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Catching up

It feels like it's been ages since I last wrote up some short story reviews! This is in part because a large percentage of the short fiction that I've been reading lately has been written by my students, and instead of reviewing their stories I had to give them all a grade. While wading through all of my end-of-semester grading, it was all I could do to keep up with my New Yorker subscription, but now that class is over I will hopefully have a chance to branch out a bit.

Anyhow, here are four recent New Yorker stories:

"Rollingwood" by Ben Marcus (March 21, 2011): In "Rollingwood," Ben Marcus gives us the story of a man trying to care for his eighteen-month-old son as everything in his life spirals out of control. Mather's job is jeopardy, his ex-wife is incommunicado, his son's asthma just gets worse and worse, and the task of engaging the boy more daunting. Marcus does a fantastic job of creating a an environment of anxiety; Mather's desperation as he grasps at the slipping threads of his life feels very real. In fact there were moments in the story--when Mather's carpool inexplicably stops picking him up, when the daycare center in his office building disappears as though it had never existed, when the temps who have taken over Mather's desk refuse to acknowledge his existence--when I wondered whether we had left the realm of reality and entered some sort of bad dream. The sense of anxiety was too great for me to really consider this an enjoyable story, but it's well done.

"Atria" by Ramona Ausubel (April 4, 2011): Ausubel's name is totally unfamiliar to me, but this was an interesting story. Hazel, a teenager eager for adulthood, becomes pregnant after two sexual experiences in close succession: the first a voluntary tryst with a convenience store clerk, the second when she is raped by a stranger. Neither we nor Hazel learn who is the father of the baby, but that's not really the point--the focus of the story shifts from external events to the strange images that haunt Hazel during her pregnancy. The strength of the story is character. Hazel is preternaturally self-possessed and, for me at least, very compelling. Ausubel writes the story in a detached style that effectively mimics Hazel's worldview, and leaves us with a satisfyingly ambiguous ending.

"Goo Book" by Keith Ridgway (April 11, 2011): The anxiety in "Rollingwood" was a bit too much for me, but for some reason the exaggerated paranoia of the main character in this story was just right. "Goo Book" has a lot going on for a short story: there's our unnamed protagonist, a petty thief who ends up working for much bigger criminals; there's his really quite sweet relationship with his girlfriend; there are a couple of cops who turn him into an informant; there are maybe even some hints that he's having an affair with one of the cops. All of this amid his mounting suspicion that his bosses know he's snitching and are out to get him. Ridgway writes the story in very short sections, with lots of terse and unattributed dialogue. This makes the story feel a bit disjointed, and there were a few moments where I wouldn't have minded a bit more clarity, but those were my only complaints. Liked the character, liked the ending, liked the style, even liked the paranoia. This is a good one.

"A Withered Branch" by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (April 18, 2011): This is a very short little piece about a Russian writer and a woman she meets while hitchhiking through Lithuania. Although it's strong on image, it's a bit too weak on plot for my taste--the whole thing felt a little underdeveloped. Sometimes a snapshot in prose is enough, but here I wanted more.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jun. 8th, 2011 05:04 am (UTC)
I really thought I'd commented on this, and I'm so sorry I haven't! I've been a jumble lately. Falling behind on my own story reading, and not keeping up with LJ very well at all! My apologies.

I am months behind on The New Yorker at this point, so I may have to once again decide whether to go back and read all the stories I've missed, or pick up with the next issue. Each of these four stories sounds like something I'd want to explore even if just to compare notes with you. Have you seen Petrushevskaya's short story anthology? I reviewed it last year here. Some of the stories worked well for me, some not so much.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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