We're making progress! One month down and I've kept to the goal. And while I'm wiping some sweat off of my brow now, there's still a long way to go. Last week's read was Afternoon by the Pacific Ocean by Kristín ómarsdóttir out of the collection Out of the Blue: New Short Fiction From Iceland.
I picked up this collection in Reykjavík last year after hiking around the southern coast of the volcanic hotspot. It's a tradition: grab a short story collection when I visit a new place, and it provides a nice wave of nostalgia when I pick up the anthologies to read after being home for some time. This was no exception.
Afternoon by the Pacific Ocean read, to me, as more of a short vignette then a story. Which is not a bad thing. It allowed a glimpse into the life of Marilyn Monroe and her friend Greta Garbo as she paid the actress a visit on, you guessed it, the coast of the Pacific Ocean. While the piece is short, bordering flash fiction, it provides a clear insight into the lives of these two characters and what matters to them. And one of the biggest challenges in writing is providing a connection between the characters and the reader. ómarsdóttir does this with ease.
Following the characters through their afternoon, we see the little things that make them tick and what matters most to them, including the relationship between themselves. And that's what I think makes this piece shine--the intimacy. Not just between Marilyn and Greta but again what we as readers feel for these two. Well done and well written.
Now, for next week, we return to Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror with a story picked out randomly by my mother-in-law Liz, so big shout-out there (whoo whoo). For those following along at home, that random pick ended up being How We Escaped Our Certain Fate by Dan Chaon.
Until next time, cheers and all that good jazz ; )
I know what you're thinking. . . Short Story Sunday. . . But this is Saturday! This is madness! I wish it were madness. Maybe I did finally crack. . . No, but in the effort of not using any more jarring breaks in my narrative and keeping this semi on-track for the three of you who will read it ; ) I'm on the road this week and am a minimalist when I pack. So, coming live from a hotel business "office" somewhere in Southern territory is Short Story Sunday III - Play the Monster Blind by Lynn Coady.
**Spoiler Warning - I drop a line regarding 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan that could be considered a spoiler? I don't know, but you've been warned**
This story breaks the mold from what I've been talking about so far this year (if two posts can be considered a mold) in the fact that we're breaking away from speculative fiction and cannonballing into a contemporary / literary style. But, seeing as the major point of this venture was to become more exposed to a variety of writing, publications, and authors, I think we're doing pretty well so far.
Play the Monster Blind follows Bethany as she accompanies her fiancé on a family getaway where she really becomes exposed to his siblings, his parents, and their wealth of problems. Awkward moments arise, as they tend to do around these sorts of family events - or any family event really - and we navigate these moments along with Bethany while she balances her desire to fit in with John's family and her own personal breaking point.
"John said that his father had never understood the purpose of beer. He didn't see the point of an alcoholic beverage with so little alcohol in it. [...] "He's an alcoholic," said Bethany, epiphanic. [...] "Oh Christ," John said, then, letting go of her hand. "You don't know much." It hurt her feelings but she didn't tell him.
I think the strong point of Coady's piece is her ability to capture the uncomfortable feelings we all experience when we are thrust into a new place and around new people. Emotions which are often amplified when it has to do with family or the family of someone we are with in a romantic capacity with.
But, even past the impactful emotions and realistic familial relationships, I think the most impressive thing about Play the Monster Blind is the ambiguous monster itself. When I first started reading the story I was convinced that the monster would be a direct point of contention that either grew between Bethany and a member of John's family or John and a member of his family. But as I kept reading I realized while I was correct, I was right in regards to only a layer of conflict.
Much like Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad where the Goon Squad is actually a representation of Time, the Monster in Play the Monster Blind can, depending upon your interpretation be so many different things. And then all of them at once. The way we try to fit in and conform ourselves to other families while maintaining our own individuality. Personal issues - drinking, gambling, eating disorders, that we (and Coady's characters) suffer with. The monster could just be family. Or life itself. And that's what a good writer does. Take something in a coherent story and make it so readers from diverse backgrounds and understandings can relate to it.
And with that, it's time to get back on the road. Next week's selection is Afternoon by the Pacific Ocean by Kristín Ómarsdóttir and it comes from Out of the Blue: New Short Fiction from Iceland. See you all next week!
Wow does time fly by. It seems like I was just here doing this exact same thing! Well, regardless, this week's short story choice was Gray Wings by Karl Bunker. Taking place at some point between the not-so-distant and still-kind-of-far-away future, Gray Wings follows a flyer competing in an aerial race. Think wing suits but surgically attached and connected.
While competing in this qualifying race, she gets caught in the draft of a plane and crashes down on an impoverished nation that is the stark opposite from the place she grew up. *Side note - I read this story prior to the "shit-hole nations" tweet that was spoken with such class and sophist--ugh, I can't even be sarcastic about this stuff anymore. Anyway, now that I'm revisiting this story after that incident, it's relevance has been renewed and it goes to show that good quality science fiction (and fiction in general) illustrates aspects of our lives and the world that we may not see all the time.
So, in the story, our flyer crashes down and befriends a son and his mother who live on a struggling farm. Repeated offers of money in exchange for assistance go unanswered, illustrating the noble, yet sometimes harmful characteristic of pride. And while that is one side of the coin, the other side that the reader can take away from these interactions is the very real barrier (though invisible) between people from different cultures, backgrounds, and lives. Things one person takes for granted could be something another individual scratches and claws for.
Though first being published almost half a decade ago, Gray Wings is still so relevant it could have been written and published yesterday. It was a great short story that captured and illustrated a side of humanity that still needs so much work. I strongly recommend people read it for the timeliness. Clarkesworld Magazine reprinted the story in 2016 and it can be read (or listened to) for free here: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/bunker_03_16_reprint/
And that's it for this week's short story reflection (review?) I'm still trying to figure out what I want to call this endeavor. Maybe I'll have it figured out next week when I talk about Lynn Coady's short story Play the Monster Blind out of The Penguin Book of Contemporary Canadian Women's Short Stories which I picked up in Halifax either last year or the year before. Taking a break from the science fiction and fantasy side of things, this short story was extracted from Lynn Coady's 2000 collection of the same name. See you all next week!
Well! Week one and I've successfully completed my New Year's resolution. Now there's only 51 more to go. But, if the rest of the stories are half as good as the first selection then this is going to be an awesome year. I picked Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8) by Caitlín R. Kiernan because of my love for her novella Agents of Dreamland. And this short story just re-infused my love for her writing.
Interstate Love Song is the story of our great nation's crimson soaked streets. Weaved through an interesting structure, this narrative follows our two main characters as something devastating unravels. And when something devastating unravels, so do people's lives. They flash before their eyes and in those seconds that stretch on like hours, all of the good and the bad shit they've done. In the case of Murder Ballad No. 8 it's, well, probably worse than you or I have. . . Maybe? God, I hope so.
Regardless of the actions or the motives, Kiernan glides us along this morbid love story with prose that literally sings. And with our twisted narrator. . . "We are moving along between the monotonous, barbarous, topography and the overcast sky, overcast at sunset the sky looked dead, and now, well past midnight, there is still no sign of moon nor stars to guide me, and I have only the road signs and the tattered atlas lying open beside me as I weave and wend through the Indian ghosts of Ozark Bluff Dwellers, stalkers of shambling mastodon and mammoth phantoms along these crude asphalt corridors."
Kiernan's mastery of lyrical language continues throughout the entire piece as she brings us deeper into the depths of this duos misfortunate and redemption. It's a dark tale. A morbid tale. And one that I would definitely recommend and read again.
So, Short Story Sunday #1 has set the bar high for the remainder of the year. The selection for Short Story Sunday #2 was done randomly (flipping through an anthology until I just decided to stop) and will lead us farther into my New Year's resolutions. For those keeping score, this week's story is Gray Wings by Karl Bunker. It's featured in The Year's Best Science Fiction Thirty-First Annual Collection. It was reprinted in this best-of after being originally published in the April/May 2013 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.
Till next Sunday folks. Stay safe, happy, healthy, and don't forget to praise the sun.