Sunday, December 5, 2010
In a snug gentleman’s study, an old friend warms by the cozy fire sharing a whiskey. A chance reference about his deceased son pitches the gentleman into repressed memory and emotion. It’s a classic short story structure that calls upon the reader to search for meaning and leaves one with a feeling of satisfaction that only a master storyteller can deliver. Mansfield is that kind of writer. I am delighted that this story is available on the net for wide distribution today. Enjoy it here at 42opus.
Friday, November 12, 2010
What is intimacy between people? I suspect it’s felt more easily than defined. Olzmann offers an image that suggests a quality: “The glow from the one streetlight on our block slips into our room through a part in the curtains. It cuts a narrow path across the floorboards.” In this story, a couple’s familiarity and patterns of experience still leave a wide margin of mystery in their relationship. Read it here in elimae.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The complexity of identity posed by identical twins is intriguing. You no doubt have encountered those kids who no one can tell apart except by the hidden mole in the small of the back, the kids who traded places and tricked teachers, friends or lovers. On a more serious level, what does it mean when twins who are separated by miles feel an intense emotional connection or physical pain? What really is the nature of intimate communication? Sachdeva’s story explores these connections and the fear of death among seven sisters. Leaning on the Greek myth of the Pleiades this story evokes a mysterious sensibility surrounding emotional connection and destiny. There’s a mix of the believable and the truly unexpected, that kind of moment most of us look for in short stories. Read it here in Gulf Coast Journal.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Kids more often than adults allow themselves to express emotion through direct action rather than suppress emotion. Of course they often face social reprimands, unjustly, for actions that adults consider empty of emotional honesty. Celizic’s writing delivers felt emotion through action by tracing destructive acts with the emotion of loss. From the first sentence the image of broken glass propels the protagonist’s motivation and expression: “After Mama Jen died but before her funeral, I accidentally knocked over a glass on our concrete porch. … I spent the rest of the day stepping on dried leaves, splintering dead branches.” The story earns its title with an accumulation of action that speaks to the protagonist and connects with his mother. Read it here in Southpaw Journal.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
I like the way the title points to the center of the story. Literally, it refers to an old Lincoln on which Henry’s father has left his mark. It also resonates with an emotional core that would be described with mundane words by a less talented writer, but instead we are given the bruised emotional state of Henry, the adult son, and his dad. A strong short story moment for me was captured when I read: “… for the first time [Henry] noticed … how sometimes [his dad] was supporting himself on the pushhandle of the cart almost as if it were a rolling walker.” It’s a complicated little story. I think you’ll find it lingers and leaves dings in your heart. Read it here at Anderbo.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
I once heard a teacher confess to a group of teens that he had not realized the complexity of his alcoholism until he’d gone through AA. He did not deny that alcohol was the culprit but much deeper was the insight that he loved an audience. His friends liked him when he was drunk because he could make them laugh. Applause, that’s what got him hooked. This is a confessional story about regretting some teenage behavior. I am usually not fond of short stories that rely on lengthy flashbacks or scenes that happened in the past. This one spends too much time recounting that. But I overlooked my preference because I was drawn to how this writer peeled away the layers of his teenage years groping for adulthood and how he later found a glimmer of truth about himself. The honesty of what he faces matters deeply. He convinces the reader that just saying he is sorry, while important, lacks weight. Read it here in Barely South Review.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
In most long-term intimate relationships there inevitably comes the moment of disconnect. The husband or wife sees with eyes wide open while the other with eyes cast downward withholds secrets and lacks disclosure not always out of malice but some unclear mystery, some unexplained disconnect. What if the one with clarity was actually a mannequin? “As long as I keep getting it sprayed, my face will never loose its smooth features… .” And what about the man who holds onto the shoebox of love tokens, “This just can’t possibly work anymore… .” The story poses an interesting dilemma: who has the broken heart, mannequin or man? Read it here in Blood Orange Review.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
There was a time when I was thoroughly engrossed with the writings of Cornell Woolrich. His noir fiction is thick with impenetrable shadows, howls in the night, and hunted characters who hold on to motives as tightly as the men who hold their guns in a Brinks truck. So with this story I enjoyed a brief deja vue but in a different place and time. Degani has a clear sense of a particular South, “bayou as black as molasses in moonlight.” The reader sympathizes with the narrator who needs relief from pneumonia, and later we learn she has another reason to leave home. The ending holds suspense as well it should and offers clarity beyond the muddy water where she finds herself. Read it here in 101 Flash.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Another story about men who behave badly? A fairy tale about men repressed by women? Or is this a tale about the burden carried by women who insist too firmly? There’s a castle moat, a runaway prince, and a princess left to birth her child alone. A mouse too appears with a voice as wise as a soothsayer. It’s all told in a charming way with the curious puzzlement of a Grimm fairytale. Read it here in MiCrow and enjoy the whimsy of it.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
If a family of a different race adopts you, how do you begin to think during the teen years about sensitive issues like identity? The narrator in this story is a young teen, a girl born in China adopted by an American family. Her adoptive mom teaches English to a Chinese woman who has come to the house for lessons. The physical details like hair, nose, and thin frame provide a context for something shared (“…this woman I share a country with”) but not necessarily embraced. It is when the narrator overhears the lesson in verb conjugation that the subtext of history and heritage illuminate irony in the moment. Read it here at Verbsap.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
In the vein of Robert Olen Butler’s Had A Good Time: Stories from American Postcards, this story too evokes a life between the lines; in this case, the tension between what the postcard writer thought and what she wrote. The visual element of the displayed postcard, the actual handwriting and the postmark, lend an aura of reality to the fiction. The dreamy quality of the prose and the suppressed emotion echo the blurry watercolor of the postcard illustration. The 1945 postmark and an unnamed voice, which refers to Japan’s surrender, places the story in history. Most appealing is the device of using a relic to evoke enough particulars of a life that capture the reader’s imagination. I love the line, “Some nights she’d turn in her sleep and curl into him to find he had his boots on.” There are numerous curious elements in this flash fiction. Enjoy it here at Grey Sparrow Press.
Monday, August 16, 2010
I find this story appealing because it takes me back to my student life in Boston during the late 60’s and early 70’s amidst the turmoil of the Vietnam War. But the challenge of this tantalizing story is large; can the writer deliver a story with compelling character motivation and dramatic movement under the weight of recent and controversial history? The unnamed fictional narrator (a stand-in for Robert Ellsberg, son of Daniel Ellsberg) attempts to understand the series of choices made by his father. A central metaphor is conjured from a decision theory problem of choice and statistical certainty. The real paradox appears that the metaphor doesn’t illuminate exploration of the emotional center surrounding the father-son dilemma. The facts of a life, in this case, tend to outweigh the fictional magic of the story. Read it here in Eclectica and decide for yourself.
Monday, August 9, 2010
With digital processing technologies at my fingertips, I admit I have become hooked on new versions and updates. In spite of this enthusiasm, I catch myself denigrating my hand-held gadgets to the role of mere memory aids, like hearing aids or glasses. Then a fleeting thought will brush my mind with a teasing question, are the digital versions of my observations and thoughts extensions of my memory and imagination, or will my digital version of self give rise to a digitized me? Earle’s story characters are engaging with their shared history and their meeting in the ubiquitous world of Starbucks and Ipads. For a surprising convergence, read the story here at Prick of the Spindle.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
This story struck me as a brilliant gem. It’s about a woman whose memory works in an unusual way. She forgets nothing. It’s a bit of an embarrassment for her as she is asked to deliver an annual lecture to an audience of college psych majors. She has a sense of humor and uses that to bridge a connection with the students in order to lessen the awkwardness she feels being on display. In a most satisfying way the story takes a deeper turn and draws the reader into the dilemma that remembering everything can pose. For a story with shape and depth, click here at Joyland.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
It’s no laughing matter when you’re the center of attention and claimed “a riot” when really all you are is you. That’s Bob’s dilemma when a woman, an antique dealer, arrivers to buy an antique desk that he owns, or possibly owned by his ex-wife. The woman arouses him with her presence and the rustle of her gauzy blouse that makes the sound of the “dazzle of fireflies.” The middle of the story moves in all directions, the backstory, the present moment, and Bob’s reflections on his past relationship with women. But he’s preoccupied with the work crew across the street building a stonewall around the house. He considers the possibility that they are members of a secret club and muses about starting his own secret society. The ending uses strong imagery and action and comes to a crashing halt leaving Bob imagining the weight of the stone shouldered by the men across the street as they complete their project. Read it here in The Meadowland Review.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Being a kid is fraught with lots of frustration whether you are an only child or one among a litter as this kid. But a kid’s imagination can be a saving grace, even when an opportunity is ushered by someone he despises. In this story, imagination serves to sustain the kid through adulthood disappointments. I’ve always wanted to experience the Giant Redwoods in California. This story offers a wonderful moment capturing the immensity and mystery of those ancient trees. Read it here in Mendacity Review.
Monday, June 14, 2010
On his blog here at Reading the Short Story, Charles E. May invites us to read the Alice Munro story, “Passion” (available online here at The New Yorker) as part of the International Short Story Conference held this month in Toronto (click here for program). May is participating in a panel, “Theoretical Approaches to Alice Munro’s ‘Passion’.” Her story is intriguing for all the unanswered questions it raises about the main character, Grace, and her search for meaning about her past as she revisits the Traverses’ house. We follow the young woman, marked by independence of spirit and intellect but limited by means where family background and expectations do not rise much above aspirations to learn the skill of chair caning, serviceable talent to support a decent life. The story’s real intrigue concerns such questions as the role of luck, memory, and happiness. In spite of Grace’s ‘gypsy airs’ and her ‘wild-looking dark curly hair’ that had to be tamed when she waited on tables, love and passion are out of reach. Maury who professes love does not appeal to her and his brother, the deep melancholy, married Neil sparks her thirst for mystery and daring. But he dies in an auto accident and she is given subsequently a sum of money from Neil’s mother. The story is rich in emotional tone and leaves the reader with the pleasure of mulling it over and over. Don’t’ forget to check out Mays’ blog here for further mulling over.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
The compactness of this story bears down poignantly on a strained father-son relationship. They are a continent apart but distanced in more ways than geography. The title might sound like math and it does work that way, but more surprisingly it points to a rift in the heart. Do we commit ourselves to alleviating the pain of large social problems or do we tether ourselves to kith and kin? It’s a short piece that delivers a blow as strong as a novel with a long history. Read it here at Ploughshares.
Monday, May 31, 2010
What a curiously entertaining story this is. It centers on a despondent writer chasing the muse. Originality of language and character is the gift Lutman offers to the reader. One gal offers the practice of boiling Easter eggs, the other only remembers Bogart from a movie. But it’s the gal named Pineapple whose voice is witty and her appearance is unpredictable. Will the protagonist reach Hemingway stature depends on the Pineapple Princess. For a fun read, go here to Green Silk Journal.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Sixteen and in love. Cars and music and time alone, and time wending your way through adults, parents, siblings. Experiencing life with someone who you believe understands your intense feelings and your blooming logic. But then there is the mystery too of how to deal with absence and routines, and the changes that intervene, the inevitability of a breakup. The great short story, “Pet Milk” by Stuart Dybek comes to mind. Hollars’ use of music fragments from a tape mix convincingly links with the emotions of the point of view character. Perhaps this reminds me of the way Dybek offers visual imagery to reflect the young man’s emotion in his story. For beautiful, poetic melancholy read Hollars’s story here in Night Train.
Monday, May 17, 2010
How does a story work when character gestures and descriptions are almost overstated, cartoon-ish maybe? Why does the reader care? Because the narrator voice is so strong and convincing while it bridges multiple viewpoints and sustains an underlying philosophy about life’s turns, misses and near misses, and surprises. The reader enjoys rooting for the underdog, ‘lost cause’ characters that we can cheer as they overcome obstacles, even a poisonous oleander bush, but only if the reader has the masterful guide of a strong narrative voice. It’s all here for pure enjoyment at Del Sol Review.
Monday, May 10, 2010
I confess I read National Enquirer. With headlines like “Tiger & Elin Will Split Kids,” how can one ignore the promise suggested by the literal meaning of such a title? What’s better than the award-winning Enquirer, you might argue. But it’s here in Roxane Gay’s story. She is on to something. When our interests wane about Brittany or Lindsay’s relapse-comeback cycles, there is a warehouse of stories, i.e., a clubhouse of sister-celebs (and some guys) who will fuel future scandalous issues and temporarily fill our insatiable thirst for the self-destruction coined by Hollywood. Read it here in Keyhole.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Disappointments in ambition, parents, and lovers are familiar ground, as well as how we respond each in our way to unhappy lives. The unusual element here is the way this writer offers fresh language that knits a tableau of the life of a skunk, a guy who does not offer a reason for empathy from the reader. And yet, the guy’s not really so bad relative to the others in the story. I like the way the sustained metaphor of skunk pays off at the end of the story. Enjoy it here at Mississippi Review Online.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
The opening is clear yet disorienting, a characteristic of the poetic language that sustains this story to the end. “Most nights, we climb to the tower’s roof to stand together beneath the satellite dishes, where we watch the hundreds of meteorites fall through the aurora and across the arctic sky. …Once, Cormack stood beside me and prayed aloud that one might crash into the receiving tower instead and free us all. Once, I knew which one of us Cormack actually was.” It’s an intriguing story where memory dims and hope is even dimmer. The ending is a knockout, leaving this reader pondering the mutable nature of consciousness. Read it here at Willow Springs.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
This story takes place somewhere in the South, in coal country in 1963. It’s a rugged place where the people who are deeply tied to the animals and nature outlive the defeated plans of big money dreams of coal company operators. My reading recalled the setting and tone of an early novel, Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller, the 1933 novel that in the following year was awarded the Pulitzer, a first for a Georgia writer. A pregnant teenager in both stories is portrayed with the manners and bravery of her culture and both works are written with a definitive voice of authority. Read the short story here in Serving House Journal.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Where I live nearly everyone has a pet; a dog or two, a bird, or cat. These domesticated animals offer faithful, unrequited love beyond strained human relationships. It’s not easy to write a dog or cat story. There are so many of them and often they rely on cliché. But the writing here keeps the focus on the main character who has her share of conflicts. No matter where she turns in the story, love appears distantly out of reach except for the stray cat that has come into her life. But she receives compassion and strength from an unexpected source. Read it here in Perigee.
Friday, April 9, 2010
An intriguing opening chapter of a forthcoming novel, this story reads with mystery, the intrigue of a Turkish village, minarets and volcanic snow slopes. Two people, separately married, have left America to find something of themselves and in each other. When Yasemin the older woman tells the young American Laura, “you have to be careful with the men here,” the reader’s not sure if the reference is better suited to the male ex-pat, Paul, who is confident with his art installations. The writing flows and the promise of mystery and romance draw this reader far beyond the end of the story here at Apple Valley Review.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
There is no doubt that fast food, fast money via ATMs, and fast checkouts at the likes of CVS have become the substance of culture for some. In this piece, I feel the tightened trappings and the quiet desperation of this narrator looking for an exit. The way in which this narrator survives is tenuous and drew me in wondering about her afterward. Read it here in Mississippi Review.
Friday, March 26, 2010
We often saw each other walking our dogs around the building where we both live. We’d offer nothing more than smiles and polite nods. But finally I introduced myself and my dogs. He opened his mouth wide and winced his eyes as if to squeeze out something more than incomprehensible gargle. After some seconds, I realized he was a stutterer. I stood patiently thinking since this was my first experience that it was probably more awkward for me than him. I recalled this moment after reading this story. The narrator reflects on a teacher in high school offering a moment of grace when he needed to back out of giving an oral report. In a fascinating note that follows the story, the writer mentions he is working on a series of “stutter” stories. Read it here in Foundling Review.
By the way, the gentleman’s name is Bob and so is his dog.
By the way, the gentleman’s name is Bob and so is his dog.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
It’s an odd love story. She won’t move in for fear of killing his cat, Earl Grey known as Teabag when a kitten. He believes her rejection is based on some biological defect of his. She reminds him of Teabag, “Huge eyes and ears like a marmalade cat with its ears back.” What plays out is the danger of the reptilian brain strong enough to overpower judgment and logic. The story is scarier than sci-fi and more thought provoking. Read it here in Stickman Review.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Objectivity in this story, directed at the Arab-Israeli conflict, recalls the feeling of Brechtian theatre. The protagonist is a chair with “an emblazoned sun … either rising or setting.” The story cleverly combines elements of a narrative arc (what will happen to the chair?) and incorporates non-fictional elements of the Middle East conflict from 1948-1967. Constancy is given a new perspective with the survival of the chair across time and place. There are characters in the story, some facing the absurdity of life, but none rise to the level of meaning as the chair. And by story’s end the reader wonders where now is that chair. Try this story for expanding your insight about this ongoing religious-political war. Read it here in Segue.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Lies, secrets, and prayers uttered by parents often come from an urge to protect their young from the looming violence of the world. We understand. Daily, we are exposed to the underbelly of our culture through broadcast news and the Internet. Strong dialogue carries the surface tension and intimacy between these parents. Preparing dinner, their bond is palpable as revealed in the following statement: “The meal was starting to feel like a celebration, like one of us had gotten a raise or was having a birthday.” The father’s surprise for the son, a small alligator, a caiman, is perhaps an invitation to violence in an attempt to come to terms with the world through love and prayer. The language is full of wonderful detail and depth of emotion. Read it here in Agni Online.
Monday, March 8, 2010
There’s something common and almost flat in this story- baseball, dreams, mowing lawns, dying parents, Alzheimer disease- but written with the pen of a master this story is woven with depth and feeling. Cape is in his mid-twenties with a liberal arts degree under his belt. And he has a passion for playing baseball. He won’t let go of the dream: “Without this particular slant of light, I’m like everybody else groping through the draft.” The story title is just right and the surprise element around that title offers a very satisfying read, here in Eclectica.
Friday, March 5, 2010
Something about the Maine coast yields to feelings of loss that for me the warmer coasts, say the Gulf, do not. Is it the colder water, the salt, the wind, the gritty sand? There is fitting correlation in this story of images that capture place and emotion. In particular, we are given a story of incompleteness and betrayal felt by a half-brother and half-sister. Here’s one image that I like describing the contents of an empty closet: ‘empty hangars sang like wind chimes’. Read it here in Memorious.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
This story has a surprising use of the word ‘whore’ and winds its way to joy. In the fog of the aftermath of a C-section childbirth, the narrator admits to finding the anesthesiologist ‘kind of sexy’. The light tone in the writing borders on humor and carries emotional weight with delicacy. Ending on a magical moment, the story offers emotional wholeness when the narrator dances with a name-less child at a wedding. It will touch your heart. Read it here in Gulf Coast.
Friday, February 26, 2010
I enjoyed this funny, insider’s view of what is meant by the disparaging label, ‘nerd’. By adulthood, this narrator accepts the label with awareness of her thoughts and behavior, and how others will view her ‘trying not to make eye contact’. Meta-fiction runs through the story with reference to Quentin Tarantino movie-making: ‘It’s what he does with what he’s assembled that makes for an extraordinary end’. Read the story here in Monkey Bicycle and see how what you know about nerds is creatively assembled for an extraordinary end.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Morocco is a place I have never been. Its very name conjures images of magic like those Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. But here Morocco is mentioned with specific yearning. Photographs can lie. We all know that. This narrator wrestles with it too, a mother who prefers to settle for the lie. “Father’s plans were too big for the camera’s eye.” The narrator’s poetic language and longing for Morocco is startling in how the images of that destination contrast with what is: “The cobweb imprisons a shadow on the ceiling, hanging like tatters on the edge of feeling.” To wish this narrator a bon voyage with a good map read the story here in Able Muse.
Friday, February 5, 2010
I confess I was attracted by this title. I love the movie genre. Too many favorites to name them all: Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, Big Sleep, Leave Her to Heaven. On the screen, I love the shadows, the tension and violence looming around every corner, suggested by a floating curtain, and teased with every curl of cigarette smoke. In this story, the writer creates a clever moment, a story in a story while watching a movie on video. She recognizes the actor. He’s her former lover. She toggles back and forth between the script in the film and her memories revisited. Alas, there’s no femme fatale in this story but there is a sense of being wronged and powerless beyond the plastic remote in her hand. Read it here in Big Bridge.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
I like the confidence of this narrator’s voice in the way chunks of imagery spool with ease the specific details of character. Try this: “… in the kitchen where her fingers play with egg and flour, where her flat thumbnails push cheese inside pillows of dough …”. Language here sings like a song. There’s yearning, love, and unspoken, unfinished business beating a silent rhythm below the chronicle of this grandmother’s life. The writer has heeded well Henry James’ warning to at all costs avoid the ‘weak specification.’ Indulge your reading pleasure here in The Adirondack Review.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
I like the voice of this writer. I especially like the control that reigns in the story to the present moment before the beginning of a funeral. Authentic feeling is here: anger, recalling intense teenage desire to fly free from his dad’s influence, judgment by the young boy of his dad, and the deepening retrospective look. This narrative has a masterful way of turning corners and brings into focus the young man’s view of his dad while touching irrefutable connections. The practice of hate and anger has a self-sustaining life of its own. Without apology, this character’s emotional honesty enables him to honor a complex of feelings he has for his deceased dad. Read it here in Sleet Magazine.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I first heard about kudzu one night in the late ‘60s when James Dickey gave a reading from Helmet at my college in New England. Before reading his poem “Kudzu,” he went to great lengths to describe the invasive vine with which we students at the time were not familiar. He described for us the kudzu-covered cars in a junkyard in Georgia. With the soft drawl of his voice, he said the vines served an unintended purpose in his youth. In the back seats of discarded Cadillacs, he’d crawl with adventurous girls and the vines provided them with the necessary comforts they needed when stealing away in the night for sweet romance. So when I read this story, my memory quickly recalled that night described by Dickey in his own words about his youthful escapades into taboo, sheltered by kudzu. Read a retrospective on kudzu in Mississippi here in LITnIMAGE.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Winter can be a bitch as documented in this story. We all live through our versions of winter but this writer evokes a Cormac McCarthy kind of bleakness and physical violence that takes us to the edge of what is probably better avoided. The attention to detail in this short-short works wonders in creating a whole atmosphere just in the description of eating a piece of pie. The good news is you don’t have to go there; you can read about it here in Our Stories.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
As a kid I delighted in staying outside once the summer sun went down and felt a wild connection to nature, the damp air, the prickly grass, the other kids running around playing tag and screaming. Joy in the moment had intimations of immortality! This story evokes a childhood delight in spinning around outside in the dark until she and her sister would float and fall down on the ground that would “bob and bow like a sailboat” under them. But the story is deeply sad running over memory and present moment with language that mines the connections between experience and feelings. Read it here at Identity Theory.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
I responded positively from the start just because of the title. As a kid I recalled feeling the duality surrounding ‘spontaneous generation,’ the magic and the derision by science. But the writing here is what carries the moment. It’s a coming-of-age story with hindsight offering such strong images like the goat, and the song “Tom Sawyer” by Rush. Something about goats and the way they see with those peculiar eyes harks back to pre-evolutionary time. The image of Tom Sawyer coupled with rock music suggests a variation on spontaneous generation, the change from boy to man, from play and exploration to abiding by social rules, or commenting on them. The writing is lyrical and delivers a punch. Read it here in Shaking Like a Mountain.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The news story is a familiar one. An abandoned baby only hours old is discovered in a trash bin outside a fast-food restaurant. We’ve experienced the story from the side of the newscasters who jump at the chance to report the story repeatedly with horrific details minus the desperate story behind the story. Here we are given a chance to consider the choices made and the possible consequences that might happen after those choices are made. The narrator’s voice relies on a strong imagination that evokes great empathy from the reader. Leaps of human emotion and thought are heartbreakingly convincing. Read it here in The Summerset Review.