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2009 Stories 224 - 238

Okay, I'm going to put this batch behind cuts because there are so many of them.  I'll group them thusly:  fivemore on cd by Stephen King; 3 more from the June 8-15, 2009 New Yorker, and 7 from this year's Fiction Issue of The Atlantic Monthly.

First up,

224. The Man in the Black Suit, from Everything's Eventual.  Read by John Cullum.  This one is a depression-era story of a young boy who goes fishing alone and is told not to pass the spot where the stream forks.  At that very spot, he meets The Devil, who puts the fear of death into him.  The Devil comes across somewhat like Colm Feore's character in King's "Storm of the Century," but a bit more childish despite the sharp shark's teeth and flame-filled eyes.  Cullum's Southern drawl works for the story even though it is set in the area of Castle Rock, Maine.  This story didn't really scare me, but it did make me just a little bit jittery.

225. All That You Love Will Be Carried Away, from Everything's Eventual.  Read by Peter Gerety.  This is a really slight story -- sometimes King manages to get you so inside a character's head that you don't realize you're reading one of those stories where nothing actually happens.  This time, I didn't really buy it -- I just didn't feel invested in why or why not this character might choose to commit suicide.  Points for the morbid humor that comes from the interstate toilet graphitti the character writes in his little pocket note-pad, though.  And Gerety tells the story well despite the lack of anything happening.

226. That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It is in French, from Everything's Eventual.  Read by Becky Ann Baker.  Deja vu.  Just in case you were wondering what That Feeling is.  And what a case of deja vu the main character in this story has.  It's a classic set-up -- is she dreaming?  Is she really experiencing deja vu?  And what about the odd little details that seem to be creeping in that don't seem to really fit?  I very much liked this one.  Becky Ann Baker captures the character's strong will battling with her uncertainty.

227. The Death of Jack Hamilton, from Everything's Eventual. Read by Arliss Howard.  Another one of King's stories that is not at all horror, although it has some real scares.  I think this is actually a great companion piece to The Green Mile in terms of tone and the characters.  I haven't seen the movie "Public Enemies," but I can definitely see Johnny Depp as Johnny Dillinger in this story.  Howard does a great job of capturing the "natter" of the characters various voices.  The story feels like it could be just a little bit longer again, but then again it might be just right -- it fills in a blank spot in Dillinger's final days and ends before (although it makes frequent reference to the inevitability of) Dillinger's last stand.

228. Riding The Bullet.  Read by Josh Hamilton.  I'm not sure if this story is actually in any of King's collections -- the publisher info at the end says the story is available in hardcover from Scribner but I can't seem to find it on Amazon.  Maybe it was a limited edition chapbook or something.  Anyway, it is a classic "don't hitch-hike if you value your soul" kind of story -- young man needs to get home from college to visit his ailing mother in the hospital.  The tension builds nicely, and the story does not end where you expect it to, which is a good thing.  Josh Hamilton's performance is top-notch.

Next up:

229. The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Olbreht.  This is very much a fairy tale, and very Russian in feel.  A tiger escapes from a zoo during a German bombing run, and takes to the hills to discover what it means to be wild.  The impact the tiger has on a small winter-bound village several months later is described in vignettes by the grand-daughter of a boy who encounted the tiger, and the mute Muslim slave-wife of the town butcher, who may or may not have tamed / mated with the tiger.  I loved the fairy-tale feel of this, and the vignette style helped build that.  Apparently, Obreht has a novel with the same title coming out some time soon. It will be interesting to see if/how she expands this.

230. Old Wounds by Edna O'Brien.  Two middle-aged cousins, estranged by family politics since they were young adults, redevelop their relationship when they are the only family they have left.  Old wounds, especially superficial ones, heal and fade -- but new wounds hurt all the more when they impact healed flesh.  I liked the way O'Brien developed this, especially the voice of the female main character.  She doesn't have all the answers, and she is willing to admit where she stumbles -- so nice to have a first-person character who sounds honest and fallible without sounding falsely self-effacing.

231. Good Neighbors by Jonathan Franzen.  Speaking of self-effacing.  Not Franzen, but one of the main characters in this story, which is yet another scathing indictment of suburban teenagers and poor parenting.  Franzen's words are strong, his pacing is good, and there is a sense of inevitability to what happens that works for me despite how bored I am with scathing indictments of suburban life in re-gentrified zones.  But ultimately, there is not a really likable character in the entire story, nor any deliciously unlikable character to take the spotlight.  The two characters who are supposed to be likable are almost never in the story, and the two who are supposed to be the core unlikeable characters just come off like spoiled brats.  So I can't really give this one a strong recommendation.

And finally:

232. The Laugh by Tea Olbreht.  I was pleasantly surprised to find another Olbreht story so soon.  This one does not at all feel like a fairy-tale, but rather like a solid 1940s safari picture if such a thing had been filmed by someone like David Fincher or Christopher Nolan.  Not that either of the main male characters is at all reminiscent of Frank Buck or Allan Quartermain or any of those classic big-game hunter characters, but the tone of half of the story feels a bit like that.  The other half is dark, grim, scary without descending into being a genre horror story -- it's all about the scare that is right off camera, all about keeping the main character, and the reader, just slightly out of touch with what's really going on.  Wonderful, truly.  I think Olbreht may become one of my new favorite short story writers.

233. PS by Jill McCorkle.  The story is a break-up letter from a soon-to-be-divorced woman to her marriage counselor.  While the story didn't grip me as I read it, I did recognize that there is plenty of room for this to be a fantastic monologue in the hands of the right actress.

234. Fish Story by Rich Bass.  Been a while since I've read a Rick Bass story.  This one has that wistful childhood feel with that edge of the adult world creeping in.  The narrator is tasked with keeping a massive catfish alive until the big barbecue party -- while he tends the doomed fish, he contends with the attempts of another teenager and a drunk woman (the son and wife of the man who gave the fish to the narrator's father) to take the fish from him.  He doesn't quite understand all of what is going on around him throughout the fish fry, but the reader more than understands.

235. Voices of Love by Paul Theroux.  This Theroux story did not work as well for me.  It has the vignette style of Obreht's story, but the characters don't overlap or inter-relate or seem to connect at all.  The thread that seems to work through all of these little scenelets is that while the characters think they're talking about Love ,they're really just talking about Lust and Sex.

236. Furlough by Alexi Zentner  It's the story of a failed marriage, mostly, and the story of what happens when you marry the wrong sister.  The fact that the wife is a recently furloughed Iraq vet who has lost half of a leg in combat introduces the central problem the characters face, but it's really more topical than pertinent.  She could have been injured anywhere or anyhow and I think the story would have the same feel.  It's not a bad story, but I didn't feel particularly connected to the characters.  Points for not wrapping the whole thing up neatly with either a happy or completely miserable ending.

237. Least Resistance by Wayne Harrison.  I like the voice in this story as well.  19 year old mechanic betrays his mentor by having an affair with the mentor's wife,but of course the boy does not realize at all what is really going on.  There's a heavy sense of loss, and a heavy sense of wanting things to be right, that seems to permeate the story without overwhelming it.  Ultimately, the 19 year old is an actually sympathetic character, even if you want to shake him awake.

238. Alba by Kent Nelson.  What does it take to really start a life when you cross the border illegally?  This story has the potential to be controversial because it gives us an entirely likable, hard-working, basically decent young man, who also happens to be an illegal immigrant ... which of course politically is a hot topic right now.  Points to Nelson for not letting politics deter him from telling a good story about an honestly hard worker. 

And there you go.  I'm caught up on all the short stories I've read or listened to this trip.  Calendar says I should have read 273 stories by today (Weds, Sept. 30) and I'm up to 238.  Getting caught up!


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 30th, 2009 04:57 am (UTC)
are keep a good pace...me ...rather sad slow painful pace.

Sep. 30th, 2009 05:13 am (UTC)
Re: you
Slow and steady wins the race though. And since we each set our own finish line for this one, whatever gets you there gets you there! *grin*
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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