This Week in Short Fiction
Chalk it up to a week where Twitter just felt like too much. Chalk it up to good ol’ nostalgia for the feel of a hefty book in your hands. Or maybe, just chalk it up to an aligning of stars that placed nine exceptional writers under the same roof. If you happen to have picked up the most recent issue of Tin House, you’ll know what we mean, because their “Rejection”-themed volume is chock-full of some darn good storytelling. If lit mag editors could be DJs, this is the party we’d stand in line for.
To give a sense, let us count the names: Peter Orner. Claire Vaye Watkins. Paul Beatty. Nancy Reisman. A throwback of bootleg, before-he-was-Chekhov, Anton Chekhov. Then, some names we aren’t cool enough to know yet, but will go home humming: Liz Ziemska. Chris Kraus. Eric Puchner. Jessamine Chan.
But these are just names, right? Let’s take a look at what they’re laying down, from line one.
Track 1: “The Sellout,” Paul Beatty, excerpted from his new novel The Sellout
This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything.
We find a man sitting in a chair preparing to get stoned in the chambers of the Supreme Court after he has been informed via an Ed McMahon-like post that the highest court of the land will hear his case now. The case? Me vs. the United States of America. The particulars? You must read to the last page of the story to know. It’s a story you might think you know, until you don’t.
Track 2: “The Call,” Claire Vaye Watkins
Like every hoodwinked dreamer assembling at the stoss-side colony of the Amargosa Dune Sea, like every huckster and pioneer before him, Levi Zabriskie came to California chasing a mirage.
Our Battleborn expert of the west brings us an abandoned orphan adopted by a Mormon family, a future of dying universities and an unpeopled Albuquerque, and one of the most breathtaking train scenes at least since Snowpiercer.
Track 3: “Artists’ Wives,” Anton Chekhov
Alphonso Zinzaga, an utterly free citizen of the capital of Lisbon, a young novelist, very famous… but only to himself and showing signs of great promise… also to himself, was returning home exhausted and as hungry as the hungriest dog after a whole day of trudging the boulevards and making the round of various editorial offices.
A sneak-peek into The Prank, the first collection of stories by a 22-year-old Chekhov, rejected by the censors in Moscow in 1882 for being too critical of the establishment (and maybe just of men in general)? Yes, please! Guaranteed to make you laugh. Also, mark your calendar: in July 2015, New York Review Books will be releasing the entire collection in its first-ever English translation.
Track 4: “Mothership,” Eric Puchner
Just as Jess was getting out of Clayton House Treament Center, her brother-in-law got a brain tumor. Typical, to be upstaged by a brain tumor.
And what could possibly upstage that? Did you say—aliens???
Track 5: “The Mushroom Queen,” Liz Ziemska
It’s the middle of the night and the woman can’t sleep.
This one. Seriously. It’s like if you have a yard and you walk outside, and all of the sudden there’s a gorgeous, lunar-white, dirt-pock-marked toadstool. Actually, it’s almost exactly like that. Also: to be in the thoughts of the snarkiest little brown dog ever.
Track 6: “Looking for Suzanne,” Chris Kraus
I. 10/13/00: DOUGLAS F. [Caucasian male, late 30s, medium height, medium-but-fleshy build]
(conversation about cigarettes, untranscribed)
But the rest of this monologue-slash-interview about an unpredictable woman named Suzanne is all there. It’s also online here if you scroll to it in the TOC.
Track 7: “Cumulative Effects,” Nancy Reisman from her forthcoming novel Trompe l’Oeil (Tin House Books, May 2015)
Nora dreamed of driving in the rain in what seemed to be Paris, though she was driving a station wagon.
The sentences are reined in a bit, but sitting with Nora and her children in their beach home on the Massachusetts coast as her husband James trots off daily to Boston for work, there’s something in the key of Mrs. Ramsay from To the Lighthouse in this one.
Track 8: “The Mansion District,” Jessamine Chan
The year before Sofie left New York, she lived for a time in a house. A mansion, really.
Did you say you wanted another New York story? Set in a mansion? Here you go.
Track 9: “Maggie Brown,” Peter Orner
Our own “The Lonely Voice” columnist rounds out this rave. Or maybe all along it’s been a cello solo. When you end with Orner, that’s what it feels like. That’s what it feels like, with sentences like this:
Maybe only the lonely stranger we will become can save us. But we never meet, we remain always eternally separate in our noisy chairs. As the music, Maggie Brown’s music, moans lower in my mind now, lower, lower, yet has never stopped altogether.