For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 53: February 03, 2014

Best Stories We Read in 2013: Sarahana's Picks

In those days everything had to be done just right and very fast, so as not to lose a minute that might be useful to Russia.

From Nikolay Leskov's “The Steel Flea”

We look back on the stories we read in 2013 and pick our favorites. Part 2: Sarahana's picks.

Donna Tartt on being a slow writer:

People say that perfectionism is bad, but it's because of perfectionists that man walked on the moon and painted the Sistine Chapel, OK? Perfectionism is good. It's all about production and economy these days. I don't want to be the CEO of a corporation, of Donna Tartt Inc. I work the way I've always worked, and I don't want a big desk and fancy office and people answering the telephone.

Our recommendations this week

Sins of the Wolf
Excerpt

“How old are you?” I asked her.

“Twenty.”

(Well, that was a lie; she looked younger.)

“And do you know what it is that writers do?”

“What?”

“They make things up, don't they? You've read Sins of the Wolf, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I made it up. From start to finish. There's not a single character in it who really exists.”

“Well then why did you write ‘This is a true story’ at the beginning?”

“It's just what writers do, isn't it...?”

(How could I explain?)

She smiled again. A sympathetic smile. A pitying smile.

Glory Goes and Gets Some
Excerpt

My first meeting was for coffee with a blue-eyed lanky man who told me that being HIV+ was a small entrance fee to pay to be granted admission into the bosom of Christ. I could see he meant it, because his gaze was flashing out a beam that went all the way into the golden distance of the final judgment. He had come through his trials with one gleaming jewel of truth, and that was all he needed, except maybe a partner to walk through the pearly gates with. “Life is a long joke,” he told me, “heaven is when you finally get it.” He was smiling, beaming with happiness, bursting out every now and then into relieved laughter, as if he'd just been missed by a truck. “You're sure about that?” I asked him, and he, laughing, held out his hand over the table, as if he was inviting me to run across a meadow toward the horizon. I gave it a friendly squeeze and never called the number he left with me, because I know very well what happens when you run toward the horizon; you get smaller and smaller until you vanish. Was I discouraged? Of course I was discouraged, I was born somewhat discouraged but in terms of action that's neither here nor there. “Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on you,” goes the slogan I picked up at either an A.A. meeting or in one of the many pamphlets I'm always being offered by the well meaning souls who infest the Twin City area.

We read it in Glory Goes and Gets Some.

Originally published in Open City #4.

This Part of Town Is No Place for Old Timers
Excerpt

Mum, who had long since determined that she could take almost anything that came her way, wept buckets – and she hung feeders outside the window for their souls. It's an old Czech custom. Neither the Christians, nor the Communists ever managed to kill it off. All it takes is bacon fat, some bread and, above all, clean water. The souls of the dead descend on the feeder like the shades of little birds. If you speak to them, and if they take the food, you feel your grief gradually ebbing away. Souls may appear up to nine months after death. After that, they don't need your care.

Dad never put a single crumb on the feeder. And although both little avian shades hovered patiently at the feeder, sometimes during the severest of frosts, and turned their little heads towards his window, he never spoke a word to them. He didn't have the time, he was writing. It was then that he wrote Grasping at Straws, a play that gives vent to his profound suffering at his inability to shed his fatherly love for the dead daughters who he cared sod-all for in their lifetime. Their deaths left him so drugged up that the transition to Degeneration came smoothly. This time he projected the heartache wrought by the chill indifference of the universe into his immediate environment, which inevitably made it partly descriptive. And that was taken as being critical of the regime. The Prague of late socialism was beginning to disintegrate. The poem sang of the descent of all living organisms towards death, comparing the dissolution of the state to the fate of any superannuated organism; Dad's words reeked of prolapsed drains, putrefying plasterwork, marasmic air rippling to the limp flapping of Bolshevik banners above police stations and torture ‘Stinking Brain’ was what he called this poem.

We read it in The Guardian.