This Week in Short Fiction
This week, VICE’s 2016 Fiction Issue is out, with work from exciting voices like Ottessa Moshfegh, Rachel Cusk, Roxane Gay, and more. This year’s fiction issue, like the magazine itself, is an engaging, diverse, and sometimes in-your-face read with topics ranging from smart cars to campus rape, love triangles to the meaning of life.
One standout story, Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Love Stories,” captures the less fuzzy side of falling in love, the one they don’t usually make movies about, the side riddled with miserable uncertainty, miscommunications, and a whole lot of angst. In twenty-nine bleakly humorous vignettes from the relationship of a bartender and the regular who loves him, Moshfegh demonstrates how falling in love is not always something to sing about.
Joe was tending bar at Fulk’s and the girl came in with a blond boy and said, “This is my friend who just moved here,” and the blond boy ordered tequila and Tecate and the girl ordered gin and they went and sat outside and talked and smoked and the girl said, “I want to get drunker,” and so she went inside and ordered tequila from Joe and then more gin and pointed outside and said, “I lost my virginity to that mother,” and Joe said, “Looks like a nice guy,” and the girl said, “Whatever,” and Joe said, “Eight dollars,” and the girl said, “I love you,” but Joe didn’t hear her.
Also in the issue is an absolutely necessary read by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, “Undergrad.” The story’s male narrator recounts six rapes he heard about in college, telling what he knows of these stories in a tone so matter-of-fact and casual that it chills. The story reminds that campus rape is a pervasive problem and is even bigger than it seems, with vast numbers of unreported cases, and that the casual and dismissive attitudes of so many only exacerbate this insidious issue.
There was a girl who did the radio station’s political humor segment with me on Tuesdays. I played the progressive, she the conservative. I made a comment to a radio friend about how this girl and I ought to set up a banter on the segment in which we made reciprocal and absurd accusations of sexual misconduct committed by the other. Well, she was raped last month, the friend said. A Korean electrical-engineering graduate student followed her home. She found this out later from her roommates, who had thought he was with her, though he was walking unusually far behind, maybe ten steps. She had no memory, but in the morning she could tell.
David Keenan’s story “He Had Tried to Have His Testicles Removed on the NHS” is a philosophical exploration of the divide between thought and action, about the need to make the truth of the soul into the truth of the body. The brief story tells of a trans woman who wants her testicles gone so badly that she resorts to a back-alley operation. The bulk of the story happens before that, though, detailing a spiritual awakening on a family camping trip that delves into ideas of space and time, intention and fate.
Johnny McLaughlin explains the situation with Remy’s father that it has something to do with ideas of fate predestination and genital mutilation as the keys to the kingdom or as a secret path to a holiday on a black beach in your mind somewhere, either way having something to do with how we all felt back then every one of us in a way.
Other notable inclusions in the issue are Charles Bock’s “Meta,” in which a woman sits by her comatose wife’s bedside and muses on the meaning of life through ruminations on an unnamed movie that is most certainly Rocky II, and Joshua Ferris’s story “A Fair Price,” about a man who is still haunted by his abusive stepfather even as he tries to craft a stable, adult life for himself. VICE’s fiction offerings this year are truly impressive, so go immerse yourself. You have your reading list.
Logo art by Max Winter.