For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 44: August 26, 2013

Not trading in unexamined clichés turns out to be devilishly hard.

Author of the forthcoming collection, Redeployment, with writing appearing in Granta, the New York Times, Tin House, and Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War.

Katherine Anne Porter in The Paris Review:

But I tell you, nothing is pointless, and nothing is meaningless if the artist will face it. And it’s his business to face it. He hasn’t got the right to sidestep it like that. Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist—the only thing he’s good for—is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning. Even if it’s only his view of a meaning.

Our recommendations this week

A Short Story about Contemporary Life in California

There are thousands of stories with original beginnings. This is not one of them. I think the only way to start a story about contemporary life in California is to do it the way Jack London started The Sea-Wolf. I have confidence in that beginning.

It worked in 1904 and it can work in 1969. I believe that beginning can reach across the decades and serve the purpose of this story because this is California—we can do anything we want to do—and a rich young literary critic is taking a ferryboat from Sausalito to San Francisco. He has just finished spending a few days at a friend’s cabin in Mill Valley. The friend uses the cabin to read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche during the winter. They all have great times together.

We read it in Revenge of the Lawn.


Losing his left eye came about because of a pole vault stick in 1962, he told me. We were at a family party at the White Lion, the one where he tried to free the Gwyniad fish which were pickled and on show there. Sitting on a bar stool he calmly said that he had felt rapture and rage, back then, when the pole vault had him in the eye, and the pain, he said, was fantastic. He showed me how he could look at everyone at once now that one eye was glass. Dad had beer in his moustache, a boy outside had dropped his ice cream, there was a red car, a blue one, a silver one; and while he could see all of that, he was looking at me with a still eye.

I pulled my tongue at him. ‘But you’re not really looking at me,’ I said. He couldn’t see me, of course. I did it again. I saw myself in the reflection of his lifeless eye. He made me feel cherished, adored, even if I knew he didn’t mean to be so attentive. He couldn’t help it, gazing at me like that. And I told him I hated sports.

We read it in The White Review.

Nawab Sahib

A mixture of spices and ghee had been added to the rice, with a suitable amount of stock, in a pot and its mouth sealed with a paste of flour. Noor Mohammad rose from his chair occasionally to hold a stethoscope against the side of the pot and listen to the sounds inside, so that he could decide whether the flame needed to be turned up or down. Just as doctors use a stethoscope to gauge the condition of the heart, Noor Mohammad too could make out from the bubbling sounds within the pot how much longer the pulao needed to be cooked. I was flabbergasted.

Nawab Sahib arrived in his car at precisely five in the evening. His kurta and tight pajamas were a spotless white, while a white lace cap perched on his head. He didn't seem so much a man as a dazzling sword. He had blue eyes and a gentle smile. Greeting each of us with an adaab, he took his seat. Each of his hosts said a few words in their exuberance. He listened to all of them with a tilted head, smiling, nodding now and then. 

We read it in Asymptote: July 2013.