Some Mini Vouches

18 Nov

Recently I’ve read things I haven’t had time to discuss at length.

American Short Fiction is consistently excellent and whenever I get a new issue in the mail, it’s the one thing I read immediately instead of relegating it to an increasingly insurmountable pile of things I need (and mostly want) to read. I can’t stop beating this horse because it’s so rare that entire issues of a magazine are excellent. The Fall 2011 issue is particularly strong. The first story, “Signs,” by Bess Winter, won their Short Short Fiction contest and is about a gorilla with a nipple fetish, an academic researcher, female graduate students, and I don’t want to ruin the story but it’s both intimate and tender and uncomfortable and strange. One of the things ASF does really well is encourage longer short fiction and the longer stories in this issue really spoke to the value of stories that stretch toward 10,000 words. Amanda Goldblatt’s “Crook,” had some of the same quiet strangeness of “Signs,” but also had a really unexpected ending. There’s a woman, nearing middle-age, who works in a mall and lives in a cave. She has a younger, pregnant co-worker. There’s a man, a stranger, who starts sharing her cave without much fanfare or discussion. What makes this story work is how calmly all of the strangeness and loneliness and, at times, sadness, is communicated. It’s never made into a big deal. In this story, this is just the way things go. “Pilgrim Life,” by Taylor Antrim tells the story of a guy in his twenties, just out of college, feeling lost, living in San Francisco. His mother has cancer and his brother wants him to return home to Pensacola, Florida to care for her. The family dynamics are complex, as they are often wont to be. He’s in a relationship with Claire, the kind where she’s just out of a relationship with an older man and he’s the one who loves more. This story handles voice, that of a disaffected young man, so wonderfully. Antrim is not afraid to make this character selfish and kind of obliviously self-absorbed but still sympathetic and to strike that balance is admirable. The freshest breath of air in this issue was Susan Steinberg’s “Signifier,” which has a really unique tone and an unexpected narrative style that you don’t see a lot of. There’s a story but it’s not really told like a story and a lot of the work of making sense of the people involved and who they are is left to the reader. So much is implied but what you do with that implication takes the story into interesting places. I also have a really soft spot for “Paradeability,” by Bret Anthony Johnston about a widower and his young teenage son, who, in the wake of his mother’s death, has passionately pursued a hobby of being a clown, a hobo clown to be exact. The father’s grief is muted but palpable throughout the story but really, the story is about a man trying to be a good father and worrying he is failing and working desperately to understand his “inscrutable” son. Subscribe. It’s worth it.

Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me was a quick, fun read. She has a lot of smart, funny things to say. Like Bossypants, I wasn’t completely satisfied but I don’t regret reading it. Humor is good.

Two recent poetry collections really stood out. Jeffrey Morgan’s Crying Shame is a really solid and cohesive collection. The prose poems (two) “Rescue Excerpts” were particularly compelling because they were witty and evasively disturbing. My favorite line, from the second “Rescue Excerpts”: “When you lose the ability to distinguish between sunburn and rash, you are in real trouble. You are delusional, and those delusions stem from an insatiable loneliness.”  Edward Mullany’s If I Falter at the Gallows is as good as the praise being lavished upon this book indicates. At Big Other, Paula Bomer interviews Mullany and their conversation offers some interesting insights into the book.

I am the last person, probably, to get hip to Joan Didion but Play It As It Lays, has inserted itself into my favorite books ever ever. Now I’m reading her collected essays, Run River, and The Year of Magical Thinking. What an astounding writer. Why did it take me so long to get into Didion?

 

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One Response to “Some Mini Vouches”

  1. ce. November 21, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    I just read Year of Magical Thinking last year. I’ve yet to read anything more by her. I don’t know why. I think I needed to sit with YMT for awhile. It hit hard in some ways with respect to my mom passing. I really want to check out Blue Night when I have a spare reading slot.

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