For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 24: March 25, 2013

“The Oscars boobs song doesn't reengage me with the problem of being a woman in the arts so much as it makes me just change the channel.”

A 2008 National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree, and winner of the Bard Fiction Prize for 2009. Her second novel, Woke Up Lonely, comes out this April.

Edward P. Jones on the political world and fiction, in conversation with ZZ Packer

When I write fiction it's far removed from everyday events. But you are a certain kind of person: you believe in a certain kind of right no matter what, so when you're writing, the everyday world is consciously on your mind, so what you know as being right seeps into the writing nevertheless.

Our recommendations this week

Chike's School Days

Chike’s teacher was fond of long words. He was said to be a very learned man. His favourite pastime was copying out jaw-breaking words from his Chambers’ Etymological Dictionary. Only the other day he had raised applause from his class by demolishing a boy’s excuse for lateness with unanswerable erudition. He had said: “Procrastination is a lazy man’s apology.” The teacher’s erudition showed itself in every subject he taught. His nature study lessons were memorable. Chike would always remember the lesson on the methods of seed dispersal. According to teacher, there were five methods: by man, by animals, by water, by wind, and by explosive mechanism. Even those pupils who forgot all the other methods remembered “explosive mechanism.”

Chike was naturally impressed by teacher’s explosive vocabulary. But the fairyland quality which words had for him was of a different kind. The first sentences in his New Method Reader were simple enough and yet they filled him with a vague exultation: “Once there was a wizard. He lived in Africa. He went to China to get a lamp.” Chike read it over and over again at home and then made a song of it. It was a meaningless song. “Periwinkles” got into it, and also “Damascus.” But it was like a window through which he saw in the distance a strange, magical new world. And he was happy.

We read it in Girls at War.

The Baghdad Clock

I don’t know if the strange unease that would soon take hold of the house came all at once, as I remember it now, or if maybe that’s the unavoidable distortion of memory. But what’s for sure is that Olvido, some time before the shadow of fatality loomed over us, began to behave like a distrustful feline with her ears always pricked up, her hands twitching, attentive to every breeze, the slightest murmur, the creaking of doors, the passing of the goods train, the fast train, the express, the quotidian trembling of pans on the shelves. But now it wasn’t the spirits who asked for prayers, nor sinning friars condemned to suffer on Earth for long years. Life in the kitchen had become filled with a tense and stifling silence. It was no use insisting. The hamlets, lost in the mountains, had become distant and inaccessible, and our attempts, when we came home from school, to get new stories out of her were left as unanswered questions, floating in the air, dancing about, dissipating along with smoke and sighs. Olvido seemed shut up inside herself, and although she pretended to work hard at scrubbing the pans, polishing the wardrobes and cupboards and bleaching the grout between the mosaic tiles, I knew she was crossing the dining room, cautiously going up the first few stairs, stopping at the landing and observing. I imagined her observing, with the courage granted her by being not entirely present, in front of the brass pendulum but still safe in her world of kettles and frying pans, a place where the beating of the clock didn’t reach and where she could easily smother the sound of the inevitable melody.

But she hardly spoke. Only that now distant morning, when my father, crossing seas and deserts, explained the situation in Baghdad to the little ones, Olvido had dared to murmur: “Too far away.” And then, turning her back on the object of our admiration, she had gone down the hall shaking her head angrily, holding a conversation with herself.

“They’re probably not even Christians,” she said then.

Full story can be read here.


These are ends, but they are also beginnings, and in life they will end and begin again and again. Every time something happens a world of possible action opens up, and possible meanings. But in fiction every story is an end, because we are only reading the end. Its last notes are sonorous and beautiful and final. They are beautiful. They are final.

Say a marriage is tragic. Say that the people close to the couple can find no words for the things they have done. Say at every point where the body of the world touches their bodies, people have bad dreams and lose their faith and turn their eyes away from things they once trusted. Even if this is true, it doesn't matter: it isn't the end.

We read it in McSweeney's Issue 20.