Monday, September 28, 2009

"Unsealing the Tomb," by John Michael Cummings

Some of the most compelling stories engage our empathy for a character who must either break from family or suffer integrity. The urgency of this story is made richer with a deep sense of place and history, the South and fears surrounding racism. To get your reading quota of delight and surprise offered by this wonderful writer, click here and be transported to Stickman Review.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Date Blind," by Hal Ackerman

When you’re middle aged and lonely, one of the ways to connect with someone is through the personal ads. They take all forms, some more sophisticated matchmakers than others, but they continue to exist because they serve a need. I like the way this story unfolds the character. He does more thinking than living. Maybe you know someone like that. The language is clever, at times funny, and sad. The title fits the story like a glove. Read it here at Storyglossia.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Winter Husband," by Jean Thompson

It’s winter where the snow and ice linger for months. I know the feelling. I’ve lived there and spent many a day on my backside because the sidewalks are perpetually covered in ice. Jerry’s crumbling marriage is captured in the image of “sparrows energetically going at a space of exposed dirt.” He tries to move beyond an affair that both his wife and kids know about, he offers to get groceries for his wife who’d rather build a dollhouse than leave her house, and he attempts to engage with his teenage son while shoveling driveway snow. In Jean Thompson fashion, the reader experiences a range of deeply felt emotions from despair, contempt, sadness, love and fulfillment. The story moves effortlessly between past and present, and the ending offers a moment of grace for this despondent character. For a glimpse at middle America, read it here in Five Chapters.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Bridges," by Jennifer Andrews

Who’s to say what forces carry us through life’s confusions, how we are buffeted against brutality; how some are carried over and how some fall down? It’s a fascinating question that fuels many stories. In this creative non-fiction piece, bridges work to capture moments of change, transitions from point A to point B, from entry to exit. It is quite effective the way this writer suspends time on one bridge crossing during a battle with her troubled sister. In this moment, past and future are telescoped by the narrator’s urgent observation: “Five minutes and she couldn’t wait.” Read it here in Pank.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Banyan," by Molly Giles

A ménage a trois is offered up with unexpected ambiguity and unresolved feelings. It’s a story about complex emotions, which in life may scare us and cause us to turn the other way. Mothers may find themselves in embarrassing situations with their teenage daughters whose perceptions may play very differently. Men may act in ways they do not see as sexually suggestive. Teenagers may find themselves longing to grow up but find themselves clinging to stuffed animals for comfort. On a trip to Hawaii, in hopes of rekindling her love relationship, this protagonist finds herself feeling trapped with her family. One beguiling image involves snorkeling and following a woman in a black one-piece suit in the shallow waters inhabited by fish and coral. Read it here in Cimarron Review.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Last Call" by Richard Larsen

This story begins with a reference to Bristol Palin's campaign appearance on television and unravels this narrator’s obsession with being caught between two places, like being stuck with fear on a bridge. What this narrator has to say about identity and love is astounding, especially young love and passion and confusion. In the best of stories, we look for tension along the lines of what is and what if, love and hate. What is at work here is a remarkable tension between the narrator’s gender, the honesty of love and existential identity, together with the structural device of the broken paragraph. The physical structure enhances the emotional truth of this story, masterful evidence of how a story can be organic. Read it here in Eclectica.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"The Visitor," by Daniel Alarcon

Maybe after recently reading about a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, I am sensitive about tales of survival and natural disaster. This one especially caught me by the unfolding tenderness of the father’s voice. After a landslide, he and three children survive on a crest of a cemetery where the newborn has been buried. The mother had stayed in the village and dies there under the mud. Aid packages drop from parachutes. A stranger arrives with news of the death tallies from various regions. The specific location is not mentioned. The facts of the story pale in contrast to the unfolding details of emotion, memory and sadness. The father at times seems without bearings and time alone seems timeless. This is what he recalls asking his children. “Sometimes I asked, ‘Do you remember where we used to live?’ and their blank stares told me they hadn’t understood my question. I envied them and their youthful amnesia. Under the sweep of mountain sky, I felt alone.” Such elements of time and memory shimmer throughout this story. Read it here at Big Ugly Review.