September September 13th, 2017, Exhortation by George Saunders, Tenth of December, Random House.
Blurb: A letter from a supervisor to his crew.
Opinion: There's something extremely unnerving about this story. It deals with a lot of perception of how we do our work. If we dread it and fight that dread it will be unpleasant work. If we accept it and keep a positive attitude the job will be easier. But then the story takes a turn. Suddenly it isn't only efficiency the narrator wants. It's made clear that if the crew doesn't keep up it's numbers (for some undisclosed product. . . or service) they will become part of the problem. It put me in mind of Germans working at a concentration camp. There's a lot of talk about "room 6," and how unpleasant working room 6 can be, and how the crew needs to keep "cleaning shelves," which also put me in mind of the horrific sleeping quarters in places liked Dachau and Auschwitz. Chilling. I'm sure the author intended this.
September September 14th, 2017, Al Roosten by George Saunders, Tenth of December, Random House.
Blurb: A vignette about an aging man who feels as though he deserves more respect than he does. He makes a fool of himself at a fundraiser and it spurs a ton of spite in him.
Opinion: As all Saunders's stories, this is a compelling look into someone's life who is rife with moral ambiguity. This story works not because the character changes by the end, but because he constantly has a chance to make things right, to accept his own flaws, and then does not.
September September 15th, 2017, My Chivalric Fiasco by George Saunders, Tenth of December, Random House.
Blurb: After coming across a coworker who has been raped by a high-up, Ted is given a promotion in order to keep quiet. Similarly, the woman is paid off and also given a promotion. The truth, however, has a way of coming out.
Opinion: This story is clever. The world is the future, or maybe just now + some weird pharma that can make you feel and act certain ways. The people in this story work at a medieval amusement park and Ted takes a drug that makes him all chivalrous, hence the name of the story. However, even though he does the right thing in the story every he as well as many other people are worse off for it. It's a story about how the right acts are often harder and have negative consequences.
September September 16th, 2017, The Collector of Cursed Objects by Eris Young, Scrutiny Journal.
Blurb: A cursed man tries to find his salvation.
Opinion: A nuanced story about the inevitability of death. I like the subject matter, even if I wasn't real clear on the execution. I think the first half of this story set some solid ground work, but the tension falls flat about 2/3 in and the ending doesn't deliver the punch I had hoped for.
September September 17th, 2017, Mysterious Ways by Bruce Holland Rogers, Forty Nine: A Square of Stories.
Blurb: Three vignettes that could be seen a miracles or coincidence. A man tries to help a woman and makes a pledge only to have it come true. A man's cancer is cured, his wife develops lymphoma. Two different people in different places see divine figures in the ordinary and then go about their daily lives.
Opinion: These didn't really seem like plot, but more like anecdotes that make the reader question coincidence versus fate or divine influence. It's a nice thought, but I'm not taking a ton from it.
September September 18th, 2017, Songs of Songs: An Intrepid Correspondent Explores The Relationship Between Music And The Female Orgasm, by Melissa Febos, The Believer, Aug/Sept 2017.
Blurb: An essay by a woman who records herself and her partner orgasms and compares them to her musical tastes.
Opinion: I was once sitting in a class in which the faculty mentioned that, in some way, shape, or form, every generation believes their the first generation to discover, truly, what sex is and does. This piece seems an extension of this concept--or perhaps proof of it. While the author takes an interesting bent on the essay, it still reeks of exceptionalism. Despite the author's admission that she isn't an exhibitionist, this piece seems to be, if not completely exhibitionary (is that a word?), at least a moment for the writer to tell readers how much she enjoys sex. Frankly, that's great. I'm glad she enjoys it. It reminds me of a letter penned by a father back in 2013 titled: Dear Daughter, I hope you have awesome sex, which is a wonderful look at the creepy protectiveness many father's have toward their daughters in which they'd rather their daughters NEVER have sex, rather than have wonderful sexual experiences. I think father's should wish their daughters the best life experiences. And in accordance with this essay I have read--great. I'm stoked you enjoy sex so much you'd find a way to compared your sexual experiences to music, however, in the end it just feels like someones excuse to tell the world about how sexually active they are, which seems quiet exhibitionary to me.
September 6th, 2017, The Lost Art of Twilight by Thomas Ligotti, Published in Songs of a Dead Dreamer & Grimscribe, Penguin Classics.
Blurb: When a young man who was born from a mother post death meets his late father's family the mystery of his mother's last days becomes clear.
Opinion: This story plays on some tropes I won't reveal, but Ligotti certainly uses his trademark lyricism and nihilism to make the piece interesting. It's not one of his best works, but it's a good stab at a trope that is just so overdone.
September 7th, 2017, The Man In The Crimson Coat by Andrea Tang, Published on Apex-Magazine.com, 2017
Blurb: A woman who was adopted by a murderous cyborg sets out to confront him, once and for all.
Opinion: There were some cool elements in this story. I like cyborgs as a rule--though they aren't typically used as much as they could be in literature. The story does fall into some unfortunate gender tropes, however, with a woman using a promise of sex to outwit a man, which is just... just unfortunate and has been done SO many times before that I was left scratching my head that the author couldn't have found something more creative.
September 8th, 2017, Red String by Cassandra Khaw, Published on thedarkmagazine.com, 2017
Blurb: A woman has a difficult time letting her late husband go.
Opinion: This story is the first I've read that was unbearably cheesy! It's a conversation between a widow and a mortician about the husbands funeral. There is no indication that there is anything peculiar about the mortician at all. Then at the end, in one paragraph it's revealed, as though by the whim of the author, that the mortician could speak to the husband's ghost and was trying to make the widow let go of his memory. So cheesy!
September 9th, 2017, Dinosaur by Bruce Holland Rogers, Forty Nine: A Square of Stories.
Blurb: Micro fiction piece about a boy who grows up wishing he had been a Dinosaur instead of a tax accountant.
Opinion: Short-short fiction is difficult to pull off. It's nuanced in a way, I think, even short stories are not. Each word has to move the piece forward in a meaningful way. Like in longer pieces of fiction, there can be no loose ends, but in a piece such as this (it's under two pages) every misplaced word can be a loose end. I think the author accomplishes a lot in the piece, a whole lifetime, in fact. It's a gentle look on how we should not give up our childish side too easily. We should not give up our dreams.
September 10th, 2017, Memoir by Bruce Holland Rogers, Forty Nine: A Square of Stories.
Blurb: Two stories in one, or perhaps three. Story one, captives in a concentration camp in 1943 tell a joke and one gets shot. Story two, two boarding school students in 1978 go to the mall and get told off by a guard. Story three (maybe), how a writer can take the most subtle and inconsequential events in their own lives and make a compelling, heartbreaking, story out of it.
Opinion: I love this kind of story. Even the it's under three pages, the meta-fictional aspect of this piece is intriguing. I really enjoy stories in which the author shows you how he created the work. I learn the most from them.
September 11th, 2017, The Process Is A Process All Its Own by Peter Straub, The Best Horror of The Year Volume Nine, 2017
Blurb: A man who spells spoken and written words is a serial killer who preys on young women.
Opinion: Frankly, I hate the trope of a serial killer preying on young women. It's gross, misogynistic, and just predictable. This piece, while it as an interesting bent (in terms of the words becoming smells for the main character), this seemed more like murder-porn-literature. Stories like IT by Stephen King, and The Chemist by Thomas Ligotti, are interesting horror stories because they aren't JUST horror stories. They deal with deeper issues like prejudice, nihilism, victimization and coping, recover...and so much more. This story was just gross.
September 12th, 2017, Puppy by George Saunders, Tenth of December, Random House.
Blurb: A story of two different mothers. One has escaped poverty, the other is in the grips of it. They are both happy.
Opinion: A heart wrenching look at how affluent and impoverished families might meet. A story that deals with love, abandonment, dead animals, and child abuse. Difficult to read, in terms of content, but amazingly well written.
My Year of Short Stories is an ongoing challenge I've set myself. My goal is to read 365 short stories from the day after I turned 30 (August 14th, 2017) to the day after I turn 31 (August 14th, 2018).
August 30th, 2017, Cesar Aira: Interviewed by Pablo Calvi Published in The Believer, August-September 2017
Blurb: A brief interview with the author concerning how music has influenced his writing.
Opinion: If nothing else, this essay has introduced me to a new writer. I don't know Aira's work, though The Believer tells me I should. This magazine, while one of my favorites has a knack for making me feel horribly ill read in terms of "canon" in which Aira is to become a part of, if he isn't already. Yet another author added to my, "to read," pile.
August 31st, 2017, The Last Exorcist by Danny Lore Published in Fiyah: Volume Three August, 2017.
Blurb: In a world where sundown towns, in which black, or brown, people must leave the town before sundown, have made a comeback with a demonic twist, a journalist meets up with "The Last Exorcist" on the eve of the house passing a bill that would make exorcism illegal.
Opinion: An interesting and compelling story. It dives into the racist heritage of the US, of white privilege and fear, but also of into black America's identity. A great first read from a promising new magazine.
September 1st, 2017, The Breeze In The Boughs by Jennifer Marie Brissett Published in Fiyah: Volume Three August, 2017.
Blurb: A story about "the other" moving to a neighborhood and the feelings those who have claimed it have.
Opinion: I enjoyed this story for it's content and metaphor. It's sad but, it's whimsical fairy tale style makes it much less sad than a literal interpretation of the dangers of gentrification and the staking of land or neighborhoods as ones own.
September 2nd, 2017, A Citizen In Childhood's Country by Seanan McGuire Published in Lightspeed Magazine, August, 2017, issue 87.
Blurb: A story about never growing up.
Opinion: An interesting take on what it means, or doesn't mean to grow up. It was a fine story, but about two-thirds into it the author introduced certain titles, the "Lost" and the "Found which were suppose to reference certain types of people. I think it was a bit unnecessary to use these jargony words which make the piece feel as though it is just the prologue to a longer piece, which it may be.
September 3rd, 2017, Toward The Sun by Sydnee Thompson Published in Fiyah: Volume Three August, 2017.
Blurb: In a world in which the radiation from the sun is so intense most rich people live under a great dome, the poor are forced to live outside and harvest the food. Every person is fitted with a cuff or sleeve that injects them with a sedative that puts them to sleep so they can't try to work through the daylight ours, and instead seek shelter from certain death.
Opinion: It's a cool dystopian idea, but the story itself was pretty heavy on back story--though not because it didn't need it. The story is constantly building to the conclusion, which is escape, but then the escape isn't quite as dramatic or exciting as I had hoped.
September 4th, 2017, The Embalmer by Helen Marshall Published on The Dark, 2017.
Blurb: A young boy is obsessed with digging up dead animals and embalming them so that when he finally dies he can go to heaven and have lots of animal companions. But a girl he knows looses her brother, The Embalmer makes a sacrifice that changes everything.
Opinion: While I love the creepy subject matter of this story, I'm a little disappointed with it's execution. The creepy aspects of this story don't seem to have much barring on how the characters change, or decide not to change, and therefore the ending feels a bit unearned.
September 5th, 2017, Cracks by Xen Published in Fiyah: Volume Three August, 2017.
Blurb: In a world in which the fabric of reality is literally being pulled apart, a young man finds what could have been if things were different.
Opinion: This is a touching story about the "what ifs" a young black man might have in our own world. The difference here is that reality is literally being pulled apart and his job is to mend this reality to keep other people, people who are not like him (mostly not black) safe. The metaphor is a strong one as I could see this story taking place in the pre-civil war southern states in which it was the slave work that held the economy together, and in many ways, the reality white people lived in, and in so many sad ways, this hasn't changed.