This Week in Short Fiction
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Alissa Nutting has given us the story of a woman with a transparent panel covering her beating heart. Her story, “The Transparency Project,” arrived via Guernica online post on Tuesday. This story revives the playful Nutting of her 2010 story collection, Unclean Jobs for Girls and Women, after her departure into the darker world of a teacher seducing her students with her 2013 novel, Tampa. The story is part of the Guernica/PEN Flash Series and will be collected in Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, an anthology of short fiction exploring “surveillance culture” due out this April from OR Books. In addition to Nutting, said “persons of interest” include Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Cory Doctorow, Etgar Keret, and about 27 other writers—in short, a literary mix worthy of at least one exclamation point!
But what’s with the transparent chest panel? It belongs to Cora, a recent college grad who stumbles upon the Transparency Project in her job search. As Nutting writes:
The Transparency Project was not a one-day test but a hired, permanent job that would last until her natural death. When the leader of the research team said the word “natural” in the phrase “natural death,” he emphasized it in a very unnatural way. Each year, her paid salary would be the previous year’s average salary for all full-time workers in the city where she lived, in addition to a generous benefits package. All she had to do in order to receive this money every year until her natural death was come into the facility for monitoring and testing two days a week, eight hours per day. And have the operation.
There’s nothing so clever as a fox slipping into a chicken coop or a barn, except for maybe Daisy Johnson’s story that went up at Boston Review on Wednesday. Since this story, “There Was a Fox in the Bedroom,” has a fox in the title, it shouldn’t be surprising quite how clever this story is. But it is. It is because the story’s ending comes as a surprise even to its main character. She and we the readers, like the fox, don’t know we’re in the barn until suddenly, forever, we are.
How to explain this story without ruining the surprise? English countryside in the time of radio talk shows and not long after horses began giving way to cars. A woman who finds herself alone among men and runs to the only place that feels true. Here, our narrator looks back on meeting her husband:
She should have known then the land was in him, that he was born with the flats reflecting in his pupils, that he dreamt at night of things moving beneath the black earth. He felt no excitement at hearing about the fast train tracks they were building from Cambridge to Oxford or listening to the radio programs about India or Africa or Paris. She should have known even feeling the small bushel of something she felt for him that night was enough to curse her into that land forever.
This is one of Johnson’s first published stories, but if we can take this one as an indicator, she has a storytelling memory that goes back at least a century and it’s just waiting to be unraveled.