For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 21: March 04, 2013

Tips for Writing Very Short Fiction

While trivia implies an entire world, labored explanations suggest only the limits of an author’s imagination.

Featuring Tim Horvath, Michael Jeffrey Lee, Clare Wigfall, Manjushree Thapa, Rebecca Makkai, Jeffrey Rotter, Alan Heathcock, David Peak, Shane Jones, Andrew Malan Milward

Martin Amis interviewed in the Paris Review

It’s not the flashy twist, the abrupt climax, or the seamless sequence of events that characterizes a writer and makes him unique. It’s a tone, it’s a way of looking at things. It’s a rhythm, it’s what in poetry is called a sprung rhythm. Instead of having a stress every other beat, it has stress after stress after stress. One’s a little worried about having one’s logo on every sentence. What’s that phrase about a painting consisting entirely of signatures? That obviously is something to be avoided, but it would never inhibit me. I never think, Let’s write a piece of prose that is unmistakably mine. Really, it’s an internal process, a tuning-fork process. You say the sentence or you write the sentence again and again until the tuning fork is still, until it satisfies you.

Our recommendations this week

City of Clowns

I was called to bring more beer from the fridge. I passed the cold bottle to my father, who took it without looking, intent on what his partner Felipe was saying. I listened too: “I always try to smack the maid real good,” Felipe said proudly. “And I try to break something—just so the family doesn't think she was in on it.” Everyone cheered this perverse generosity. My father too. I stood at the edge of the circle of men as they passed the beer around. I hardly understood it. Standing at the edge of circle of men, I thought of my own mother falling to the floor.

We read it in War By Candlelight.

Originally published in The New Yorker: June 16 & 23, 2003.

Jim Train

Jim decides to take a shower outside, it will save him the job of cleaning the tub when he's done. He takes a towel and a bar of soap and goes into the yard, hauling the hose after him.

This is what men who don't live in cities do, he thinks, imagining naked men in backyards all over Westchester and up into Connecticut. They shower out of doors, like Abe Lincoln. It's the hearty way. The real way.

He picks at the dirt embedded in his chest hair, and rubs what he gets between his fingers. He throws the hose over a tree branch and turns on the water–it is cool if not cold. Jim starts to sing. He lathers himself from head to toe, watching the dirt pour off his body in little muddy rivers. He rinses his hair and, when the soap is out of his eyes, looks into the bushes at the far end of the yard. There are two small faces pressed up against the fence. They are giggling. “Look at his pee-pee,” a small voice says. Jim turns away. They have ruined his moment. Is a man not free to do as he pleases in his own home, he wonders, to wash his own dirt from his body? Does he need permission? This is not America as Abe Lincoln intended.

We read it in The Safety of Objects.

Everything I Know

“I went to our bedroom next,” the husband said.

He said he saw the bed empty and the bathroom door closed.

“Good God,” I said, “the rapist is in there!”

My wife said, “For pity's sake, let him tell it.”

The husband said he went weak with shock. He said he understood it was useless to stand there exhorting himself to open the bathroom door. He said he was simply certain of it–the wife would be in there, dead.

“Can you blame him?” the wife said.

The husband said, “So I sat down on the bed and called the police.”

Then they both smiled.

Please,” my wife said.

The husband said he could barely talk. He said the police kept urging him to speak up.

“My wife's missing!”

This is what the husband said he screamed into the telephone, but that the police said no, not to worry, she's in a phone booth just blocks from the house.

We read it in What I Know So Far.