Thursday, May 28, 2009

Honorable Vegetables & A Few Good Stories

My short story, Vegetable Remains, was picked for Honorable Mention (capital H, capital M!) last month in Glimmertrain's Very Short Fiction contest. I started submitting short stories a few months ago, and this small recognition is inspiring, to say the least. In honor of my mention, I'd like to post a few short stories I've read in the past year or so that have stuck with me months after reading them. 

(Disclaimer: This is actually a short list of the New Yorker fiction I've loved this year. Since I've been unable to commit to any books lately-- and the few I have read I've not liked-- I've been slowly leveling a skyscraper of New Yorkers. Except where indicated, that's where the story's from.)

Edwidge Danticat's Ghosts. Danticat is an extraordinary writer. Some might disagree with me, but I think she has the gift of lightness Italo Calvino described in Six Memos for the New Millenium. She writes about horrors I can only imagine, but there's a curious lightness that's hard to describe about her writing-- perhaps it's a lack of insistence on her part, or a cinematic speediness to her plotting, or maybe it's just that she allows tragedy to speak for itself, without layering on a lesser writer's gothic sludge of ego. Either way, she is thoroughly modern and terribly moving. If you haven't read her work, start now-- and tell me if you agree with me about the lightness. 

A.M. Homes's Brother on Sunday. I liked this story. The writing is lovely, surprising, vivid, and occasionally very funny. 

Elizabeth Gilbert's The Famous Torn and Lit Cigarette Trick. This is from the Paris Review's Winter 1996 issue. I have no idea why I was reading a 1996 issue of the Paris Review this year, but I do have an idea of why I loved this story: it's charming and it moves like quicksilver. 

Andrea Lee's Three. It's less a story than a series of portraits of three characters who have recently died. I love how good fiction can surprise us with an attachment to a character-- we spend maybe 1000 words with each of the three characters, and by the time they die, we know them well enough to share the narrator's sense of loss. 

Guillermo Martinez's Vast Hell. Great little story. Short and great. Read it now-- it'll take just a few minutes out of your day. Inspired by the Argentinian proverb "A small town is a vast hell," it reminds me of Milan Kundera and Dubravka Ugresic, among others, who have written about nationalism in small countries. Kundera has repeatedly said, in essence, that a small country is a vast hell. This story exists on several planes. 

That's all for now. Back to work.


Kate said...

hi! I would add "Other Voices, Other Rooms" by Truman Capote to my list...have you read it? So beautiful and a joy to read. I can't wait to read your story!

SM said...

I haven't read it! I'll check it out. (Haven't actually read *any* Capote.) I did just read a bunch of T.C. Boyle's short stories and loved them.

fingeth said...

I was first introduced to Edwidge Danticat when my sister gave my other sister Krik?Krak! as a gift. I promptly stole it and kept it for my own home library. I loved her writing and it would be interesting to read some of her more recent stuff since she wrote that shortly out of college. I am sure her writig has evolved, although it was already very good. Thanks for the suggestions.

tom said...

in my humble opinion argentina is not a small country. actually, as far as countries go, its huge.

SM said...

Well, that is certainly true, Tom-- Argentina *is* a big country. Much bigger than, say, a small town. (Or, as you imply, Croatia.) But in reading his story I got the impression that Guillermo Martinez was making a link between the idea of a small town being a vast hell and his country, during the guerra sucia, being like that small town in this sense.

But I think there's someone who could clear all this up for us:

Thanks for reading!