Word Riot Fiction Editor Timmy Waldron picks out stories you should put on your reading list this month.
Balto by T.C. Boyle
Where to find it: Best American Short Stories, 2007 edition.
Why it’s good: “There are two kinds of truths, good truths and hurtful ones.” Don’t you read stories to find lines like this? I’m pretty sure you do. What Nigel Tufnel said of his Mock piece Lick my Love Pump can also be said about this story: “You know, just simple lines intertwining.”
Writerly types of things to note: The point of view movement in this story is remarkable. Boyle effortlessly slips from one character’s consciousness to another’s. Many writers do it, but few do it better. His use of “or’s” and “and’s” are so wonderful that you will bat your eyes at them, sigh dreamily, and ask: ‘why couldn’t those sentences be mine?’
Type of read: The writing is some of the best you can find. There are great bits of tension built into the story, refreshing surprises, and all the characters are expertly drawn. Read it on your treadmill, but don’t set your pace higher than 3.8 rpms or you’ll miss some Boyle’s exquisite nuances.
Is there any proof that T.C. Boyle has access to your brain on any given Sunday? Good question. There seems to be some proof of this in the paragraph that starts: “Was he ashamed? Was he humiliated? Did he have to stop drinking and get his life in order? Yes, yes, and yes.”
Paired best with: A just-this-side-of-too-cold California Sauvignon Blanc or a cognac, Remy of course. But please pick your kids up from soccer practice first.
A Distant Episode by Paul Bowles
Where to find it: The Stories of Paul Bowles.
Why it’s good: Its exotic location (Morocco, perhaps? Tangier, maybe? ), clean prose (Bowles’ is a vivid writer), and its superb what the heck just happened? plot line. If you’ve never read Bowles before (as I hadn’t) you’ll find him an excellent discovery. Parenthetical note.
What does Tennessee Williams think of this story? Good question. He proclaimed it “a masterpiece of short fiction.”
Images you will have, that you didn’t necessarily want: To list them would ruin the story. Okay, there’s a thing with the main character’s tongue. That’s all I’m going to say. One more thing – he’s a linguist. As Buck Murdock said in Airplane II, “Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.”
Things you will learn: People, in certain parts of the world are interested in buying camel utters. Bonus, “to make water” means to pee.
Type of read: A solidly built story, very enjoyable to read. It’s easy to get through, but it’s unsettling and gritty. If you tell me you saw what was coming next I’d call you a liar, and I’d say it to your fat face. Keep it by the hopper.
World Champion by Etgar Keret (Translated from Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger)
Where to get it? You’re on your own. Keret has a handful of collections for sale on Amazon, take chance and pick one.
Why it’s good? This is a short rabbit punch of a story. The narrator is a bit of prick, but in the most appealing way.
Will you like it? Depends, do you like angry young man stories? If so, you’ll love it. The narrator is angsty, burdened, funny, violent and has some excellent Daddy issues.
Best gift for the father’s 50th birthday: Gold-Plated navel cleaner.
Writerly thing to note: Etgar uses a nice bit of repetition in this story, each section starts with the line “In honor of my dad’s 50th,” it gives the story tempo and pace…almost a musical addition to the prose.
What kind of read? It’s a fast and furious read that’ll ring your bell. It should give you a good laugh as well as a good think. Leave it by the hopper.
Heart Songs by Annie Proulx
Where to get it: It’s in her collection. No, not that one; the other one. Heart Songs and Other stories.
Why it’s good: This story and its characters are captivating. I didn’t know it until I read this, but I want to meet a family of hillbillies and make a joyful noise unto the Lord with them.
Writerly things of note: If you’re having problems putting character descriptions into your stories Heart Songs is a good example of how to do it. “She was thin, a mayonnaise blonde with very light blue eyes… Surly, ugly…” But it’s not just the words she uses its how naturally they fit into the story. Which is the real trick, I think.
Top three character names: Eno Twilight, Shirletta, and Snipe
How many gay cowboys are in this story? Sadly, none.
Did you know? Rows of evergreen trees are called hemlocks.
Type of read: More than satisfying. The setting is wonderful, the descriptions are fantastic, and there are at least ten dozen sentences that make you say fuck yeah after reading. Leave it on the nightstand.
Paired best with: The scotch bottle and maybe just a piece of wedding cake from beneath my pillow.