SSM – Day One

Short Story MonthDay One. A clarification is in order: We don’t necessarily critique, kids – god knows I don’t want to: I don’t want to be both writer and critic – we just share. Like with blankets during naptime in daycare. Sometimes I’ll say I have a deep distaste of the story, because I’ve come to realize that I’m a reader before I’m a writer, and even if I don’t want to be a critic, I still have my opinions. But if you want the MLA-format kind of critique, you are so barking up the wrong tree.

I start off my hopefully-not-quite-futile attempt at celebrating the Unofficial Short Story Month with three of my more favorite short stories. (Is more favorite an annoying phrase, or is it just me?)

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#01 – “Missing Women” by June Spence, from Missing Women and Others. P. got this at a Used Books Sale (why do I have this tendency to capitalize indiscriminately?) because he found a book of comic strips he liked, and it was Buy-One-Take-One, and he couldn’t find any other book and so he scanned the stacks for something he thought I might like. The key words, he said? Women. Others. Fiction. Strange how predictable I am, wonderful that this book is a godsend. The stories in the collection hit me at just the right time during my writing of poetics essay for my thesis, because damn it, June Spence is writing the way I want to write now. Then. Ugh.

“Missing Women” is the last story of the collection, its grand finale. It’s about three women who, uh, went missing. But the thing is, the thing is, the story’s told from the POV of the town (hello, Faulkner), and details how the women lived their lives prior to their disappearances, and speculates on how they may have disappeared, and – best part – how they could be living their lives. It’s a beautifully told story of hearsay, gossip, and speculation. And it’s beautiful because you get these glimpses of the women and you want to believe they’re true, and you’re on their side, but at the same time, you don’t want it to be true because it’s just tragic if it is.

So. If anyone wants to get me books, remember the key words: Women, Others, Fiction.

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#02 – “The Children Stay” by Alice Munro, from The Love of a Good Woman. The first short story of Alice Munro that I read, and that first time got the ball rolling. And whatever I say next won’t make much sense because I’m trying not to gush too hard, haha.

It’s this quiet little tale of a woman and her husband and their children and the director at the amateur theater and Orphée and Eurydice. And the payphone from where woman calls her husband, and the oh-so-calm negotiations over their children. And the mini-epilogue. Because anybody else would have ended this long long long short story with that phone call right there – but Munro dedicates a couple of paragraphs of dialogue between the mother and her daughter, and damn, it was great.

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#03 – “Intimacy” by Raymond Carver, from Fault Lines: Stories of Divorce, collected and edited by Caitlin Shetterly. This is the first short story by Raymond Carver that I read (this is an entry of firsts as well, it seems), and man, I loved it. It was strange, it was really strange, and brief and succinct and simple to the point of utter pain for this Purple Proser.

It’s told in the first person, very short lines and very, er, stoic sentence construction. Man visits ex-wife, tries to rehash things. That’s basically it. But the real story is done in such an underhanded way (oh, Carver, you sneaky little fuck), that it took me another reading to fully appreciate it (because the first time I read it, I thought, “It’s a nice story, but it’s so macho.”)

When reading fiction, there’s a part of you that expects the characters to do things and react in a romantic, fiction-worthy way. This story of Carver’s – and most of his other stories I’ve read – slaps that expectation silly. These people are normal, unglamorous – and they’re “fiction-worthy” because they manage to transcend that mundaneness because of all the great secret heartaches they carry with them whether they know it or not.

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There. First three stories done. Let’s hope for our collective sanity that I get better at this thing.

***WHAT THE HELL IS SHORT STORY MONTH?

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About Sasha Martinez

Her sins were scarlet, but her books were read.

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