For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 27: April 15, 2013

It would be worth it to teach the [comedic theory] class again just to hear students argue whether or not rape jokes can ever be funny.

Author of several short shorts, including “Cats with Pitiful Mystiques,” a 2008 Pushcart Prize nominee

Elif Batuman in The Possessed

The premium on conciseness and concreteness made proper names a great value—so they came flying at you as if out of a tennis-ball machine: Julia, Juliet, Viola, Violet, Rusty, Lefty, Carl, Carla, Carleton, Mamie, Sharee, Sharon, Rose of Sharon (a Native American), Hassan. Each name betrayed a secret calculation, a weighing of plausibility against precision: On the one hand, the cat called King Spanky; on the other, the cat called Cat. In either case, the result somehow seemed false, contrived—unlike Tolstoy's double Alexeis, and unlike Chekhov's characters, many of whom didn't have names at all. In “Lady With Lapdog,” Gurov's wife, Anna's husband, Gurov's crony at the club, even the lapdog, are all nameless. No contemporary American short-story writer would have had the stamina not to name that lapdog. They were too caught up in trying to bootstrap from a proper name to a meaningful individual essence—like the “compassionate” TV doctor who informs her colleagues: “She has a name.”

Our recommendations this week


Never had anyone been more beautiful: my lips, my cheeks, my hair—even the long necks that had come before me could not compete with me, according to Rex. Freud says that in any sexual relationship there are at least four people in the bed. In our case, there were at least twenty. Or thirty. Or that was what I thought at first. Little by little I came to realize that if all of Rex's ex-lovers had managed to squeeze themselves into our room, we would have had to leave for lack of space.

“Wouldn't it be a good thing for us to use a condom?” I suggested.

But Rex was categorical: “How would it have been for the Great Lovers of History to have been fiddling around with those obnoxious doodads?”

He immediately got out of bed, dressed, and went out the door, slamming it behind him.

Sharp Objects

My name is Camilla by the way. And as you've probably understood I've been taking care of Hugo. My sister doesn't even know his favorite color (green) and she doesn't know that he hates cheese. I've been making him ham sandwiches and feeding him soup. I've been pushing his wheelchair to the playground and I've been building him sand castles. I held him when he had to pee, aimed him, helped him piss away skid marks from the toilet bowl. I did all the things my sister said she'd do, all the things she was paid to do. I did them because I love Hugo. I remember the first time Hugo spoke to me. It must have been about three weeks after we first met. He told me that he liked me. It nearly took him twenty minutes to get the words out. He tried so hard, twisting his face into another, jerking his body, stuttering and then finally the words came out of his mouth, drenched in saliva: “I like you!” He smiled his tortured smile and then rolled his eyes into his head. It felt so good to know I had someone to share the summer with.

We read it in Open City: 18.

Not Here to Fake Friends

Picture it: Each night at campfire, every camper writes the name of the cabinmate he hates most. (In a tiebreaker, the counselor votes too.) The kid from each cabin with the most votes is then dramatically handed a cell phone, and must, in front of everyone, call his mom to have her come pick him up. Only after he confirms that his mom is on the way does the aborted camper get the chance to make a brief speech. Some will plead their fellow campers rethink the decision, others will lash out, others still may try to hurl their rejected bodies on the pyre.

We read it in Fun Camp.

Originally published in Necessary Fiction.