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2009 Stories 17 - 25

Almost the entire contents of The Best American Short Stories 2008, series editor Katrina Kennison, guest editor Salman Rushdie.  I'm going to put them behind cuts, though, to save space on everyone's F-List who are still lurking around watching this comm. *grin*

17. Admiral by T. Corraghessan Boyle.  I've expressed my admiration for Boyle's short stories in this comm before (in my commentary on the stories in his collection Greasy Lake & Other Stories, towards the end of 2008). I love the way he refuses to stick to one particular realm, always exploring the edges of genre while keeping the stories (mostly) rooted in the real here-and-now.  This one deals with the hot-button topic of cloning (the titular pup has been cloned from the accidentally-deceased titular dog at great cost to the owners), but has more to do with human  memory: what lengths will someone go to in order to recreate a loved one?  The narrator is paid handsomely to be exactly who she was when she dog-sat the original Admiral, down to wearing the same clothes.  The problem is, she is now a college graduate rather than a languid high schooler.  The first thought-provoking story of the collection
18. The Year of Silence by Kevin Brockheimer.  Another one that skirts the edges of genre.  In an unnamed city, people begin to notice unnatural bursts of silence, brief moments when every sound in the city turns off.  People begin to crave that silence, until finally they decide to build it themselves.  The narrator is never named, and there really isn't any dialogue to speak of (couldn't resist that pun) but the author does a great job of building that craving for silence.  There is an interesting under-tone to the story that I will not spoil, although it is mentioned in both Rushdie's introduction to the volume and in Brockheimer's author's note at the end.
19. Galatea by Karen Brown  Any story that starts with a line like "I was married to William before he became the Collegetown Creeper" should be able to hold my interest.  This one did, but not for the reasons I thought it would.  It's not a mystery or hard crime story, but it is still a bit of a thriller.  The narrator meets William at a playground, and their courtship is a tense and unpredictable one; I spent a good portion of the story wondering just when William was going to lose the final marble he still has and turn on the narrator.  I won't spoil the outcome for you.  A dark story with a very "upstate New York" haunted feel despite the lack of anything supernatural.
20. Man and Wife by Katie Chase.  In a volume that includes stalkers, accidental homicides and fraying relationships of every kind, saying that Chase's simple story of arranged marriages is the most disturbing in the lot may seem like a stretch.  But this is the story that left the biggest knot in my stomach.  It's another story that flirts with genre -- the setting is a world 98% like ours, with one large glaring difference -- and that difference is not simply that arranged marriages are the norm.  I can't say more without giving away exactly what it was that disturbed me, and I think that's something each reader has to come to on their own.
21. Virgins by Danielle Evans.  I wanted to like this story more; of course, I wanted to love every story in this volume even though I never love every story in an anthology.  This is one of the volume's more mainstream literary stories:  three high school friends (two girls and a boy) in Westchester County deal with the fact that they are not the most well-liked, nor the most attractive.  There is conflict and there is character growth (the narrator is not the same at the end as she was at the beginning, and the nature of the friendships changes).  But I finished the story thinking "okay, it was good .... but was it the best?"
22. Closely Held by Allegra Goodman. Another story I wanted to like more.  The title has multiple meanings:  physical contact, emotional connection, moral conviction.  The main character, Orion, is unexpectedly rich and about to get richer and is starting to recognize that people around him are changing their attitudes towards him because of it.  He just wants to be a married man and average computer programmer.  His father-in-law sees dollar signs, his schedule keeps him away from his wife, and his fellow co-owners of the concept that is making them rich have a strong dislike for the way he conducts himself in interviews.  I'm tempted to characterize him as "whiny," but that does a dis-service to an interesting character stuck in a mundane situation.
23. May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes.  This story might take second place in the "most disturbing" sweepstakes.  What starts out as a simple case of sibling rivalry (including one brother making a play for the other's wife) develops in a disorienting, almost motion-sickness-inducing, way into something much darker.  One brother is involved in a fatal car-crash and his devolving dementia begins to infect not on the other characters but the reader as well.  I felt a bit of vertigo when I was done with this one.
24. From The Desk of Daniel Varsky by Nicole Krauss.  I'm not sure how to categorize this one.  It's part wistful memory play, part rumination on the nature of poetry (and writing in general) and even throws in a bit of South American political history.  The narrator, even when describing what should be emotional moments, is also sleepily languid.  It's a good story, but is definitely a slower, more introspective piece than much of the rest of this volume.
25. The King of Sentences by Jonathan Lethem.  This was the 35th story I read in 2008, and the first of the "re-reads" in this anthology.  My opinion of the story hasn't changed.  I still don't like the narrator or his girlfriend (snobbish bookstore clerks that they are); I still don't like the writer they call "The King of Sentences," and I'm still satisfied with the ending.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 20th, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)
Man and Wife was enjoyable. It's the kind of story I would like to read in class to discuss with all the other simpletons.

I found it on the Missouri Review, online. Not sure if that's open, it said on the site that access was given by my school. So I guess I'm lucky, because when I read your mention of it before it intrigued me.

It didn't surprise me so much, from what you did write about it I thought it might go in that direction.

*sigh* I want a Mr. Middleton.
Feb. 20th, 2009 03:49 am (UTC)
Hahaha! Yeah, I figured even just saying there was a twist was giving too much away. Glad you were able to find it and read it though.
Feb. 20th, 2009 03:54 am (UTC)
It was a cool story. It didn't really make me uneasy. That kind of thing happens even today, in one form or other. I love that Mary Ellen reflects on her life (at the ripe old age of 18) in terms of investment. Perhaps her match wasn't a bad one after all.

I imagine their society is a very interesting one. On one hand you'd imagine that women would, eventually, stop putting up with that shit. On the other hand, given the age differences, I imagine there are a lot of well-off middle aged or even young women running around exercising a fair amount of power.
Feb. 20th, 2009 04:21 am (UTC)
Yeah, I did wonder if the author was going to dig into that world more. She seemed, especially with the ruminations at the end, to be setting up a world to explore. I thought one of the more interesting comments was when her mother said (I may mangle this) "men have it easy," because all they have to do is wait until a girl catches their fancy and then make an offer to the parents.
Feb. 20th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC)
The men DO have it easy!

I say they do their girls a disservice by not training them from an earlier age. I mean, Dad comes home with the contract signed and suddenly it's all, "OMG! We have a month to teach you how to cook and how to behave!"

I felt so bad for Stacie, too.

And I do wonder about Mary Ellen's intent for her parents' retirement. That line about wanting the best for them, as they'd done for her, caught me as rather dark.
Feb. 20th, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, the men do have it easy in that world. It did seem odd that they had not started training Mary Ellen earlier, but I wondered if that was not a function of the arrangement being made earlier than her parents expected it to happen rather than being the norm for that world.

And of course, part of me also wants to know -- what's the status of gays and lesbians in this world? It's not something I thought of at all while reading the story, or even while posting about it, but the more we talk about it, the more I wonder.
Feb. 20th, 2009 11:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, I definitely thought about it while I was reading it, and I think I concluded that a man seeking to find a boy in that way, or parents offering to marry off their boy to a man, would have been unthinkable. Further, I think that had the story been written with a same-sex couple at the center, that it wouldn't have been nearly as well received. (I'm not sure *I* would have been as comfortable with the story, to be honest.)

Edited at 2009-02-20 11:03 pm (UTC)
Feb. 22nd, 2009 05:43 am (UTC)
There is no way the story would have found publication in any mainstream magazine (or most college literary mags, probably) if it had been a same-sex couple. I totally agree with that. But the fact that she set up her world so well makes me wonder if there is any place in it for same-sex marriages. Do gays and lesbians simply go unattached until they find a partner their own age? Does that result in a disparity / class structure even more divisive than the one we exist in in the real world? Or does everyone suppress whatever their natural urge is because the societal rules say "men wait until they end up in an arranged marriage with a girl-child, and girl-children are all married off before they're old enough to know what they want?"

It is interesting that you're more comfortable with the story than I was. Even with the opposite-sex marriage, the concept made me squirm a bit.
Feb. 22nd, 2009 06:04 am (UTC)
I am certain that the implicit reader is supposed to be uneasy. I can guess that implicit reader is intended to empathize with oppressed women and girls in other societies, past and present, who've been parts of societies where customs we don't consider "the norm" are accepted. In that sense it's perhaps a bit ethnocentric, but no one ever said that complete acceptance of cultural norms, simply because they exist, is a good thing. If that were the case, societies wouldn't change.

But, the fact is that these types of marriages were commonplace not long ago in many societies. We don't accept it now, of course, but it is true. So the concept isn't so completely foreign. I guess that's why I wasn't so uneasy.

Have you see a movie called Water, written and directed by Deepa Mehta? It's beautiful! In it, a girl, probably about the same age as the character in this story, is married. It takes place in India during the time Ghandi was coming to prominence. The first scene is the girl in the back of a carriage with a dead man. She's told that her husband has died. Now that she's a widow, she's not allowed to be a part of society anymore. She has to go live with a group of other widows, who are, naturally, much older than she is.

Feb. 22nd, 2009 06:13 am (UTC)
I'll have to search that out. Sounds totally depressing, but those darker tales are right up my alley.
Feb. 22nd, 2009 06:24 am (UTC)
It's very good. I wouldn't say it's necessarily dark, or depressing. But it's definitely worth watching.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


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