Category Archives: Short Story

An Evening Out: Read on August 18, 2017

Oh my this was dull. Pointless, too. Also it seemed as if someone who didn’t know anything about a gay person was writing a stereotypical story about a gay person. And not only was this dull and pointless, but it seemed dishonest, too, like bad fan-fiction for an extra in an especially terrible episode of the dreadful series Sex and the City.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done my weekly New Yorker readings because I’ve been back in college working on my English degree (I mean, what ELSE would I be doing), but I also stopped because too many of the New Yorker stories are tepid and filled with overly self-conscious and self-absorbed idiots, like in this story. Nowhere is there any exploration of empathy for another human being, unless we’re supposed to feel something for our narrator here – which we don’t (even the dog just needs the narrator for a floor to sleep on). We even have to deal with the pretentious naming conventions here of N. and Z. By not giving them real names they are just turned into objects, which might be in keeping with how the narrator feels about them, but it does nothing for the reader. Why do we learn next to nothing about N. and Z.?

Give me a story about the disappointed mother who shows up twice, once as the mother, and again as the dog, though I highly doubt the author realized this and it’s a coincidence we have two mothers here. I’m so tired of self-absorbed idiots who have nothing useful tell us about anything except that they were turned on by someone’s uncircumcised dick in an overly bright and dirty club restroom. Who gives a shit? Are we supposed to be impressed that the characters are gay? I’m not. Gay people are human beings and I’m interested in human beings, not stereotypical cardboard cutouts pretending to be gay. How about some real emotion? How about a real, hard look into loss and desire, and passing up an opportunity for fleeting happiness instead of an alcohol fueled journey into Club Banality.

This story is all surface with an ocean of nothingness 1 millimeter below each word. I’d go as far as to say it’s total trash, but not the sort of trash that lingers because it stunk your house up and at least will stick in your memory, but the sort of trash you throw out having never even remembered what it was to begin with. That’s the worst kind because it means absolutely nothing to anybody.

99% done with An Evening Out

I like the image of this campus dog showing up to help him. “She was dirty, but what was a little dirt”. Is this a reference to his thoughts? His past?

The dog knows better how to get what it wants than the narrator does.

The narrator is stuck with a filthy dog that will leave a filthy pan print on his cheat – near his heart?

Good final scene, but over all quite dull.

Upside-Down Cake: Read on June 23, 2016

Disclaimer: I never look at the name of the author before reading a story in the New Yorker, I cover it up with my hand so as not to be influenced by gender, race, or if they’re famous already. I take each story as it is with no preconceived notions.

This was a lot of fun, evil fun, but the sort of fun you’d like to have to get back at people who have been making you miserable.

Basically this is all a set up for our narrator to get back at their family. We learn everyone else is a gossip and a backbiter and generally miserable, but we never learn why the narrator is – until the end. Once we learn the narrator’s secret everyone in the family who had been maybe not quite a real character, or a bit of a generic blob, snap into focus. And the narrator isn’t exempt, either. They are just as guilty of being a bastard (pun intended, I suppose) as everyone else.

I find this to be a strange story because a lot of it is pretty generic, though with some very clever writing in it: “We had betrayed one another too many times to be able to sit comfortably around the same table together.”, and “Every visit to an aged parent is in the nature of a farewell.” In fact I was starting to think this was going to be yet another New Yorker dud that paints broad strokes about people who the author stereotypes and speaks in cliches – that’s a popular genre in this magazine, unfortunately.

Yet I think the author senses how dull a lot of these stories are and plays us for fools. He gives us a generic set up full of Roz Chast cut-outs (except for Floyd and Granma) and then turns it on its head. When we learn who the couple are that arrives late to the party and we see how the narrator was testing everyone there to see if they’d give the newcomers a chance, we learn to not take everything at face value, to look a little deeper under the surface.

Don’t judge. That’s a simple moral lesson, but we never learn it.

90% done with Upside-Down Cake

I guess her cooking was not so great. I don’t think she cares, either. She cooked meals for people who refused to like them.

Who are the new people? They took attention away from Granma, that’s bad.

This could be any family, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Not a lot of full characters here except Granma and Floyd.

60% done with Upside-Down Cake

Personal note : I never understood how some people could enjoy a thing that is making everyone else involved miserable. How do you not let that tension creep in? Maybe I’m not good at spite.

They’re in Boston or Massachusetts. I actually figured that at the clam chowder and soda crackers line, not the ‘wicked bad’. I miss my people

40% done with Upside-Down Cake

Interesting history lesson of Cuba and the boat named Granma.

The cast of characters seem a little stock, like a Roz Chast cartoon. Floyd is fun, however. No idea about the narrator yet.

“We had betrayed one another too many times to be able to sit comfortably around the same table together. ” I like these little insights so far.

The Bog Girl: Read on June 15, 2016

All I could think of was Tom Petty’s famous video where he dances with a dead Kim Basinger to his song “Last Dance With Mary Jane”. Also, Weekend At Bernie’s.

This story is really uneven. On the one hand it’s (maybe?) about how we fall in love with the idea of a person but then as we get to know them discover either we love them more or they horrify us and we dump them. On the other it’s comical and not very serious. And I’m not even sure what the story is really trying to tell us about anything.

I found the humor too detached and that didn’t jive well with other parts of the story that are really well written and (seemingly) headed somewhere interesting. But like the Bog Girl herself the story is impossible to really understand and in the end we have to toss it back into the bog.

There are also some editing choices that are poorly thought out. I’m guessing the New Yorker doesn’t suggest changes to a story but this could have benefited from some editing (rearranging sections and dropping unnecessary words) and someone should have challenged the author more to make a stronger point. What exactly are we supposed to take away from this tale? Just being strange is not enough to make it worthwhile.

I do feel that there is the possibility of a great story in here, I just don’t think the story is there yet – it’s sort of like Tim Burton’s later work that didn’t seem to have a strong theme. The characters are not very well fleshed out except for the mother but we don’t get enough of her to really know her.

Maybe if the author had given us a better narrator – maybe the mother? – then we would have a stronger story, something about a mother’s fear of another woman taking her son away. To me that seems to be the solution here if I were adapting this to a screenplay.

I did like this story, however, despite it’s weaknesses. There is some very good imagery and I feel as if a stronger story were floating somewhere just below the surface of another bog.

60% done with The Bog Girl

If we swapped the firs twoparagraphs, then gave no dialogue (inner or extrenal) to Cillian and only showed him holding her and Then had written “Cell fell in love” (drop the rapidly, it’s unnecessary) we would have established this character better.

They’re watching TV together? HA! Love the strangeness of that. “He’s 15, she’s 2000”.

40% done with The Bog Girl

I could do without some of the “humor”, this feels like too serious of a story to ruin with off-the-cuff language.

We haven’t established Cillian as a character yet to make this protective image of him and his judgment of the people around him believable yet. I feel like we’re going too fast. It’s jarring

20% done with The Bog Girl

Switching the paragraphs would make the joke about Cillian’s proximity to the job site better because then we’d already have been given the far-flung locale first (“not really on the circuit”).

Start big then get closer to the characters

Why are young men always written as having some weird sex fantasy – it’s cliche. Boys need to be written better.

10% done with The Bog Girl

“While operating heavy machinery” that line feels awkward. Couldn’t you just say the name of the machine: “While operating a backhoe …”?

Ah, this second paragraph really should be the first paragraph. That would tie in better with Cillian’s “celery green eyes” as an image working outward (I mean start with the natural image then give that image to the character through his eyes).

The Polish Rider: Read on May 31, 2016

My new bumper-sticker: “I’d rather be kissing Brezhnev (than reading this story)”

* Know that the majority of this review is me being about as cruel as possible to this pile of garbage and I also swear a lot.

Normally when I have an extreme reaction to art, good or bad but especially bad, I consider my anger and vehemence to be a good sign, a sign that the art did a job in eliciting a response from me. The worst response is none at all, and while I definitely had a reaction to this story, I can’t honestly take it seriously as a piece of art.

Had the point been for me to hate everyone here, say like Rob Zombie’s ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ then it would have been worth it. Sadly this is just another New Yorker cliche with cliche characters and luke-warm, half baked ideas about “modern life”. This is the sort of thing Donald Trump uses to make fun of those of us who read this magazine.

Everything about this story is pretentious and dumb. The author, with a straight face I’m sure, expects us to accept the juxtaposition of Uber as some modular metaphor for the modern capitalist world against the solid, but corrupt world of the police and taxi services. And I’m sure the author and the author’s teddy bear think this is all quite clever.

It’s not.

As Zoidberg once said, “Your [the author’s] metaphors are bad and you should feel bad!”

These are characters, and an author I assume, who is more interested in things than people. More interested in talking about the surface meaning of things than what the elicit deep down in our emotions. People who name drop without ever having experienced real art. Lazy assholes, in other words. This is like reading the transcript of a party from a college sophmore majoring in English where everything is spelled out for us, where the names of the actors in the TV show Taxi are literally spelled out for us.

This story is so bad I wanted to die. I wanted an Uber to crash into my apartment and flatten me in my reading chair before it got any worse. I longed for the days of the Soviet Union and Samizdat (the books copied on cheap paper) because at least someone was editing and something like this garbage would never have got in except maybe to hide the real art, a sort of literary birdcage lining.

And what is the author having a reaction to? Uber? Capitalism? Art? It’s a total jumbled and disorganized mess where on one page a character barely has condiments in their refrigerator and on the next a sleek espresso machine ready to dispense Bustelo. Where we’re told, for no apparent reason that a character has read Balzac in French.

Well these characters can fuck right off with their reading Balzac in French. They can jump right into the Seine and wash up along the banks of the Tiber where some Kafkaesque Uber driver can paint their bloated, espresso leaking bodies.

This story was torture. They should make ISIS read it. It’s fucking brutal nonsense from a psuedo-intellectual feather weight.

99% done with The Polish Rider

We’ve all seen Ghosbusters! Quit telling us what we know because it’s NOT IMPORTANT TO THE PLOT HERE! What, did the author suddenly discover art and film and espresso and thinks nobody else has heard of the goddamn Shining??

Torture. They should make ISIS read this. Fucking brutal nonsense from a psuedo-intellectual feather weight.

98% done with The Polish Rider

More modular furniture, as if everyone’s lives can be summed up by what we’re forced to buy because we’re all too poor to even be allowed into a furniture store that has real wood pieces.

So the lady who only has gift nuts and condiments in her fridge just happens to have an espresso machine ready to make Bustelo. Naturally, I mean, who the fuck doesn’t.

97% done with The Polish Rider

LOGO, not Legos. Learn to Google you fuck. And don’t tell me it’s intentional, you just ddon’t know. And if it’s a metaphor for “putting things back together” imma kick your teeth in.

This is like reading the transcript from a college sophmore majoring in English. “particular material locus”. Shut up

We get it, you vape.

95% done with The Polish Rider

Ekphrastic literature my ass, all I see is a badly written story.

$49 per square foot. Bite my foot.

Not a stuoid coincidence. It’s like the author read a book on everything not to do and did it. This hurts to read.

The Shining allusion? Tepid. A bunch of people raised on shitty TV who read a book on film and now think they understand art. BOLLOCKS!

93% done with The Polish Rider

STRAWMAN ARGUMENT!!

Let’s drink chilled vodka now, maybe the readers will not notice we’re making a veiled reference to the Soviet Union and how cold their laws were. Herp-Derp, to the bank we go with our New Yorker money from this story!

Weak fucking metaphor – systems that can’t communicate but only kiss. Weak ass nonsense.

As Zoidberg once said, “Your metaphor is bad and you should feel bad!”

91% done with The Polish Rider

Oh don’t even compare a cop doing someone a favor to get a lost paiting back to abuse of power in the former Soviet Union. Fuck you! You know nothing, you moron, you over simplification.

“heavily surveilled” – if the Uber driver was under that much survaliance then we wouldn’t have lost the paintings now, would we?

75% done with The Polish Rider

WE KNOW WHO PLAYED WHOM ON TAXI, THEY ARE LITERLLY SOME OF THE MOST FAMOUS COMEDIANS IN ALL OF TELEVISION HISTORY – STOP TELLING ME WHO THE ACTOR WAS!!!!

I wish communisum was still a thing so I could deport the author their.

You know someone is a pretentious idiot when they say “Kafakesque”, it’s like a scarlet letter for dumb people

This is awful. I want to die.

65% done with The Polish Rider

This is so unimaginative that it’s like being sucked into the most apathetic black hole in the universe.

Oh, is the red jacket kid and the blue jacket kid supposed to represtent gang violence, or maybe the political left and right? Oh, so, co clever, I bet nobody ever thought of that before. Here, let me get you a fucking Noble Prize.

60% done with The Polish Rider

I think I could fart in a zip lock, scotch tape an expired, yelloing 2nd calls stamp to the outside, and address it in uneven sharpee to the New Yorker and they’d publish it. It would be better than this, anyway.

Uber again. I hate Uber.

Oh great, this is turing into a Uber Scooby-Doo episode where old man Plunket stole the kissing socalist paintings. Fuck me running.

55% done with The Polish Rider

Now we’re getting more art history lessons, even being told that maybe one style alludes to the kiss of Judas as if that’s a major fucking insigt. No shot, author, we get it, no stop telling me what to think!

Here’s an idea, rite a story about her painting one of these things instead of TELLING US WHAT SHE DID.

50% done with The Polish Rider

I’ve never seen this photograph before. Interesting. More intersting than the story, however. Why not write about that kiss instead of an asshole in her 4th Uber

Hey, author, I don’t need a fucking history lesson, just say the name of the phhotograpgh and let me do the rest. All this exposition is a waste of time and just means you don’t trust your readers.

40% done with The Polish Rider

“The sides must be blank”. I’m wishing the page this story was printed on was blank. I hate all these pretentious twats.

4 FUCKING INSTANCES OF UBER!! WHO THE FUCK CARES!!!!!!!!!

I swear to God the New Yorker published this story just to piss me off, it’s like a sick joke to see me get all upset about how terrible this thing is.

20% done with The Polish Rider

Trendy, cheap. Yep, that sort of sume up this thing so far. Hopefully an Uber will crash into my apartment and flatten me in my reading chair before this gets any worse.

I certianly hope the author doesn’t expect me to “see” these works of art and why Sonia (is that the main character) is worried about how they look. I mean, it’s a short story, not a picture book.

Two Men Arrive in a Village: Read on May 31, 2016

In the documentary “The Act of Killing” there is a scene where the men whom had torutured and killed their fellow Cambodian’s returned to a village and re-enacted their crimes. All around them were people – and I remember most of them being women – who had been old enough to remember the killings first hand, had probably never spent a night since without thinking about those horros and were now fafe to face with their tormentors.

Yet the look on their faces is what I remember the most because I don’t think there is a word to describe the emotion they were feeling. These men, the killers, we re-enacting their crimes for fun and were not there to kill anyone but these women wore a mask of entertainment for their “guests” but you could see the confusion, horror, and doubt in their eyes.

For me that was one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever seen.

This story captures a part of what those women felt, that fear but also that unity, even if they will come to a tragic end no matter how proud they stand.

At the end of the story we get images of the wind, and that’s how I imagine evil (the Devil here) works – the Devil all of a sudden appears and there is nothing we can do to stop him till he leaves. Even Bela Tarr used wind imagery in Satantango when we meet the Devil character, similar here as good looking with his impish friend. And that’s probably why the chief’s wife leaves the room before the name is spoken because to hear the name, even of a friend of the Devil is to invite him back.

But that last image of the small man who sort of confesses to the girl he just raped strips away the excuse that a Devil did something evil and places it squarely where the responsibility lay: with humanity. Monsters do not commit these terrible crimes, men (people, though usually men) do. To dehumanize these terrible acts is to look away and let the Devil get away with it, but to know that men do these terrible things means that they can be stopped because men are weak (the image of the men who only drink shows weakness and cowards).

This is a fantastic story.

Fable: Read on May 24, 2016

I will fight anybody in a parking lot who doesn’t like this story.

Near the middle of this story we get a sort of stream of consciousness look inside how the main character feels when he’s in public with his disabled son. He feels them looking at him with sympathy, but not wanting to get too close; nobody wants to “catch” what they have. And he’s angry about it.

I started thinking about how we talk about people like the narrator and his wife as heroes, but look at what a toll it is, look at how it hurts them, look at how confused and angry they are. Yes, being a hero is hard – that’s a core role – but it’s not something we all really want. Do you, after reading this, feel you’re up to the challenge of the narrator and his wife? Slaying a dragon would be easier.

And that’s the fun here because we get all the fantasy trope style writing – mages and witches and maidens – but spin it to talk about what a heroic life is really all about. We fantasize about being heros, we watch TV about heroes and superheroes, but we never really think how hard it actually is, how unglamorous it is, how much of a toll it takes.

But we can empathize because these heros are just as fragile as the rest of us, just as self conscious, full of just as many dreams and failures.

And the story also deals with the lives we construct for ourselves. The narrator here tricks his maiden (in a very clever but cynical way) into marrying him, but it’s part of the story he’s trying to create for himself, a story he wants to believe in – and so it’s not fully cynical. Here the language of fantasy is used to parody a very serious thing we all do, to forge a reality for ourselves, and one that might not be what we planned on.

Then there’s the angle of how popular fantasy is (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones) and how we want to escape this mundane, suburban world for something Tyler Durden would approve of from Fight Club, a world of action and meaning, not fake constructed lives of lawyers and contracts. Yet there’s a reason it’s called fantasy. And how well would we survive in that fantasy world? Could we really kill a dragon? Probably not. So we just try to get by.

There is also something between the lines here when he talks about never being as well off as the lords (the rich people who get promoted over him). We measure success in dollars and square footage, we see heroes as fabulous, but (and this is like a fable in the meaning of it), the real heros are regular people with extraordinary circumstances thrust upon them.

We need more fables, to be honest. I think we’ve lost the appetite for being told morality tales. Not that people long ago admired the morally appropriate people – we’ve always loved gossiping about the rich – but I feel we think being told what’s right is not something we need anymore, though we really do, and even more so as adults. A fable is not just for kids, because like the son here we are always children, we always need to learn, and we will always need guidance.

But more than just a fable, more than just the writer here using the old fantasy trope to juxtapose our modern struggles with epics of “lore”, is that this story is framed with the very real psychologist who is asking him to tell her his story. And he has a hard-time of it so he uses this language to try to wrap his brain around his life because he’s just an ordinary person who can’t find the words that a hero’s bard might have ready. And we all do this, we all rely on cliche language and saying to express how we feel, but they’re never good enough – those stories we give ourselves – because they’re for someone else, or at worst not genuine. And here the narrator is forced to tell his story in his words and he struggles to know who even he is, just like his son. Raymond Carver wrote about this very theme many times; here it’s just done more playfully but with no less talent.

There is some wonderful writing here, too. I loved how one of the first words (and probably one of not many more he’d ever know) is “sorry” because he heard it so much from his parents. That was heartbreaking and said more about that relationship and household than pages and pages of dialogue.

I also liked how there was a sort of hopefull ending, too. Of course a fable or fantasy story usually does and so it must here too, but because this story is so close to reality, so honestly sad (in the way reality is sad and lonely), that it gives us some hope leading back out, that not all is bleak and that even the worst can be endured, even if it will always be difficult.

This is not a cynical story, it’s realistic. It’s the most realistic fable I’ve ever read, and it’s wonderful.

90% done with Fable

The running as metaphor for time, while not new, feels new here in the dream, in the story of their making. “We don’t have to run” When we think of the future it’s a dream, a fable, but the sory does not go as planned and we have to be real. We are/not lords and heroes, we’re regular people doing whatever we can. And it’s scary and it’s not fair.

75% done with Fable

My God, what if someone disabled like that actualy knew it but couldn’t communicate and they started apoligizing? He’s dreaming now, the rotted bridge, the son speaking. He doesn’t want to dream, but he is, and it’s terrible.

65% done with Fable

We don’t ger her side, but you can imagine it’s just as hard for her. Jesus, that’s beautifully sad. Carving out the parts of their minds that made dreams and feeding it to the wild animals. Recalls the star as a dream that fell into her belly to give them the son.

50% done with Fable

That rage he feels when he gets angry at his son, that primal place the story uses as language (the fantasy language), the language of someone trying to smooth over how hard all this is, is the place he wants to live a more meaningful life. A place of dragons and heros is also more violent and not the sort of place you could raise a child with those sorts of needs, at least not as someone who is not a lord

30% done with Fable

I see him blacksmithing as an aggression, a primal release. Fire, metal, anger, heat, frustration, and release. Here being the hero, being the kind of person we call a hero for doing the right things, for raising a specil needs child, does not feel very heroic. In fact people pity the hero. And he works for non-heros who do much better financially then him, who might even be more satisfied.

20% done with Fable

Love how the kid’s frist words includes “sorry” because he heard it so much. So much said in just that one word. Whoever wrote this is very talented. Ohhh, that stream of consciouness passage, about people looking at them, about how he feels about being looked at, about whet he thinks they think, is very well done. Sad, too.

10% done with Fable

Slaying a sickly dragon no bigger than a fowl. Nice. On the flip-side, people “back then” were just like us so taking herbs to “self medicate” is not a new idea. We think we’re modern and new and different; we’re not. I like the image of the star that would forever hang in the sky as a symbol of them not being able to have children. Simple, but effective.

5% done with Fable

Reads like a New Yoker cartoon; so it’s sort of meta Wait, is this in a fantasy setting? Is this a satire on how the world we live in is so falsely constructed that it’s totally far removed from any important sort of life, one of action. Is this why fantasy is so popular, like Game of Thrones and such? People wanting a deeper meaning and satisfaction from life?

The Midnight Zone: Read on May 17, 2016

Though I’m not sure what our main character actually learns or if she changes at all (though maybe she actually dies?), I do love how we spend this concussed night with her as she drifts out of life and time, her children asleep around her.

We begin the story with some imagery that will come into play later in the story. First is the panther which represents stalking death. Later when she’s trying to stay awake the thought of that invisible predator is ever present at the edges of her life. And like the Alice in Wonderland reference, though it’s all a bit on-the-nose, it works to serve the story of someone who seems to be slowly disappearing.

The disappearing is important because we learn at the beginning she’s lost a lot of weight: “I loved eating, but I’d lost so much weight by then that I carried myself delicately, as if I’d gone transparent.” And the word ‘transparent’ is important here because that is what she becomes as the story goes on and she falls off the stool. Even the word itself is a sort of pun, trans (changing) and parent (as in literally a parent).

When I first put this down I assumed our narrator lived through the night, but the more I think about it I’m not quite sure. At the start her husband leaves to take care of a suicide and so at the end it’s possible we have another death, one he could have prevented had he been there. Then again, I feel it’s at most ambiguous as to what is going on at the end. We are told she opens her eyes, but we were told earlier about her floating about outside – what’s to say her spirit isn’t still aware though her body is dead?

And it’s the last line of the story that gives me pause: “… like the wind itself, like the cold sun I would soon feel on the silk of my pelt.” What does this mean, the “silk of my pelt?” For me I get a cold, deathly image, a pelt of fur, cold, mouring (it’s morning, too), black, the panther’s fur. Everything is transitory, fleeting, but ominous, too: her husband fills the door, and earlier her mother was “a person who had blocked out the sun.”

We also get a Blake reference (actually many poets are mentioned, though I’m most familiar with Blake so I’ll stick to him) and it reminded me of “The Tyger” (the panther here stands in for a tiger). With all the darkness of her world (the night blocked doors, the sun blocked) juxtaposed with the “burning bright” of the predator outside (the panther = the tyger), I feel a strong correlation between the images of life and death, the fear and wonder our narrator feels.

I don’t feel we learn anything profound, however and that is this story’s weakness. We have some very beautiful language and wonderful images to unravel, but it amounts to very little. It is sad and beautiful, but I don’t feel I learned anything very interesting about her situation, I don’t feel the narrator taught us something unique about her life and dying. I ask why are we told this story? Just so we can read this very beautiful scene where she slips around consciousness and are left with an ambiguous ending? Will she be a better, more substantial (not transparent) parent? We never know.

Still I did enjoy the beautiful moments of this story even if they don’t add up to a lot.