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Best Stories We Read this Year: Pete's Picks.: A Short Form List

Best Stories We Read this Year: Pete's Picks.

Chips didn't have a watch and generally marked the passage of time by the number of pints he'd drunk.

From Paul Murray's “That's My Bike!”

We look back on the stories we read this year and pick our favorites. Part 1: Pete's picks. 

We began this project as a way to document and engage with our everday reading habits. For myself, I knew I had a tendency to fall back on the McGuanes, the Harrisons, the writers that tended to look a lot like me. As the weeks continue on, I find myself reading stories from voices or regions that, either out of arrogance or lazinesss, I had never considered. And though some of my favorite stories I've read this year are still what you might call "domestic", my growing exposure to the world of short stories has helped me understand just what it is about a particular story that I find so attractive. So, from the thousand dirty and funny images Lindsay Hunter gives us each and every second to Paul Murray's classically mis-intentioned Chip, these are some of my favorite stories I've come across this year.

–– Pete


Selected Stories

Radioactive Red Caps

“That would be top-secret information,” I said, “even if I knew. Anyway, you are arguing from supposition, not knowledge. How do you know what our top Negro scientists are doing?”

“I don't,” said Simple. “But I bet if one was making an atom bomb, they would have his picture on the cover of Jet every other week like Eartha Kitt, just to make Negroes think the atom bomb is an integrated bomb. Then, next thing you know, some old Souther senator would up and move to have that Negro investigated for being subversive, because he would be mad that a Negro ever got anywhere near an atom bomb. Then that Negro would be removed from his job like Miss Annie Lee Moss, and have to hire a lawyer to get halfway back. Then they would put that whitewashed Negro to making plain little old-timey ordinary bombs that can only kill a few folks at a time. You know and I know, they don't want no Negroes nowhere near no bomb that can kill a whole state full of folks like an atom bomb can. Just think what would happen to Mississippi. Wow!”

“Your thinking borders on the subversive,” I warned. “Do you want to fight the Civil War over again?“

“Not without an atom bomb,” said Simple.

We read it in The Best of Simple.

After Action Report

I kept telling the story. Everybody asked. There were follow-up questions too. Yeah, I was like here, and Timhead was here... let me draw it in the sand. See that, that's the MRAP. And hajji's here. Yeah, I could just see him, poking around the side of the building. Dumbass.

Timhead nodded along. It was bullshit, but every time I told the story, it felt better. Like I owned it a little more. When I told the story, everything was clear. I made diagrams. Explained the angles of bullet trajectories. Even saying it was dark and dusty and fucking scary made it less dark and dusty and fucking scary. So when I thought back on it, there were the memories I had, and the stories I told, and they sort of sat together in my mind, the stories becoming stronger every time I retold them, feeling more and more true.

Eventually, Staff Sergeant would roll up and say, “Shut the fuck up, Suba. Hajji shot at us. Lance Corporal Suba shot back. Dead Hajji. That's the happiest ending you can get outside a Thai massage parlor. Now it's over, Gunners, be alert, get positive ID, you'll get your chance.”

Brenda's Kid

Her kid dragged the ladder over, stared at Brenda with his eyebrows raised, like, What now, lady? Brenda let him hold her purse, he slung it up and over his shoulder and stood with his arms folded over his stomach. Don't fall now, he said. The boy had enormous brown eyes, puddles of fudge, moist and glittered, Brenda could see why the girls loved him, penis fool that he was, Lord, delete that, delete it please and thank you but he does swing that penis around like it's tossing candy coins over a parade of sluts, sorry forgive me delete delete delete. Brenda secured the ladder up against the house, debated but in the end kept her heels on, she was good on her toes like that. Her kid stood with his purse and his feet in the earth, squinting, the bottom of his tank rolled up a little and the hair on his stomach exposed, Feel a breeze? Brenda asked him but he didn't get it. Brenda began her climb. Good thing you ain't wearing a skirt, her kid called up to her, else I'd be seeing something I don't want to see. He snorted, Yes ma'am, I'd be awash in barf if that was the case. Brenda prayed to sweet, delicious Jesus. Grace. Strength. Whatever else. During her pregnancy all those years ago she had anticipated a bond so strong that she would die for it. That had been true. But also true was how often she considered harming her child, just a little. Taser gun. Mace. Roundhouse kick. Judo chop. Good old windmill. Tires crunching over toes. She had never done any of it, she had once lobbed a small decorative pumpkin at his head, but that was the extent. Thank you Lord of Light, thank you chariot God.

We read it in Wigleaf.

That's My Bike!

It seemed that he had neglected to buy Christmas presents for the missus and Gerard Jr.

“I was going to go up to the shopping center,” says he. “I lost track of time.”

It's easy to see how that might happen. Chips didn't have a watch and generally marked the passage of time by the number of pints he'd drunk. This “internal clock” so to speak usually served him very well, but on a night like tonight, when there were pints flying around the place, flaws appeared in the system. The Polish lads from the tire place had sent over a round, then the bookies came in and bought another–I'm not complaining, mind, I'm just saying it was very disorienting to a body's internal-clock system. It was the type of thing that could happen a bishop, but at the same time I knew his missus might not see it that way and his nibs was in a right lather. What made matters worse was that last year hadn't he done do the very same thing. He'd had to sneak off to the petrol station on Christmas morning while herself was cooking the turkey, and all they had left by way of presents was a rake of low-sugar chocolate for diabetics. For the young lad he just went to the ATM and took out sixty quid.

Well there were ructions that Christmas Day, you may be sure. Mrs. Chips was no fool, and furthermore quite a highly strung individual as very beautiful women often are. His nibs had had more than a few low-sugar diabetic chocolates thrown at him and that was getting off lightly. This year he mightn't fare so well, particularly as the house was already up in arms after the dog went missing.

We read it in The Paris Review No. 199.

The Most Girl Part of You

That was before his mother died. She died eight days ago. She did it herself. Big Guy showed me the rope burns in the beam of the ceiling. He said, “Any place I hang myself is home.” In the movie version, that is where his father would have slapped him.

But of course his father did not—didn’t slap him, didn’t even hear him. Although Big Guy’s father has probably heard what Big Guy says about the Cubs. It’s the funniest thing he can imagine; it’s what he doesn’t have to imagine, because his father really said it when he had to tell his son what the boy’s mother had done.

“And what’s more—” his father had said.

It may have been the sheer momentum of bad news, because in the vast thrilling silence after Big Guy heard the news, his father added, “And what’s more, the Cubs lost.”

“So you see,” Big Guy says these days about matters large and small, “it’s not as if the Cubs lost.”

Full story can be read at The Collagist