Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Posts Tagged ‘short stories

New Yorker Fiction

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The Millions have helpfully put together an annotated list of all the fiction that appeared in the New Yorker last year. It includes stories by three writers I admire a lot:

‘Awake’ by Tobias Wolff

Wolff is one of my favourite short story writers but really this is just a vignette. He still manages to conjure up a lot from very little though; a callow youth awake next to his sleeping girlfriend in the middle fo the night, picking at the scabs of his own self-doubt whilst at the same time inadvertantly revealing even more about his character.

‘The Bell Ringer’ by John Burnside

This is a very slowly told and gentle story. Burnside’s style is always somewhat detached – even in his superb memoir, A Lie About My Father – but usually it has a greater sense of immediacy and it is frequently punctuated by violence. Here the story resolutely mirrors its quiet, isolated setting as it describes a woman struggling with her desire for something other than her life.

‘Lostronaut’ by Jonathan Lethem

Both the above stories could be considered typical New Yorker fare. Lethem’s science fiction story of an astronaut trapped in orbit is different but shares the same atmosphere of muted despair. Presented as a series of letters to a lover on Earth it chronicles life in the remorseless face of entropy.

All three have written better but they are worth checking out and the list is definitely worth a perusal.

Written by Martin

5 January 2009 at 21:11

A Discussion About The Ant King And Other Stories

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When I read ‘Biographical Notes to “A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes,” by Benjamin Rosenbaum’ by Benjamin Rosenbaum as part of Feeling Very Strange I said I hoped to say more about Rosenbaum’s fiction. And now I have.

A Discussion About The Ant King And Other Stories between myself, Niall Harrison, Abigail Nussbaum and Dan Hartland has just been published at Torque Control.

Written by Martin

8 December 2008 at 09:48

‘You Have Never Been Here’ by M Rickert

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I read this immediately after finishing Falling Man and it has that same sort of rhetorical, inward, yearning style. Unfortunately Rickert doesn’t have the same level of control as DeLillo. This is one of the few stories in the collection I can happily accept as slipstream but it falls victim to the problems that Kelly and Kessel identify as occassionally besetting the style: a tendency to “idle noodling”, to “uncommited allusions”. Idle noodling is too harsh for this story but it is certainly unsatisfying.

Quality: **
Slipperiness: ****

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

23 October 2008 at 18:58

‘The Rose In Twelve Petals’ by Theodora Goss

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I was ready to castigate ‘Twelve Petals’ for just being another alt history too – which it is – but it blends this with the fairytale of Sleeping Beauty to some effect. It is still a fairytale though and it would be nice to think there is more to slipstream than ironic folklore.

Quality: ***
Slipperiness:***

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

23 October 2008 at 18:12

‘The Lions Are Asleep This Night’ by Howard Waldrop

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Well, at least it isn’t about Hitler winning the war. The only reason I can guess that this alt history was included is, er, because it has a love of 16th Century plays. Yeah.

Quality: **
Slipperiness:

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

22 October 2008 at 22:03

‘Bright Morning’ by Jeffrey Ford

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My novels are fantasy/adventure stories with a modicum of metaphsyical whim-wham that some find to be insightful and others have termed “overcooked navel gazing”. Granted, there are no elves or dragons or knights or wizards in these books, but they are still fantasies, none the less. I mean, if you have a flying head, a town with a panopticon that floats in the clouds, a monster that sucks the essense out of hapless victimes through their ears, what the hell else can you call it?

A unnamed writer who seems much like Jeffrey Ford is writing a story called ‘Bright Morning’, inspired by a lost Kafka of the same name. Later a writer called Jeffrey Ford does show up as the unnamed writer’s rival. With so recursive a plot it could easily have been overcooked nazel gazing but it is so perfectly controlled that it is actually the finest stories in the collection by some margin. Ford blends autobiography, writer’s memoir and literary criticism with an almost pulpish piece of modern folklore to produce a beautifully measured story that exists in the cracks of what is real and what is not.

This is how you should do it, Benjamin Rosenbaum.

Quality: *****
Slipperiness: ****

Ford on slipstream in an interview with Matt Cheney:

Fictional hybrids are always more powerful than genre purebreds — they are more resilient, they have the potential to surprise, the power to escape the gravitational attraction of tradition. Until, of course, they themselves become accredited purebreds, as is now happening with what some call “slipstream”.

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

18 October 2008 at 12:50

‘Exhibit H: Torn Pages Discovered In The Vest Pocket Of An Unidentified Tourist’ by Jeff Vandermeer

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Further evidence that Kessel and Kelly equate meta-fiction (and long titles) with slipstream. This is an enjoyable slice from Ambergris that feels pretty slight once divorced from the mosaic motherlode.

Quality: ***
Slipperiness: *

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

15 October 2008 at 15:34

‘Sea Oak’ by George Saunders

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Rubbish satire in which the narrator’s aunt comes back to life for no reason.

Quality: *
Slipperiness: *

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

15 October 2008 at 11:14

‘Al’ by Carol Emshwiller

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Little did I realise then, or I might not have felt so energetic, the hardships I was to encounter here in this strange, elusive never-never land.

Success! I should have started with the first bloody story! This is what I pointed at when I point at slipstream.

Al crashlands in a valley which is a true liminal space, the first we have seen in this collection. His short, pithy paragraphs (as quoted above) are counterpointed by a much more open, winding narrative from one of the natives. But these are not the sort of lost valley natives you would expected from, say, one of Chabon’s pulps. There is a nice low key interplay between the two which becomes deeper and richer and odder as the story progresses.

Quality: ****
Slipperiness: ****

The inclusion of ‘Al’ does raise some questions about Kessel and Kelly’s selection criteria though.They exclude quintessential slipstream writers such as Donald Barthelme on the dubious grounds that they are no longer active (ie dead.) Yet Emshwiller’s story is from 1972, considerably pre-dating Sterling’s coining of the word slipstream, and she was born before Barthelme. Since both writers are clearly working in the same tradition – as are SF contemporaries of Emshwiller such as Damon Knight and Barry Malzberg, according to their introduction – it seems perverse to include one and exclude the others.

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

8 October 2008 at 11:04

‘The God Of Dark Laughter’ by Michael Chabon

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And, once again, precisely zero slipstream on display. This story would be more at home in Chabon’s own anthology, McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. In fact this is what the whole anthology (so far) resembles, down to the overlapping list of contributors.

‘The God Of Dark Laughter’ is a fun story enlivened as always by Chabon’s wit but it is very much RUMIR *. Ho hum.

Quality: ***
Slipperiness:

* Yes, this is my new favourite word, what of it?

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

7 October 2008 at 22:48

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