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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Writer Steven Barnes suggests that that you should read ten times as much as you write. Given that I should be writing every day and that I average about 2 pages (approximately 500 words) per day, and guestimating that the average short story is about 5,000 words, I've made it my business to read one piece of short fiction per day. (Non-fic doesn't count but I wonder if I should include comics.) Anyway, I've managed to do this every day for the past two weeks, religiously. What, you think I just buy all these books and never crack them open?

So, to put my money where my mouth is and make myself publically accountable, I'm modifying a page out of Nick Hornby's playbook and giving you Last Week's Reads:
  • Orson Scott Card, "In the Doghouse"
  • Gabriel García-Márquez, "Artificial Roses"
  • Alison Lurie, "The Highboy"
  • Swapna Kishore, "Reclaiming Lucy"
  • Kelly Link, "Stone Animals"
  • Harlan Ellison, "The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke"
  • Harlan Ellison, "Go Into the Light"
Three of these stories, "Doghouse," "The Highboy," and "Go Into the Light" had plots that I believed were predictable. Actually, they were in the sense that I was able to predict the general outcome of the plot. But these writers had to know I would, so they wrote in a such a way as to me care more about the journey than the destination. But, it's a tricky business, that. Knowing where the plot was going almost turned me off each time. This is where name recognition comes in handy, though. I mean, it's Card and Ellison, for pete's sake. I might not have liked the story by the time I got to the end, but I was confident it wouldn't suck in any case being who they were, so I stuck with them.

Lurie's story I liked least of the three, but I think that's partly because the collection it's from, WOMEN AND GHOSTS (at least the edition I have) is made to look like some sort of horror thing, but it isn't. It can't be, when some of the stories had previously appeared in VOGUE, REDBOOK, and HARPER'S BAZAAR. But even for what it was, "The Highboy" was IMO a good example of what Orson Scott Card calls "the millieu story" and it made clearer to me something about the sort of changes a protagonist in a story can go through--but that's a rant for another time.

I read "Reclaiming Lucy"--a very nice, straightforward short horror piece--because I keep running into the author's name as I pore through various online mags looking for new markets. The quality of her writing (at least the two or three stories I've read so far) seems to have a consistency that I'm trying to develop. I really need to go back through and put all of the links to her stories into del.icio.us.

Link's "Stone Animals" gave me my passage of the week (see below). She can be an acquired taste, I've heard, and I can see why (although I knew I loved her stuff the moment I first read STRANGER THINGS HAPPEN). Most of her stories have a plot, no doubt. It might not be completely understandable, and it resists examination from a "big picture" point of view, but it's there. But to examine a story for the plot misses the point of some of her stuff. Her writing is beautiful. Clever, but not for its own sake. It follows, to use Alice Sebold's term in her review, dream-logic. Like a dream, Link's words make perfect sense in the moment, as you read them.

Yes, I liked Link's story this week better than "Artificial Roses" by the original master of the ethereal story. That's not to say that García-Márquez didn't blow me away, as usual. The further I get into his COLLECTED STORIES (and this could be for 101 different reasons), the more I'm able to get his stories. Granted, I'm reading translations but if they're at all accurate, then I'd say his stories are as dream-like as Link's--except his dreams are more vivid. His stories are the dreams you have that make you swear you're 100% awake.

No explanation, no context. This is just the writing that stuck out to me this week.
She said, "If you don't like it, then I'll keep it. Look at you, look at those sleeves. You look like the emperor of Japan."

They had already colonized the bedroom, making it full of things that belonged to them.

-Kelly Link, "Stone Animals"
Next week: a whole new crop of stories, most likely some Jonathan Lethem and maybe some Doris Lessing.