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2010 Stories 85 - 88

Four more from The New Yorker:

85. The Knocking by David Means from the March 15, 2010 issue  It's an odd thing when you've barely started a story and it immediately puts you in mind of something else ... especially when the setting is not the same.  This story had me thinking of Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart" from almost the first paragraph.  As in Poe's story, the Narrator's voice changes as the story goes on, from annoyed but calm at the start to almost insanely high-pitched at the end.  The central action of the story has nothing to do with Poe's tale, but the tenor of the writing is the same.  In a reasonably short space Means ratchets up the tension over something as trivial as sounds from the apartment upstairs.

86. The Pura Principle by Junot Diaz from the March 22, 2010 issue  Diaz turns his author's eye this time onto a Dominican family in New Jersey, dealing with the aftermath of an adult son's recovery from cancer.  No one in the story really understands each other -- the cancer-ridden son has no clue how his behavior is affecting his family; the mother doesn't understand how vulnerable her beloved but cancerous son is feeling; and the narrator, the younger teenage son, watches it all unfold without understanding his own role in the drama.  And of course, there's a woman stirring up the pot. Actually, there's more than one woman stirring up the pot, but only one of them actually takes center stage.  I can't say I particularly liked any of the characters in the story, but I liked the story as a whole.

87. I.D. by Joyce Carol Oates from the March 29, 2010 issue This story also features a main character who doesn't really understand what is going on around her.  Not many authors seem to capably be able to capture the middle-school mind-set; most middle-school age characters seem to be written either too young or too mature.  I think Oates really "gets" the position her main character Lisette is in, and really drives home how easily the girl misinterprets what is going on around her.  Some of that misinterpretation is because she is not as mature as she thinks she is (she craves the attention of an older bad-boy who has been left back into her grade) but as the story progresses we see that some of her misunderstandings are entirely on purpose -- she knows what is going on but is willing herself not to understand.  Had I written this review right after reading the story, I don't think I'd have written as favorably as I am; as I sit here skimming the story quickly I realize just how masterfully Oates crafted this story, and captured the beats of this girl's unhappy realization that the world is not always what we choose to see it as.  I would be surprised if this story did not make it into "Best Of" anthologies in the coming year.

88. Gavin Highly by Janet Frame from the April 5, 2010 issue  An odd construction of a story that feels a bit like a Parable.  Plenty of symbolism that the young narrator is aware is being worked into the story.  She seems incapable of just telling what happened to their homeless neighbor Gavin Highly, and cloaks everything in layers of description that circle around the mark.  Still, much of that description is absolutely beautiful, especially a paragraph about the nature of sycamore seeds.  There's a strong wistfulness to the story as well.

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