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May is Short Story Month, Part 2

I know. May is over. When I wrote out the first list a couple weeks ago, my heat was on. Now it’s hot as hell out. Supposedly, summer is the season for long, crappy novels you read on the beach. No way, I say! Read these stories instead:

“Hands,” Sherwood Anderson. The opening story of arguably the greatest American short story collection.

“Roman Fever,” Edith Wharton. Written in the mid-30’s, this story harkens back to the European Grand Tour often dramatized by both Wharton and Henry James. Beware of secrets…

“Big Two-Hearted River, parts 1&2,” Ernest Hemingway. A simple story about a guy fishing a stream, but there’s so much below the surface of the water.

“The Chrysanthemums,” John Steinbeck. One of my favorite stories to teach, mainly because the more puritanical students totally freak when they discover the sexual imagery. The resolution is heart-breaking.

“A Rose for Emily,” William Faulkner. His most famous short story, for good reason. The collective first person viewpoint has never been used more effectively.

“The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson. Despite the “trick” ending, this story deserves multiple readings. No story better deals with the dangers of slavish obedience to tradition.

“Revelation,” Flannery O’Connor. Just one story? Stupid rules…In my opinion, O’Connor is the greatest short story writer to have ever lived. She died way, way too young. Goddamn lupus. Favorite part of this classic? When the college student whips the book at Mrs. Turpin’s head.

“The Conversion of the Jews,” Philip Roth. Still no Nobel Prize for this guy? The award has become a joke. But don’t get me wrong: I’d still take one…

“’Repent, Harlequin!’ said the Ticktockman,” Harlan Ellison. A well-known story, but not typically recognized for the metafictional, post-modern masterpiece that it is. Manages to skewer every short story convention, from its overly long epigraph to the three-word climax.

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” Ursula K. Le Guin. This story has no plot and no characters, but a story it is. The end never fails to give me chills. Every white, middle class fatcat who complains about his lot in life should have this story tattooed on his forehead.

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Joyce Carol Oates. If you ever meet a man in black who hobbles and sports a bad toupee, run…

“A Poetics for Bullies,” Stanley Elkin. One of our greatest comic voices. Sadly, not many people know it. Not many writers can so easily capture the personality of his protagonists through diction and syntax.

“A Father’s Story,” Andre Dubus. His son has garnered more fame, which is pity. Andre Sr. wrote mainly short stories, not bestselling novels. This story shows how far a father will go to protect his child.

“Everyday Use,” Alice Walker. In the 60’s, many African-Americans looked toward East Africa for cultural identity. This satire rips the movement to shreds.

“Cathedral,” Raymond Carver. There’s drinking and dope smoking and lots of strawberry pie. By the end, a blind man shows the protagonist how to “see” a cathedral. Like all of Carver’s best stories, deceptively simple.

“The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien. No greater short story about war. Period.

“Shiloh,” Bobbie Ann Mason. Poor Leroy. He hasn’t a clue as to why his marriage is falling apart. Typical dude?

“The Behavior of the Hawkweeds,” Andrea Barrett. Historical novels are one thing, but historical short stories? Not an easy thing to do, unless you’re as brilliant as Andrea Barrett. This story mines the life and work of Gregor Mendel for metaphor. If you like reading about science and history, you will love the fictions of Barrett.

“Orientation,” Daniel Orozco. I usually hate 2nd person viewpoint, but I’ll make an exception for this masterpiece about an unknown, unnamed character that goes through the nuttiest of job orientations. When I first read it, I thought, why didn’t I think of this?

“Ysrael,” Junot Diaz. I guess the author uses a form of “Spanglish.” He incorporates Spanish words and phrases, and even though I don’t typically know the exact English counterparts, I still know exactly what he’s talking about. I have no idea how Diaz does it.

Enough. I know…what about Updike, Alexie, Bradbury…Another time. Add some of your own faves if you like!

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May is Short Story Month, Part 1

Yes, there is an official “Short Story Month.” Who would’ve thought? As the honorific is designed to do, this writer of short stories (http://www.amazon.com/Halibut-Rodeo-Mark-Lewandowski/dp/0984421939/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1305732251&sr=1-1) has been thinking of the ones I like the most, the stories that become better with multiple readings. So I made a list, roughly in chronological order. In order to narrow down the choices (millions have been published, I suppose) I’ve limited myself to American ones. That’s okay. The short story is probably the most American of the literary genres, though story lovers, obviously, shouldn’t ignore de Maupassant, Chekhov, Joyce, Kafka, etc. I’ve also limited myself to one story per author.

So here goes:

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Washington Irving. Most people know the premise of the story, even though few have read the original. That’s a shame, because it is a masterpiece of the form. It’s also a great story about food.

“The Birthmark,” Nathaniel Hawthorne. I once got in an argument about the ending of this story with a woman I was dating. I maintained that Georgiana doesn’t really die at the end, but ascends to heaven, just like Mohammed. She didn’t agree. We never went out again.

“Ligeia,” Edgar Allan Poe. Nobody manipulates the first person viewpoint better than Poe. There are typically two versions of a Poe story: the story as reported by the narrator, and the story as it actually happens. If you believe the narrator, “Ligeia” is a horror story. If you don’t, the narrator is a murderer trying desperately to cover his tracks. It’s not a horror story…

“Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Herman Melville. This is probably my all-time favorite story. Many readers miss the point of the closing section. If you believe Bartleby prefers not to do stuff because of his experience working in the dead letter office, you are just as clueless as the befuddled narrator.

“A White Heron,” Sarah Orne Jewett. I’m not sure if there is a better short story about a sexual awakening.

“The Story of an Hour,” Kate Chopin. One of the most read short stories in the English language. Short, sweet, and to the point. We now call stories like this “short shorts,’ or “flash fiction.” Surprisingly, not all readers get the irony at the end.

“The Blue Hotel,” Stephen Crane. The author didn’t write much before he died at the age of 29, but oh what a legacy. This story shows that the “Wild West” was romanticized decades before John Wayne started making movies.

“To Build a Fire,” Jack London. These days the author is held in higher regard abroad than he is at home. Funny how that works. Story shows that sometimes dogs are far smarter than men.

“Editha,” William Dean Howells. The author is known more as a critic and novelist than a short story writer, but “Editha” is a classic of anti-war literature. Every person who got caught up in post-9/11 war lust should read it. Apparently, George W didn’t.

“The Beast in the Jungle,” Henry James. Like most of the author’s novels, this story is long and complex, and not much seems to happen. That’s the point. The last page is devastating.

To be continued…

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