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2009 Stories 206-209

Four from The New Yorker: two read in print, two listened to on The New Yorker fiction podcast (which you can subscribe to through iTunes):

206. Emergency by Denis Johnson, from a 1991 issue of The New Yorker.  Read on the fiction podcast by Tobias Wolff.  I've heard of Johnson's short story collection Jesus' Son, which this story also appears in, but never read any of his work.  This story is an interesting experiment in approximating the drug-addled mind of the POV character and his co-worker (fellow orderlies in an ER) without resorting to the sort of typical tropes, and I think it mostly works.  Time feels a bit elastic in the story, and it's easy to get lost within the main character's thoughts.  The supposedly "clean" characters are just as lost as the high ones are.

207. Dog Heaven by Stephanie Vaughn, from a 1989 issue of The New Yorker.  Read on the fiction podcast by Tobias Wolff.  The story is a bit of a memory play, the main character narrating moments of her 7th grade year living on Fort Niagara in upstate New York.  Interesting choices in what to present in present tense and what in past, considering the whole story with the exception of a couple of paragraphs is in the character's past.  Melancholic.

208. The Fountain House by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, from the 08/31/09 issue of The New Yorker.  Translation by Keith Gessen & Anna Summers.  There aren't many original urban fairy tales that manage to feel original while still capturing the proper tone of a traditional fairy tale.  Yes, there's plenty of Urban Fantasy, but that's not really what I'm trying to describe.  This story, about a father whose daughter dies in a terrorist attack on a bus and who refuses to believe his daughter is dead, reads like a fairy tale even though the setting is completely modern.  The question I was left with at the end was:  did it all really happen as described?  Or is the father completely insane?  If the story were in the first person, I'd be sure the father was a nutjob.  Because the narrator is somewhat omniscient, I'm left wondering.

209.  Rat Beach by William Styron, from the 07/20/09 issue of The New Yorker.  This is one of those stories that I thought was going one way, and it went a different way at the end ... a way that was, to me, unexpected but at the same time perfect for the story.  Styron always dwells in dark territory, and this story of Marine officers waiting for the assault on "mainland" Japan at the end of World War Two is definitely dark.  One of the things that really struck me about the story was Styron's description of the weather in the story's second half, truly incredible.

I believe those last two stories are still up for reading on The New Yorker website; and of course the first two are available on the podcast if you dig back and download it.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 18th, 2009 05:06 am (UTC)
on these ss podcasts
Who is reading the stories?
Sep. 18th, 2009 10:14 pm (UTC)
Re: on these ss podcasts
The two stories mentioned above both were read by Tobias Wolff.

The way they work it is, the host invites a particular author to pick any story from the magazine archives to read, as long as that story is by a different author (no reading your own work seems to be the rule). The host introduces the story and the author doing the reading, they chat for a minute or two, and then the author reads the chosen story. After the story, host and author spend 5-10 minutes discussing the story or the author who wrote it. Sometimes this works really well, sometimes it devolves into a kind of "what do you think the author meant by the word 'dork?', 'I dunno, what do YOU think he meant?'" kind of literary discussion that is mostly about how can out-snob the other. I've listened to three stories now, and have another 6 or so downloaded, and I think mostly the format works.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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