device. Soon, he is accessing novels written by famous authors in timelines not our own, where Hemingway lived longer and wrote a novel about dogs and Shakespeare wrote another comedy and a drama about a black slave brought to London.  The discovery leads him down a path no one should travel.  There is also a tie-in to the Dark Tower series (at least, I assume it's a tie-in, not having read that series yet).  Definitely worth reading -- and I think Holter Graham, along with Ron McClarty, may be the heir to Frank Mueller as the best male vocal interpreter of King's stories.

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