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2010 Stories 1-9

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends ...

1. Land of the Living by Sam Shepard, from the September 21, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  It feels like it's been a loooong time since I've read a Sam Shepard story, and mentally I somehow associate him with the modern American West (I really have no clue why at the moment, although I'm sure someone will point out a very valid reason soon).  This story is not set in the American west, modern or otherwise, but it does feature an American family vacationing in Cancun.  The story is bookended by airports / air travel.  I found myself actually feeling bad for the main male character, angry at the main female character, and wondering why their children were such ciphers.  Interesting bits with a couple of fellow travelers flesh the story out and give it a bit more weight, I think.

2. Temporary by Marisa Silver, from the September 28, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  If Marisa Silver did not have the old adage "politics makes strange bedfellows" in mind while writing this story ... well, she should have.  The main character sort of drifts through her life: being apartment-mates with a woman she's not as similar to as she thinks, working temp at an adoption agency, etc. Although politics are never expressly discussed, the art of convincing someone your politics are right and theirs are wrong does come up between two of the characters.  The characters, and the story, feel a bit disconnected, in that "too hip NYC Village vibe" sort of way.  Not my favorite story by Silver, but not a bad story overall.

3. Victory Lap by George Saunders, from the October 5, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  Saunders is an interesting writer, a cerebral writer.  I usually don't feel like "cerebral" is a positive descriptor for an author, but in this case it's the best I can come up with.  All of his stories seem to go on primarily in his characters heads, and often at the spot where emotion and reason collide (where are our emotions based? in the cortex? perhaps I should refer to Saunders as a cortical writer ...)  Victory Lap jumps between three different characters POVs, and while each character seems stereotypical upon first reading, a second reading reveals that they are still individuals and very well drawn.  Like his other stories, this one (about a dancer, a runner, and an encounter with someone not so nice) leaves me sort of feeling a bit unsure of myself, in a good way.

4. While The Women Are Sleeping
by Javier Marias (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) from the November 2, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  Another story about events on a vacation. The somewhat voyeuristic narrator and his wife are obsessed with another couple they have seen on the beach. The other couple also seems voyeuristic -- at least, the husband does as he films every move (or non-move) his much younger sun-bathing wife makes.  The men eventually get a chance to talk, in an evening encounter that almost ... almost ... leaves the narrator speechless.  And considering the dense nature of the storytelling, that shock itself was a perfect touch.  The story was just a little too talky for me, though.

5. Procedure In Plain Air by Jonathan Lethem, from the October 26, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  If I dislike so many of the Lethem-penned short stories I've read, why do I keep reading them?  (Other than my very clear obsession with reading every short story The New Yorker publishes, the only reason I have a subscription to the magazine, of course.)  For the hopes that I'll come across a story I'll actually like, I suppose.  This story has come the closest.  The main character is at loose ends in his life and witnesses a very unusual form of street repair.  What intrigued me was how everyone in the story seemed to know and understand what was happening to the main character, except for the main character himself.

6. Premium Harmony
by Stephen King, from the November 9, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  Yes, I know, this was one of the last stories I read in 2009, and here I am posting it again at the start of 2010.  Why?  Because honestly, I had completely forgot I read it just a month or two ago.  Even rereading it, it didn't feel familiar, until I was scanning back through to do my end of year stats and realized that yes, I had in fact read it.  It was thoroughly unmemorable the first time, and not much more so this time out.  It seems like King has something to say about the way sudden death interrupts the mundanity of our lives, but I think he's said that much more eloquently in other places.

7. The Bone Church by Stephen King, from a recent issue of Playboy (I have no idea which one; the photocopy mailed to me by a friend doesn't have issue dates on the pages).  Yes, it's a poem.  It's also a very deep, dark, bloody-but-bloodless story ... another King entry into the territory of the "drunk telling stories in a bar for the price of a drink" type of story.  How much of what the narrator tells us really happened, how much of it is hallucination fueled by inebriation and the energy of the nameless, faceless crowd?  Either way, it's a ripping good yarn.

8. The Cut-Glass Bowl by F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Library of America's Story of the Week page.  It's also been a long time since I've read anything by Fitzgerald, another situation I should probably fix.  This story has a very gothic feel to it.  There is nothing really supernatural in the story, but the titular bowl does seem to have a curse on it; it figures at the center of every tragedy that happens in the life of the (initially) beautiful young Mrs. Harold Piper.  The first time-jump is jarring and each vignette feels incomplete on its own, but the story as a whole fits together very well.

9. Luella Miller by Mary Wilkins Freeman, from the Library of America's Story of the Week page.  This one is a gothic horror story, by an author with whom I was totally unfamiliar.  There is a story within a story, essentially.  The title character has been dead for years at the time of the story's telling, and the story, about the horrible reputation she had and how she got it, is told by a village elder.  Is the elder a reliable narrator?  There seems to be more in the relationship between the elder and Luella Miller than the actual text lets on, something hidden in the dichotomy between the short life of the title character and the long life of the elder.  The seeming unreliability of the narrator also affects the supernatural implications of the story.


A Story A Day Keeps Boredom Away

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