Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Best of McSweeney's

These pieces are all from The Best of McSweeney's, a collection edited by Dave Eggers and Jordan Bass and published by McSweeney's in 2013.  (There is also a deluxe box set edition available here.)

I live in St. Paul, Minnesota.  A nice place where God tries to ice-murder all inhabitants every year.
--Letter from John Moe, pp. 14-15.

I used to think only poor people set fires.  Two reasons for this: (1) I'd never known anyone whose house had burned down, and (2) when I worked for the Social Security Administration, "It burned up in a fire" was a common response to my request for documents.
--Letter from Mary Miller, pp. 15-16.

Five years ago, I played an angry gay teenager in a small coming-of-age film.  
--Letter from Colleen Werthmann, pp. 20-21.  

He is nine.  The other boys and girls have been like this, together, since they were four.  But he is new. 
--From "New Boy," fiction by Roddy Doyle, pp. 39-57.

1. The population of Spokane, Washington, is 203,268.  It is the 104th biggest city in the United States.
2. Even before the recession, in 2008, 36,000 people in Spokane lived below the poverty line--a little more than 18 percent of the population.  That's about the same as it was in Washington, DC, at the time.  The poverty rate was 12.5 percent in Seattle.
--From "Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington," fiction by Jess Walter, pp. 59-67.

My wife, the doctor, is not well.  In the end she could be dead.  It started suddenly, on a country weekend, a movie with friends, a pizza, and then pain.
--From "Do Not Disturb," fiction by A.M. Homes, pp. 89-111.

We drove there through a ferocious snowstorm, swaddled in old blankets and sleeping bags, because his car heater had gone out years before...  I huddled up next to him and adjusted the radio stations as they faded in and out of range...
--From "We'll Sleep in My Old Room," a comic by Chris Ware, pp. 128-131.

The trouble happened because I was bored.  At the time, I was twenty-eight days sober.  I was spending my nights playing Internet backgammon.  I should have been going to AA meetings, but I wasn't.  . . .  When I wasn't burning out my eyes on the computer, I was lying in bed, reading.  I was going through the third Raymond Chandler phase of my adulthood.  Read all his books in 1988, then 1999, and now 2007.  Some people re-read Proust or Thomas Mann and improve themselves.  Not me.
--From "Bored to Death," fiction by Jonathan Ames, pp. 361-386 (and his note on the story, pp. 359-360).

Bucks returned to Kenya in short order.  He met a barmaid who became pregnant and left with him for Uganda, where they were soon estranged.  For a while afterward he moved between that country and Kenya, once again attracting scrutiny for exporting protected snakes: his new specialties were Bitis worthingtoni and Bitis parviocula, highland adders from Kenya and Ethiopia.  On New Year's Eve 2005, Bucks was arrested and thrown into a Kenyan jail.  The official charge was something about illegal frogs in one of his terrariums, but Kenya now had a long list of grievances against him, as did Uganda and Ethiopia.  
--From "Benjamin Bucks," nonfiction by Jennie Erin Smith, pp. 457-475.

I first met the Polack when she worked at Fort Worth Gold.  This was before I learned the jewelry business myself and joined [my brother] Baron.  I was only a customer when I met her, buying a stainless-steel Cartier for an institutional client of mine.  It was almost Christmas, and the sales floor stood ten deep with buyers.  It was the fat time.
--From "How to Sell," fiction by Clancy Martin, pp. 543-558.

Mama taught me better.  She could give me a glare that brought me to my knees when she heard me talk about anyone without respect--especially Mabiordit.  It was Mabiordit who had sheltered us when we came to Juba looking for Jal e Jal and ended up stranded, with nothing in Mama's purse but twenty pounds and a battered Nokia mobile that could receive calls but not make them.  
--From "The Bastard," fiction by Nyuol Lueth Tong, pp. 589-602.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Two poems, short fiction, and a novel

When the men arrived, finally, to haul the big table away, 
I ran my hand down the battered length of it, as if along
the flank of some exhausted workhorse, overcome
by a sudden rush of absurd remorse.
--From "Esposito & Son," a poem by Anna Scotti, The New Yorker (November 28, 2016), p. 38.

Before leaving, he explained his plan to the maid and the cook.  Buenos Aires is falling apart; I'm going to the ranch, he said.  They talked for hours, sitting at the kitchen table.  The cook had been to the ranch as often as Pereda, who had always said that the country was no place for a man like him, a cultivated family man, who wanted to make sure that his children got a good education.  His mental images of the ranch had blurred and faded, leaving only a house with a hole in the middle, an enormous, threatening tree, and a barn flickering with shadows that might have been rats.  Nevertheless, that night, as he drank tea in the kitchen, he told his employees that he had hardly any money left to pay them (it was all frozen in the bank--in other words, as good as lost) and the only solution he had come up with was to take them to the country, where at least they wouldn't be short of food, or so he hoped.  
--From "The Insufferable Gaucho," a short story by Roberto BolaƱo, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews, published in The New Yorker (October 1, 2007) and in the short story collection The Insufferable Gaucho (New Directions, 2010), pp. 9-41.

In 1954 he began to train with the Ama, Japanese women diving in the tradition of their mothers and grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers, "sea women" seeking fish and pearls in the depths of the Pacific.  
--From "Sine of the Sea" (parts I-IV), fiction by Clare Boerigter, First Class Literary Magazine, November 28-December 2016.  A link at the bottom of the page will lead to the next segment.

I had been driving for less than an hour when I began to feel ill.  The burning in my side came back, but at first I decided not to give it any importance.  I became worried only when I realized that I no longer had the strength to hold onto the steering wheel.  In the space of a few minutes my head became heavy, the headlights grew dimmer; soon I even forgot that I was driving.  I had the impression, rather, of being at the sea, in the middle of the day.  
--From The Lost Daughter, a novel by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2008).

It it what it is; heart packed in cotton balls and stored
for winter, or like clothes that no longer fit but still might.  
--From "Ouroboros," a poem by Sonya Vatomsky, first published in Menacing Hedge (Spring 2015) and reprinted in her chapbook My Heart in Aspic (Porkbelly Press, 2015).  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"Dirt" by Etgar Keret and other fiction

One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.  He did it while we were clearing the table; the children were quarreling as usual in the next room, the dog was dreaming, growling beside the radiator.  He told me that he was confused, that he was having terrible moments of weariness, of dissatisfaction, perhaps of cowardice.  He talked for a long time about our fifteen years of marriage, about the children, and admitted that he had nothing to reproach us with, neither them nor me.  He was composed, as always, apart from an extravagant gesture of his right hand when he explained to me, with a childish frown, that soft voices, a sort of whispering, were urging him elsewhere.  Then he assumed the blame for everything that was happening and closed the front door carefully behind him, leaving me turned to stone beside the sink.  
--From The Days of Abandonment, a novel by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2005).  First published, as I giorni dell'abbandono, by Edizioni e/o in 2002.

Darrell had a face like a crumpled pack of cigarettes.  It was hard to believe he was only fourteen.  Every morning we had to stand in the hallway watching the kids walk into our classes because it was supposed to show them we were welcoming.  Darrell walked too fast and leaned too far forward when he walked, as if he was about to give someone a piece of his mind.  
--From "Fire," a short story by Krys Belc, Reservoir, Issue II (August 2016).

My father never even asks for a name.  He pulls up, I walk to the car, afraid the whole time it isn't really him, isn't really his car, and I open the door and I close it and I sit down and cross my legs and uncross them and cross my arms instead and say Hello and that's all he says back, Hello.  
--From "My Father Never," a short story by Krys Belc, Reservoir, Issue II (August 2016).

Benny Brokerage had been waiting for them in the doorway for almost half an hour, and when they arrived he tried to act as if it didn't make him mad.  "It's all her fault," the older man said, sniggering, and held out his hand for a firm, no-nonsense shake.  "Don't believe Butchie," the peroxide urged him.  She looked at least fifteen years younger than her man.  "We got here earlier, except we couldn't find any parking.  And Benny Brokerage gave her his foxy smile, like he really gave a shit why she and Butchie were late.  
--From "Eight Percent of Nothing," a short story by Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger, published in The Nimrod Flipout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 43-47.  The story was featured in episode 285 of This American Life (Know Your Enemy, March 25, 2005).

Listen, a true story.  About three months ago a woman about thirty-two years old met her death in a suicide bomb attack near a bus stop.  She wasn't the only one who met her death, lots of others did too.  But this story is about her. 
--From "Surprise Egg," a short story by Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger, published in The Nimrod Flipout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 55-58.

So let's say I'm dead now, or I open a self-service laundromat, the first one in Israel.  
--From "Dirt," a short story by Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston, published in The Nimrod Flipout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 59-60.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Fall 2016 issue of the Apple Valley Review

The Fall 2016 issue of the Apple Valley Review features short fiction by Arndt Britschgi, Robert Radin, and Karl Harshbarger; prose poetry by James Cihlar and Julie Brooks Barbour; poetry by JJ Penna, Donna Pucciani, Ellen Saunders, Pat Hanahoe-Dosch, Gail Hanlon, Lisa Zimmerman, Chris Anderson, and Adam Ortiz; and a cover photograph from Finland by Kotivalo.

The Apple Valley Review is a semiannual online literary journal.  The current issue, previous issues, subscription information, and complete submission guidelines are available at

Friday, September 9, 2016

My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante) and two poems

My friendship with Lila began the day we decided to go up the dark stairs that led, step after step, flight after flight, to the door of Don Achille's apartment.  I remember the violet light of the courtyard, the smells of a warm spring evening.  The mothers were making dinner, it was time to go home, but we delayed, challenging each other, without ever saying a word, testing our courage.  For some time, in school and outside of it, that was what we had been doing.  Lila would thrust her hand and then her whole arm into the black mouth of a manhole, and I, in turn, immediately did the same, my heart pounding, hoping that the cockroaches wouldn't run over my skin, that the rats wouldn't bite me.
--From My Brilliant Friend, a novel by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2012).  This is the first in a series of four books referred to as the Neapolitan Novels or the Neapolitan Quartet.  Book One is My Brilliant Friend, Book Two is The Story of a New Name, Book Three is Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and Book Four is The Story of the Lost Child.  I was mesmerized by these, but please note that they contain numerous descriptions of interpersonal violence.  (The scenes are not gratuitous or unnecessarily graphic, but they can be quite brutal.  Violence itself is one of the many topics of the books.)      

In my other life the B-17 my father is piloting 
Is shot down over Normandy
And my mother raises her sons alone . . . 
--From "Two Lives," a poem by Carl Dennis, The New Yorker (April 18, 2016), pp. 66-67.

at length: the moon opens

a blank after the all-night
          crying.  Early morning, inexplicable

hush.  The toy endlessly chiming in the attic . . . 
--From an excerpt from Substantial (a love letter), poetry by Gina Franco, West Branch Wired (Winter 2016).

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Suddenly, A Knock on the Door

These are from Suddenly, A Knock on the Door: Stories by Etgar Keret, translated into English by Miriam Shlesinger, Sondra Silverston, and Nathan Englander and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2012.  The collection was originally published in Hebrew as Pit'om Defikah Ba-Delet by Zmora-Bitan in 2010.

Two people were standing at the door.  A second lieutenant wearing a knitted yarmulke, and behind him, a thin officer with sparse, light-colored hair and captain's bars on her shoulders.  Orit waited a minute, and when she saw that they still weren't saying anything, she asked if she could help them.  "Druckman," the captain tossed the word, part command, part reprimand, at the soldier.  "It's about your husband," the religious soldier mumbled at Orit.  "Can we come in?"  Orit smiled and said that this must be some kind of mistake because she wasn't married.
--From "Simyon" by Etgar Keret, pp. 25-30, translated by Sondra Silverston.

I know a guy who fantasizes all the time.  I mean, this guy even walks down the street with his eyes shut.  One day, I'm sitting in the passenger seat of his car and I look over to the left and see him with both his hands on the wheel and his eyes shut.  No kidding, he was driving like that on a main street. 
--From "Shut" by Etgar Keret,  pp. 31-33, translated by Sondra Silverston.

Then one Thursday a fat, sweaty guy walked into the cafe and smiled at him.  Miron was caught off guard.  The last person to give him a smile was Maayan, just before she left him, five months earlier, and her smile had been unmistakably sarcastic, whereas this one was soft, almost apologetic.  The fat guy gestured something, apparently a signal that he'd like to sit down, and Miron nodded almost without thinking. 
--From "Healthy Start" by Etgar Keret, pp. 34-39, translated by Miriam Shlesinger.  "Healthy Start" is available online in Tin House

The man who knew what I was about to say sat next to me on the plane, a stupid smile plastered across his face.  That's what was so nerve-racking about him, the fact that he wasn't smart or even sensitive, and yet he knew the lines and managed to say them--all the lines I meant to say--three seconds before me.  "D'you sell Guerlain Mystique?" he asked the flight attendant a minute before I could, and she gave him an orthodontic smile and said there was just one last bottle left.
--From "Mystique"by Etgar Keret, pp. 58-59, translated by Miriam Shlesinger.

The first story Maya wrote was about a world in which people split themselves in two instead of reproducing.  
--From "Creative Writing" by Etgar Keret, pp. 60-65, translated by Sondra Silverston.

When the new great depression began, NW was hardest hit.  Its merchandise was meant for the affluent class, but after the Chicago riots, even the wealthy stopped ordering, some of them because of the unstable economic situation, but most of them because they just couldn't face their neighbors.
--From "September All Year Long" by Etgar Keret, pp. 142-145, translated by Sondra Silverston.

There are conversations that can change a person's life. 
--From "Joseph" by Etgar Keret, pp. 146-148, translated by Sondra Silverston.

There's a theory that says there are billions of other universes, parallel to the one we live in, and that each of them is slightly different.  There are the ones where you were never born, and the ones where you wouldn't want to be born.  
--"Parallel Universes" by Etgar Keret, pp. 153-154, translated by Miriam Shlesinger.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Short fiction by Haruki Murakami

A mother and her son, Americans, were staying in the unit next door to my wife and me.  They seemed to have settled in long before we arrived.  The mother was around sixty, the son close to our age, twenty-eight or twenty-nine.  They resembled each other more than any mother and son I'd ever seen--both with identical long, narrow faces, broad foreheads, tightly set lips.  The mother was tall, her posture erect, her movements always alert and brisk.  The son seemed tall, too, but you really couldn't say for sure, as he was confined to a wheelchair.  Invariably, his mother was behind him, pushing the chair.  
--From "Hunting Knife," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 84-99.  First published in The New Yorker (November 17, 2003).

Taking the occasional sip of bitter coffee, I slowly read the article.  I'd read a few lines to myself, mull over how to put it into Japanese, then translate aloud.  A few bees popped up from somewhere to lick the jam that a previous customer had spilled on the table.  They spent a moment lapping it up, then, as if suddenly remembering something, flew into the air with a ceremonious buzz, circled the table a couple of times, and then--again as if something had jogged their memory--settled once more on the tabletop.  After I had finished reading the whole article, Izumi sat there, unmoving, elbows resting on the table.  She tented the tips of the fingers of her right hand with the tips of her fingers of her left.  
--From "Man-Eating Cats," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 112-130.  First published in The New Yorker (December 4, 2000).    

Every morning, [my roommate] was up at six on the dot, the national anthem his alarm clock.  So I guess the flag-raising wasn't a complete waste.  He dressed and went to wash up, taking an incredibly long time to finish.  Made me wonder sometimes if he wasn't taking each tooth out and brushing them individually.  Back in the room he smoothed out his towel, hung it on a hanger, and put his toothbrush and soap back on the shelf.  Then he'd switch on the radio and start exercising to the morning exercise program.  
        I was pretty much a night owl, and a heavy sleeper, so when he started up I was usually dead to the world.  When he got to the part where he began to leap up and down, I'd bolt out of bed.  Every time he jumped up--and believe me he jumped really high--my head would bounce three inches off the pillow.  Try sleeping through that.  
        "I'm really sorry," I said on the fourth day of this, "but I wonder if you could do your exercises on the roof or something.  It wakes me up."
        "I can't," he replied.  "If I do it there, the people on the third floor will complain.  This is the first floor, so there isn't anyone below us." 
        "Well, how about doing it in the courtyard?"
        "No way.  I don't have a transistor radio so I wouldn't be able to hear the music.  You can't expect me to do my exercises without music." 
        His radio was the kind you had to plug in.  I could have lent him my transistor, but it only picked up FM stations.
        "Well, at least could you turn the music down and stop jumping?  The whole room shakes.  I don't want to complain or anything, but . . ."
        "Jumping?"  He seemed surprised.  "What do you mean, j-jumping?"  
        "You know, that part where you bounce up and down."
        "What are you talking about?"
        I could feel a headache coming on.  
--From "Firefly," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 226-248.  First published in the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Vintage, 2012).    

Junpei left the house at eighteen when he went to college in Tokyo, and he became involved with several women, one of whom "had real meaning" for him.  He knew this with absolute certainty at the time, and he is just as certain of it now.  Before he could express his feelings in concrete form, however (by nature, it took him longer than most people to put things into concrete form), she married his best friend, and since then she has become a mother.  For the time being, therefore, she had to be eliminated from the list of possibilities that life had to offer Junpei.  He had to harden his heart and sweep her from his mind, as a result of which the number of women remaining who could have "real meaning" in his life--if he was going to accept his father's theory at face value--was reduced to two.  
--From "The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day," a short story by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin, published in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: 24 Stories (Vintage, 2007), pp. 312-332.  First published in The New Yorker (September 26, 2005).