Adventures in Reading

Short Stories: More Best American Short Stories 2008

Best: ? American: x Short: 14 Story: x
From Zoetrope: All-Story, Karen Russell’s “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” is about two vampires subsisting off of lemons within a church’s grove that is also a tourist attraction.

Have I mentioned before I’m not really that big into the whole vampire thing? I know I mostly enjoyed what I read of the Twilight series and Dracula gave me tingles, but as a reader I feel when a writer utilizes a pop icon such as vampires that a whole lot is demanded to make it a worthwhile read. Russell’s story was cute, but not compelling.

Best: x American: x Short: 7 Story: x
From The New Yorker, George Saunders’ “Puppy” is an interesting class clash between two families: one middle-class family seeking a puppy and one lower-class family desperately trying to give away their puppy. Saunders provides interesting internal snippets into the mothers’ minds. Saunders cites his spark of influence as he once drove through a neighborhood and his family caught a glimpse of a boy in a backyard with a leash on.

While other stories deal with class in this collection, Saunders specifically created a woman who has crossed classes and how she deals with this. Perhaps it just reminds me of my own class conscious mother?

Best: ? American: x Short: 12 Story: x
From New England Review, Christine Sneed’s “Quality of Life” is the story of Lindsay and how she finds herself swept up into an affair with an older and relatively unknown man. Lindsay’s story is a life of relinquishing control of one’s own life to others (such as this man and her family). By the end of the story, it seems that Lindsay is completely under the influence of this man.

I enjoyed the story and I enjoyed where it headed, but why (as a rhetorical question to the story as a whole)? Short stories often examine an occasion or sequence of events, but it’s curious which ones are chosen. Often they’re points of considerable stress or change. The reader is introduced to Lindsay after she has already started losing control of her life to her own family, and we just continue to see a more thorough process with this mystery man. However, I didn’t feel there was enough reasoning to why Lindsay could not stop or get herself out of the situation.


Fiction: More Best American Short Stories 2008

Best: x American: ? Short: 12 Story: ?
From The New Yorker, Daniyal Mueenuddin’s “Nawabdin Electrician” is a biographical tale of Nawab, a Pakastani electrician trying to make a living for his large family in the 1970s. Through imaginative cajoling, Nawab talks his employer into giving him a motorcycle, which leads Nawab into both trouble and danger.

Is this American? Is this a story? As it was originally published in The New Yorker, Rushdie counts this as American, which I think is completely appropriate. But more interesting this is the first piece that I had to wonder whether or not it was a “story.” The tale is based off of a family friend of the author, and is based on real happenings. In that sense it’s biographical and nonfiction; it’s also worth considering how much of an author’s own life flourishes in his work. What is fiction if not a reinterpretation of reality?

Best: x American: ? Short: ? Story: x
From Harper’s Magazine, Alice Munro’s “Child’s Play” is an enthralling story of Canadian childhood, children’s experience with disability and otherness, and the dark cruelty that children are capable of.

Dear Alice Munro: Where have you been all of my life? Though this is my first experience with Munro, she is a prolific writer, which I’m looking forward to reading. “Child’s Play” was one of the longer pieces in the collection and deviates from the standard 20ish pages of the rest of the book. In contrast though, Munro had the shortest snippet of commentary out of all the author’s comments.

Best: x American: x Short: 12 Story: x
From The Southern Review, Miroslav Penkov’s “Buying Lenin” is a multi-generational story of an Eastern European grandson moving to the U.S.A. for school and leaving his grandfather behind. What unfolds is a beautiful and amusing dialog between grandfather and grandson, communism and capitalism.

Penkov is a young writer in both age and experience, (Seriously, Munro is a tough one to follow!) but “Buying Lenin” is such a brilliant story and I had one of those lovely and embarrassing moments while reading it as I laughed out loud in a room full of quiet people.

Short Stories: More Best American Short Stories 2008

Best: x American: x Short: 9.5 Story: x
From The New Yorker, Jonathan Lethem’s “The King of Sentences” is an interesting story of fame and adoration. Two romantically involved bookstore employees become fascinated by a pulp author they refer to as the “King of Sentences.” Orgasmically quoting lines back and forth, the two eventually stalk the man and it’s disclosed that the King of Sentences has something of a dark and secret past

I chuckled about the bookstore references and definitely left the story wondering what Lethem had been thinking. In the author’s comments, he references the sort of worship fans develop as well as the bizarreness of the situation for the person being worshipped. Even though it’s been a few days since I read this story, I still keep thinking about it.

Best: ? American: x Short: 12 Story: x
From Shenandoah, Rebecca Makkai’s “The Worst You Ever Feel” is told through a child’s, Aaron’s, perspective as he looks down at a party his parents are throwing. A Eastern European violinist, who suffered through both Nazis and communism, is performing. Aaron senses or interprets fragments of the partygoer’s stories.

“The Worst You Ever Feel” was interesting and developed. It was good. It was a safe choice for the collection. But I didn’t really feel or care much for it, and when an author chooses to use things like music, Nazis, and communism the reader should feel a bit more about it.

Best: ? American: x Short: ? Story: x
From Harper’s Magazine, Steven Millhauser’s “The Wizard of West Orange” is told through a librarian’s perspective that works amongst scientists. Paranoia exists throughout the piece and becomes exaggerated when the librarian is asked to participate in secret experiment regarding the sense of touch.

Though the story is only 27.5 pages long, which isn’t all that long for a short story, it’s so far the longest within the collection. “The Wizard of West Orange” was a demanding story that begins with an almost rhyming quality, moves quickly, and is told through journals. I confess to scanning much of the jargon that infused the text. Millhauser cites a Thomas Edison biography as influence.

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