Word Riot Fiction Editor Timmy Waldron gives his list of the stories you should put on your reading list this month.
“St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” by Karen Russell.
Where to get it: Best American Short Stories 2007 or try Karen Russell’s short story collection by the same name.
Why it’s good: It’s a story about a finishing school, run by nuns, for girls raised by wolves. So, that’s just a great idea for a story. The absurd premise is treated seriously and with the respect. The result is a rare humor that has some nice insights on race, gender, culture, and class. Kilgore Trout gives Karen Russell a wink and a nod.
Writerly type of things to note: The story starts in first person plural as we are introduced to the girls, still in their pack mentality. As they become more “civilized” a singular identity comes to the forefront and the story starts to be told in first person. It’s a nice touch.
Things you will learn: Werewolfness skips a generation. Wolves give birth to humans, who then (presumably) give birth to wolves. Breathe. Push.
Images you will have, that you didn’t necessarily want: Wolf girls jumping from bed to bed marking their territory.
Type of read: Fun, easy, highly original, and satisfying. Keep it next to the hopper and read it in a few sittings.
Pairs nicely with: Toilet water and some meat, raw of course.
“Goodbye, My Brother” by John Cheever
Where to get it: Should be in almost any Cheever collection. Quick Google seems to say it first appeared in a 1951 issue of The New Yorker.
Why it’s good: Insanely well written.
Will you like it? Do you like white people and their problems? If so, you’ll love it.
Cheeverness: There’s the east coast setting, tennis, sailing, swimming, cocktails and a character named Tifty. I give it a ten out of ten on the Cheever scale of Cheeverness. Bonus, even Cheever thinks it’s his masterstroke (He said masterstroke).
Things you will learn: Besides the sparse complexities of an east coast family’s inner workings? You’ll learn that Cassiopeia is the wife of Cepheus and the mother of Andromeda. The narrator riffles off this fact without any textual evidence that he used Wikipedia first.
Writerly type of things to note: This story is a textbook example of the unreliable narrator. Did I come up with that on my own? No. A smart person told me that and I feel obligated to pass along the information.
Best line by a character named Tifty: “Get your fat face out of mine,”
Top 3 character names: The fore mentioned Tifty… Cotton Mather and Chucky Ewing.
Type of read: Satisfying, thoughtful, a bit demanding of the reader (that reader being me). It’s serious, with nice bits of humor, and some wonderful Cheever weirdness (wedding dresses and football uniforms make for a great party). Keep it on the night stand.
If you like this story: Read “The Swimmer”… If you like both stories buy the Cheever collection, scumbag.
Pairs nicely with: Scotch, Gin, or Irish. But not rum, we’re all out of rum.
“Friends” by Grace Paley
Where to find it: I’m going to say, with no confidence or authority that you can find “Friends” in any collected Grace Paley.
Why it’s good: It is emotional. It is weighty. Grace Paley writes the shit out of this story.
Will you like this: Depends. It focuses on the death of friends, the untimely death of children, and the mortality of entire human race (this includes you). These are subjects many would rather avoid. But if you enjoy confronting such issues head on, it’s for you.
You might also like it if you enjoy reading amazingly crafted stories.
Writerly type of things to note: The writing seems worked and reworked, smoothed over and over, folded again and again until all the imperfections are gone. Basically Grace Paley makes words her bitch, then makes them do tricks for our amusement.
Why you might stop reading: I didn’t feel at ease with the story until about four pages in, but once that switch flipped it was pure enjoyment… followed by reverence and awe. Read it a few times. Think about the first time you had a martini and then think about that second martini compared to your first.
Amazonian fact: The narrator, Faith, is a recurring character in Paley’s work. Faith leaning on her friends for emotional support is said to appear repeatedly in her work. (Note: Amazon’s Editorial Reviews don’t really sell the sizzle)
Type of read: A good emotional workout. I felt a sense of accomplishment and life smartness after reading. I know things now, things beyond my years. Read this story sitting up in a comfortable chair in a silent room.
Pairs nicely with: A glass of water and a handful age fighting hormones.
“Twister” by Rick Moody
Where to get it: You can find this is Moody’s moody short story collection The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven. It’s the one that has the ring of coke pictured on the cover. Rick, you’re bad.
Why it’s good: It’s a simple story of a boy telling his father a fib while they share lunch in the yard. The description of the “Garden State Twister” is great, but the real pay off is exploring why this kid feels compelled to tell these kinds of stories.
Jerseyness: Although there is no proof of this in the text, I have it on good authority that the car that “passed on the street kicking up fallen leaves in its treads…” was on a last chance power drive. Furthermore, Ricky Moody is probably Jersey’s favorite son of letters. It’d be an open and shut case if not for that North Jersey doctor, William Carlos Williams. Is macaroni salad distinctly Jersey? If it’s not, I’m going to say having it fall off your fork and onto your pants is… so, this story is Jersey to the core.
This is a really short-short story, does size matter? According to Eric Clapton “It’s in the way that you use it.” This seems to be true for Twister as well. It is only a few pages, but it is very complex.
Writerly type things to note: There’s something going on with the POV here, something about the narrator that eludes me. Everything is consistent, but just slightly off balance. Is it magic? Maybe just omniscience…
Type of read: This story made me work. The syntax is unique to Moody’s writing and the sentences are extremely precise. Sometimes I get the idea that he could write a sentence using simple English that I could never hope to understand. But that’s my problem. Once my head was around this piece I found it terribly smart and perceptive. You’re first impulse might be to bang this out on the hopper, but you better leave it on the nightstand.
Paired best with: A cold amber beer or a glass of Kool-Aid with extra sugar stirred in