For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 47: September 23, 2013

Race and my work are always tied. Maybe if I lived in a city, I wouldn’t think about it as much.

Author of short story collection, Cowboys and East Indians.

David Foster Wallace on the arc of motivation, from his essay The Nature of Fun:

You’ve found you very much enjoy having your writing liked by people, and you find you’re extremely keen to have people like the new stuff you’re doing. The motive of pure personal starts to get supplanted by the motive of being liked, of having pretty people you don’t know like you and admire you and think you’re a good writer. Onanism gives way to attempted seduction, as a motive. Now, attempted seduction is hard work, and its fun is offset by a terrible fear of rejection. Whatever “ego” means, your ego has now gotten into the game. Or maybe “vanity” is a better word. Because you notice that a good deal of your writing has now become basically showing off, trying to get people to think you’re good. This is understandable. You have a great deal of yourself on the line, writing — your vanity is at stake. You discover a tricky thing about fiction writing; a certain amount of vanity is necessary to be able to do it all, but any vanity above that certain amount is lethal.

Our recommendations this week

Without a King

Normally, Khiem was the first to get up in the morning. He set the alarm clock for one. When it went off, he would get up immediately, brush his teeth, then leave on his bicycle. Ton locked the door behind him. Doai, disrupted from sleep, bitched: “Truly the working hours of a criminal.” At 3 o'clock, Old Kien got up, plugged in the electric stove to boil water for tea. The outlet was faulty and had been fixed several times, but every few days someone still got a good jolt. When Old Kien got a good jolt, he blurted: “Your ancestors! You guys want to get rid of me, but there's a God above, with eyes, and I'll be around for a long time!” From his bed, Doai yelped: “I don't know about elsewhere, but in this household, the green leaves fall down before the yellow ones.” Old Kien countered: “Your mother! What a way to talk to your father! Who hired you to work for the Education Department?” Doai laughed: “They checked my family history. Three spotless generations, as clear as a mirror.” 

We read it in Night Again.

The Return of a Private

“Ain't it queer there ain't no teams cornin' along.”

“Well, no, seem's it's Sunday.”

“By jinks, that's a fact! It is Sunday. I'll git home in time fr dinner, sure. She don't hev dinner usually till-about one on Sundays.” And he fell into a muse, in which he smiled.

“Well, I'll git home jest about six o'clock, jest about when the boys are milkin' the cows,” said old Jim Cranby. “I'll step into the barn an' then I'll say, ‘Heah! why ain't this milkin' done before this time o' day? An' then won't they yell!” he added, slapping his thigh in great glee.

Smith went on. “I'll jest go up the path. Old Rover'll come down the road to meet me. He won't bark; he'll know me, an' he'll come down waggin' his tail an' shonin' his teeth. That's his way of laughin'. An' so I'll walk up to the kitchen door, an' I'll say ‘Dinner f'r a hungry man!’ An' then she'll jump up, an'-”

He couldn't go on. His voice choked at the thought of it. Saunders, the third man, hardly uttered a word. He walked silently behind the others. He had lost his wife the first year he was in the army. She died of pneumonia caught in the autumn rains, while working in the fields in his place.


We read it in Main-Travelled Roads.

Transitory Cities

It’s not that Hram didn’t like bearing a building; he did. He received no acknowledgment—at least not from the tenants. He wouldn’t have wanted the residents of the building he bore to know that he chose where they would be when they walked out the front door of their apartment building in the morning, briefcase or tool kit or purse or newspaper in one hand, brown paper lunch bag in the other, ready to participate in maintaining the universe, their first task that of finding their way to the office or factory, which could be anywhere within their city.

Full story at The Boston Review