For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 12: December 17, 2012

The mystery and tension is created in the stories by only allowing a reader to know what the character knows and nothing more.

Author of short story collection, Volt, and 2012 Whiting winner in Fiction.

Thomas McGuane in The Art of Fiction No. 89:

When I start something it’s like being a bird dog getting a smell; it’s a matter of running it down in prose and then trying to figure out what the thing is that’s out there. Sometimes it might be a picture. This morning when I was writing I was chasing down one of those images. It was just a minute thing that happened to me while I was recently down in Alabama. We had rented a little cottage on the edge of Mobile Bay and at one point there was stormy weather out on the bay; I wandered out to see what kind of weather it was and the door blew closed and locked me out of the cottage. I thought about getting back inside and I sat down and there was one of those semi-tropical warm summer rains starting to come down like buckshot. Somehow the image of stepping outside to see what’s going on and having the wind blow the door shut has stuck in my head. I don’t know what that image is exactly, or what it means, but I know that ever since I came home I’ve been trying to pursue that image in language, find out what it is. That image begins to ionize the prose and narrative particles around it so that words are drawn in, people and language begin to appear. That’s when things are going well. When that’s happening, any reader will recognize that flame-edge of discovery, that excitement of proceeding on the page that is shared between the reader, the writer, and the page.

Our recommendations this week

Horace and Margaret's Fifty-second
Excerpt

She didn’t want to buy him cigarettes (in his dotage, he had secretly and then quite openly taken up smoking again). He lost clothes or put them on backward or declared universal birthdays so he could give everything he owned to strangers. The previous Wednesday, she had asked him what he would want for their upcoming anniversary, their fifty-second. “Lightbulbs,” he said, giving her an unpleasantly sly look.

She glanced at his lamp and saw that the shade was pleated oddly. “They give you plenty of bulbs here,” she said. “Ask them.”

He shook his head for thirty seconds before he replied. “Wrong bulbs,” he said. “It’s the special ones I need, with the flames.”

“Lightbulbs don’t have flames,” she said. “It’s filaments now.”

“Don’t argue with me. I know what I want. Lightbulbs.”

We read it in Gryphon.

Born Again
Excerpt

After our fourth failed attempt in which Bosscat charged the front entryway and was deterred by a guard in navy blue, we headed to the Stakeout for a few rounds of Mind Erasers. Captain Rick footed the bill. Deborah was there with three guys up from Nellis; she kept stroking their shaved necks and pudgy cheeks. It had been my first venture away from Shelly in a week and I could breathe lightly; I played pool against the air force using straight geometry and Captain Rick fronted me a small smoke to share with Deborah in the alley beside the vat of grease. Come to think of it, that's when the hotdog smell started. After our smoke, my fourth in as many days, the minutes at the Stakeout bubbled and popped quickly, leaving only the taste of Kahlua and salty sex in a crowded closet bathroom. I can just barely recall a square of yellow sunrise out a window the size of a fist.

We read it in The Collagist.

The Conversion of the Jews
Excerpt

“That’s when I asked the question.”

Itzie’s face lit up. “Whatja ask about—intercourse?”

“No, I asked the question about God, how if He could create the heaven and earth in six days, and make all the animals and the fish and the light in six days—the light especially, that’s what always gets me, that He could make the light.  Making fish and animals, that’s pretty good—”

“That’s damn good.” Itzie’s appreciation was honest but unimaginative: it was as though God had just pitched a one-hitter.

“But making light... I mean when you think about it, it’s really something,” Ozzie said. “Anyway, I asked Binder if He could make all that in six days, and He could pick the six days he wanted right out of nowhere, why couldn’t He let a woman have a baby without having intercourse.”

“You said intercourse, Ozz, to Binder?”

“Yeah.”

“Right in class?”

“Yeah.”

Itzie smacked the side of his head.