Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Nora and the Black Man," by Nona Caspers

Relying on the insulation of a rural Minnesota town, a teenager’s perception of her parents’ fears is at odds with her curious mind that longs to understand complexity and connections rather than the separateness and rigid boundaries of their lives.  The story so well presents this tension that we read the following line with both humor and profound insight:  “Before Nora was born her father had a crush on Dianna Ross.”  The midwest in this story recalls the sensitivity of a writer like Eudora Welty but Capers firmly plants her story in the farming midwest.  Read it here in Cimarron Review.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Seeing is Believing," by Doris Betts

What I like most about short stories is the ability more so than in novel, to lift the story beyond reality, to go beyond the grounded details of life and find a surprise, a mystery, within.  Doris Betts is one of those writers.  Here’s a story that really makes me believe in the character’s ability to recall faces in detail based only on hearing their voices.  It’s plausible, at least in this story.  The title is perfect and the ending illuminates the raison d’etre for the story, echoing a Latin phrase mentioned in the story, ‘to be rather than be seen’.  Read it here in Carolina Quarterly.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Keynote," by J. David Bell

This is a story about impending retirement.  But more moving is the way Bell portrays the mind’s ability to shift perceptions.  During this sensitive time when the elder faculty member is asked to give a keynote, he reflects on his contributions, his later years, and the rising younger stars in the department.  Shifting paradigms, once this academic’s prize possession ironically presents a felt threat.  Or does it?  In this story the main character experiences something much more than regrets or threats from the next generation of faculty.  For a moving story told with depth of internal thought, read it here in Summerset Review.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"The Speed of Sound," by Elizabeth Gonzalez

Few people mention star gazing these days. Most of us live in urban areas where the ambient light robs us of an otherwise magical moment pondering the omniscient patterns that change with the Earth’s rotation.  This story turns our gaze toward the meaning of those lights of incomprehensible distance. The tendency toward vertigo is delivered with an intriguing line: “on a clear night, the sky seemed so vast and so close overhead it was disorienting, as if you could fall up.”  The physics of sound and light are unlike everyday life that “tumbled along ... and traveled only one path, and petered out.”  This story has a wonderful shape that converges the mysteries and realities of physics and the feeling of loss. Read it here in Hunger Mountain.

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Chaesa," by John Patrick Bishop

On the one year anniversary of her father’s death, a twelve year old girl and her family stay in the Communist occupied city of Seoul.  The details are intriguing and the story achieves the tone of a folk tale when the food prepared by her mother seems to expand to fill the needs of a village. The language is responsible for this air of mystery and the sense of urgency to flee.  But in truth the story reads as if it is part of a novel, there are so many connections and questions too large for a short story, in addition to the omniscient voice.  Nevertheless this is an intriguing story, here at Kenyon Review Online.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"Tractor Incident," by Eric Ramseier

Sometimes we dread life’s demands. Wishing away events that challenge our daily routines can consume a lot of time and thought. That’s how we find this character when a dust cloud envelops him and his truck after slamming the brakes.  He wished it were a cloud of locusts consuming “whatever occupied the ground”  instead of surrounding him.  But what he cannot escape is witnessing is an over-turned tractor and underneath it an injured boy. The strength of the story is the close point of view and associative leaps.  After placing the boy in the back of his pickup, he wants no part of this event hoping the boy would “fly out without a trace.”  The story takes an interesting perspective on how he comes to terms with the reality of what life delivers. Read it here at Switchback.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"A League of Pity," by Louise Beech

No one wants to be pitied. The two characters in this story have all that it takes to draw that demeaning sentiment from others.  On the one hand, the story is realistic in the way the protagonist is portrayed with her grief and anger. Spoken dialogue and internal thought are masterly woven in the writing.  An itinerant vendor of tea (this is England) bridges the real with the super real. He is magical in his physical deformity and spiritual profundity. There’s a delicious ambivalence of fairy tale that works here.  Read it at On the Premises here.