Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Fiction by Chris Drangle and Ha Jin, and an essay on DNA editing by Michael Specter

Soleil was on her way to meet Warren for their first date when she ran out of gas.  The engine shuddered on its last fumes, and she looked down the highway at a long stretch of nothing.  She was alone on the road, save for one pair of headlights drawing closer in the rearview.  She put her hazards on, hoping to coast as long as possible, but the vehicle behind her, a black SUV, raced up to her bumper and stayed there.  High beams filled her mirrors.  She braked and pulled halfway onto the shoulder, and still it loomed close.  Teenage girl, no gas, highway at dusk--she felt her vulnerability like a chill in the air.  But as she rolled to a stop, the SUV swerved and accelerated, finally passing her with a snarl of engine rev.  She didn't want to look but did; two men in the cabin stared back, lit red by the instrument panel.  The driver had a dark beard.
--From "Optimistic People," a short story by Chris Drangle, One Story, Issue 224 (December 31, 2016).

When my roommate moved out, I was worried that Mrs. Chen might increase the rent.  I had been paying three hundred dollars a month for half a room.  If my landlady demanded more, I would have to look for another place.  I liked this colonial house.  In front of it stood an immense weeping cherry tree that attracted birds and gave a bucolic impression, though it was already early summer and the blossoming season had passed.  The house was close to downtown Flushing, and you could hear the buzz of traffic on Main Street.  It was also near where I worked, convenient for everything.  Mrs. Chen took up the first floor; my room was upstairs, where three young women also lived.  My former roommate, an apprentice to a carpenter, had left because the three female tenants were prostitutes and often received clients in the house.  To be honest, I didn't feel comfortable about that either, but I had grown used to the women, and especially liked Huong, a twiggy Vietnamese in her early twenties whose parents had migrated to Cholon from China three decades ago, when Saigon fell and the real estate market there became affordable.  Also, I had just arrived in New York and at times found it miserable to be alone.
--From "The House Behind a Weeping Cherry," a short story by Ha Jin, from his collection A Good Fall (Vintage International, 2009), pp. 195-219.  This story originally appeared in The New Yorker (April 7, 2008) and was later included in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009, edited by Laura Furman (Anchor Books, 2009).

Early on an unusually blustery day in June, Kevin Esvelt climbed aboard a ferry at Woods Hole, bound for Nantucket Island.  Esvelt, an assistant professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was on his way to present to local health officials a plan for ridding the island of one of its most persistent problems: Lyme disease.  He had been up for much of the night working on his slides, and the fatigue showed.  
--From "Rewriting the Code of Life," an essay about DNA editing by Michael Specter, The New Yorker (January 2, 2017), pp. 34-43.