2014 – January 10 – Snakes and Snails

It may not be Black Friday, but it feels like it. “Snakes and Snails” by Susan Tepper.

 

They keep the schoolyard under lock and key. It’s silly. Teachers all over the place and those aides who don’t know nothing but stand around, anyhow, like guards.

Susan Tepper has an uncanny ability to boil complex character down to its crucial elements, and she does not shy away from difficult truths. This story concerns a damaged man attempting to heal the suppressed wounds of childhood love-hate through vicarious interaction with his little darlings, the children he observes each school day on the playground. It’s a situation and character rife with tensions. One can only wonder Continue reading

2014 – January 9 – Carpet Muncher

Q: A cold, blustery Thursday evening, who you gonna call?  A: Carpet Muncher by Gill Hoffs.

 

I have a double-bed at home, and I have a side I like to sleep on, but what the latter is depends on who is paying for my company that night. I wake up on the left today in a rented bed, next to Robin..

A darned efficient introduction to our protagonist, the Carpet Muncher, whose OCD and MO make her quite the memorable hooker with a heart of… well, we really don’t know that yet, but I’m betting it’s at least silver. I’m not certain whether Cock Robin (“I could smell the top-notes of his aftershave Continue reading

2014 – January 8 – Isa

What does January 8 bring us? Why, “Isa” by Rachel Ambrose, of course.

 

Isa, my roommate, is a great snack buyer, so I almost never go hungry even though I hate the grocery store. Maybe if my apartment wasn’t so comfortable, I would feel the need to leave it unprompted once in a while. But that day is not today.

What a great opening for a character study, which this chapter mostly is.  The unnamed protagonist is a twenty-six-year-old part time hermit who would “like to burrow into my little yellow pool of shag rug, and stay there…” All this responsibility stuff is more than she wants to deal with. Give her a Continue reading

2014 – January 7 – Wingy

On the seventh day, Wingy by Andrew Stancek

 

I fly.

God may have rested on the seventh day, but Andrew Stancek certainly has not.  With this simple paragraph, he launches a bold challenge to suspend disbelief, let go of narrative expectation, and embrace what appears to be an epistolary science fiction tale.  Meet Adam Zajac, an ordinary man dedicated to learning one extraordinary skill. The entire chapter is character background, really, barely a hint of plot.

And yet it works very well.

Maybe no one will ever read this. I’m not writing for a learned journal or for the popular press, only for me… If you know the story, move on, skip a Continue reading

2014 – January 6 – First Impression

Monday is for “First Impression” by Lynn Beighley.

 

“Jenn, you’ll sit here,” Bill says, putting his hand on the back of the chair next to his. Because I don’t know these people very well yet, I obey. If this wasn’t my second week at my new job, and my first time out for lunch with my new coworkers, I still would have obeyed, because I’m like that.”

I like the sense of awkward novelty this opening conveys. We’re immediately right there with Jenn, and we see her flaw. She’s a little timid, maybe lacking in self-confidence, but hardly a wuss. She’s not shy about expressing her opinions internally regarding flies mating and open Continue reading

2014 – January 5 – Carmine

January 5 means we’re reading Carmine by John Wentworth Chapin.

 

“Pinks and oranges plume outward in a gaudy riot, each burgandy- or lavender-scented petal evoking Mardi Gras or day-glo psychedelia… Charles tells the woman behind the counter that he wants the pink and orange flower, and she nods, carefully boxing it for him.”

This is a more traditional opening that pulls us in with physical description. It turns out (as it should) that the manner of the description is at least as important as the description itself. Charles is prone to an exaggerated perspective. Would you have guessed that the flower described above is actually a cupcake? Or that the reason he’s ordering this Continue reading

2014 – January 4 – Ralph Rudinsky here…

It’s Saturday, January 4, but never fear, Ralph Rudinsky here… by Gloria Garfunkel.

 

Ralph Rudinsky here Chief of Quality Assurance for a large diversified corporation Orwellian Industries a big important job that’s hard to keep up with so it’s already January 4 and I still haven’t made my New Year’s Resolution because I have so much to do…

Thus begins the strangest, most energetic story thus far. Where yesterday’s story put us deeply into a character, today’s drills right down through that character until we come out his feet. This is an impressive stream-of-consciousness flash that never lets up, and never gets monotonous (as is sometimes the danger with this approach). You’ve got to Continue reading

2014 – January 3 – The Meet Cute

January 3 means “The Meet Cute” by Derek Osborne.

 

“It has been quite a week. Usually the boat is down by the islands this time of year but a series of contracts is keeping them up in Miami. They’re shooting two feature films and a Miami Blue episode. The Miami Blue crew, in particular, knows how to party.”

Here, we are dropped into character immediately, and invited to swim our way toward context. It’s an effective technique, particularly for a story centered strongly on character, which this one surely is. We meet Max, a widower in charge of this particular boat, as he is deluged by the demands of family (his sister, Pam, who is Continue reading

2014 – January 2 – La Ronde / Madge and Gina

Day two brings us “La Ronde / Madge and Gina” by Townsend Walker.

 

“That was it, that was it, it was all over for him, he hit me for the last time yesterday after his team lost the Orange Bowl in overtime and I’d said, honey, relax, it’s only a game. Only a game, he said, only a game, what the fuck do you know it’s only a game.”

And thus, we’re dropped into an intense situation, or at least the fresh recollection of one. The situation is not unusual at first glance: a wife beat up by an abusive husband, seeking consolation from a female friend at a local club. We learn fairly early, Continue reading

2014 – January 1 – The Miracle of Small Things

“The Miracle of Small Things” by Guilie Castillo-Oriard kicks off the series.

 

“There’s no stillness like the stillness of Curacao on New Year’s Day. Pointless tropical sun on deserted asphalt, every business shuttered, everything forlorn… to Luis Villalobos it feels like the cold shoulder of the world.”

The story drops us into the personal mystery of Luis Villalobos, who has apparently made the career-killing mistake of sleeping with his boss at the New Year’s Eve party. We catch up with him during his walk of shame (well, drive of shame) as he slugs his way home, while lamenting that he’s going to have to return to Momma after this. Insult to injury comes in Continue reading