For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 46: September 16, 2013

Marginalized communities tend to use humor as an armor against hate.

Puerto Rican author of the short story collection, Mundo Cruel.

Linh Dinh on the origins of Vietnamese prose:

Many writers shunted their mother tongue to compose in French, the language they were taught in the lycees. To those who chose this option, the critic Pham Quynh warned: “In borrowing someone's language, you are also borrowing his ideas, literary techniques—even his emotions and customs.” After centuries of writing in Chinese, the Vietnamese had produced no Li Po, Quynh pointed out, and writing in French, it is unlikely that they will ever produce a Victor Hugo or an Anatole France. After reading a story in French, the critic suggested, as an exercise, to try retelling it to one's wife in Vietnamese.

Our recommendations this week

Sleeping on Earth

One evening, in a deserted alley near the bus station, three middle-aged women in rags were playing cards. 

“A pair of black pawns,” said the fat one, chuckling, and showed her hand.

“What bad luck,” sighed the skinniest one.

“It's your own fault. You should have played it safe,” grumbled the third, whose face was pockmarked. 

The losers fished money out of the hem of their pants and paid up, grumbling. Next to them lay a half-naked baby in a ragged shirt. He must have been a year old. He was sleeping. The quarrel between the players woke him up, and he howled. He was no angel. Between his little thighs, black with filth, nestled a tiny penis the size of a plum. Furious, the little penis shot a stream of urine in an arch. His bawling bothered the players. 

We read it in Night Again.

The New South: Writing the Newsweek Short Story

It wasn't really a deputy sheriff, it was an ATF agent. Actually... never mind. Maybe the python was in the trunk. This is where the story gets a little hazy; I had to fill in some blanks. I did interview the PR guy from the gaming commission and he does have a slot machine on his desk, one of those like you can buy at Service Merchandise. My brother told me.

I interviewed the guy by telephone. He did say the thing about giving a “rat's ass,” that's verbatim – “Son, I don't give a redneck rat's ass whether some snake tore the peewaddle out of some moongoose.” He didn't say “Son,” I polished a little. I hadn't told him it was a mongoose, I had said “mongrel,” but nobody pays very close attention nowadays. “Peewaddle” is a word my  daughter got at Catholic school – isn't it great?

We read it in McSweeney's Issue 5.

John Duffy's Brother

He arose one morning–on the 9th of March, 1932–dressed, and cooked his frugal breakfast. Immediately afterwards, he became possessed of the strange idea that he was a train. No explanation of this can be attempted. Small boys sometimes like to pretend that they are trains, and there are fat women in the world who are not, in the distance, without some resemblance to trains. But John Duffy's brother was certain that he was a train–long, thunderous, and immense, with white steam escaping noisily from his feet and deep-throated bellows coming rhythmically from where his funnel was.

Moreover, he was certain that he was a particular train, the 9.20 into Dublin. His station was the bedroom. He stood absolutely still for twenty minutes, knowing that a good train is equally punctual in departure as in arrival. He glanced often at his watch to make sure that the hour should not go by unnoticed. His watch bore the words “Shockproof” and “Railway Timekeeper.”

We read it in The Short Fiction of Flann O'Brien.

Originally published in The Irish Digest.