Tag Archives: Short Stories

Short Stories, Big Impact in Whiskey, Etc.

Flash fiction. It’s really, really, really short fiction. Shorter than this blog post, in many cases.

There’s a famous Mark Twain quote that goes, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Mark Twain agrees. Flash fiction is hard to write. How do you tell a compelling, meaningful, and impactful story in 200, 500 or even 1,000 words?

whiskeyetc

Local author Sherrie Flick has the answer in her new collection, Whiskey, Etc. At 207 pages, the collection contains 57 short short stories, most of them between one and three pages long. Some are only a paragraph, and some stretch to five or so pages. All of them will make you feel as if you are holding a small, intricately detailed world in the palm of your hand.

Flick has grouped the stories into categories: Songs, Pets, Dessert, Art, Soap, Whiskey, etc. (Get it?) These aren’t dogmatic categories, but more like loose grouping of themes and objects. Within the categories, the stories range from funny to devastating. The tone throughout is muted and quiet, but it feels like something will happen next, even if it isn’t written down.

In my opinion, the ending makes or breaks the story. And Flick nails the ending every time. Instead of closing the story, her endings open that world up to possibility and the future:

As she sets her glass on the coaster and stands, she rubs the faint curl of a red mark the glass has made on her forehead. When the steady pounding begins at her door, she swings it open wide to see what has come. (84)

The characters in these stories handle—or don’t—complex emotions. Love is not a simple yes or no, it’s a yes, but. Often, it’s not love at all, but lust or fear wrapped in satin. Revenge is not an overt or epic action, but a series of small betrayals and denials.

Details hold these miniature worlds together: “the sound of a glass bottle shattering in an alleyway, a muffled yell” (15), “moonlight spills onto the lake like tomato juice” (146), “You drive toward Wyoming with a lump in your throat, with a Tic Tac in your mouth, with a flask in your glove compartment” (160).

These small descriptions create both a physical world within the story and a lens through which to view the characters. Every word is precise and chosen with care. They echo throughout the story, creating ripples and rip tides of meaning and feeling.

Time becomes liquid in many of the stories–reaching out to the past or the future, as in “Sweet Thang,” a story about a breakup:

So lovely that I remember for the last time the first time I saw him, walking across the lawn at Suzy’s infamous BBQ. Walking so fluidly, like he could be, would be, a man in love with me some day. (5)

And in “Anna,” a story about a woman with a double life:

Long nights ooze into one another like stiff, black ink bringing thoughts about her future and how many books she hasn’t read, recipes she hasn’t tried, and friends she no longer calls. (78)

The elasticity of time is one of my favorite aspects of Whiskey, Etc., and flash fiction in general. Because space is so short, there’s no room for a traditional narrative that follows the inverted check mark you learned about in English class. Everything must be condensed, contained, and encapsulated—but not stifled or suffocated.

Doing that is the real trick, and Flick does it with ease.

Join us at CLP – Main on August 6 for an evening with the author, and while you’re waiting, dive into the miniature worlds of Whiskey, Etc.

-Kelly

P.S.: Full disclosure: I know Sherrie Flick personally, but she did not ask me to write this review. I truly love this book.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Stay Out of Trouble? Never!

When someone tells me to stay out of trouble, I invariably respond with, “Never.”

Well-behaved women seldom make history, after all.

getintroubleAnd that is one of the many reasons why I love Kelly Link’s newest short story collection, Get in Trouble.

These nine stories are fantastically dark and brooding, but not so dark as to leave you utterly depressed at their end. They touch on death, suicide, betrayal, secrets kept and secrets revealed, creepy trends, the afterlife, and more.

My favorite story from the collections is the first one, “The Summer People” (which you can read online at The Wallstreet Journal for free!). It begins as one thing and transforms into another, and I love the way Link leads the reader from grounded reality to an otherworldly fantastical place.

Some short story collections feel scattered or uneven, but this one never misses a step. Once you’re thrown off balance by the unreality and harshness of that first story, Link keeps you unsettled through the rest of the collection, hardly giving you room to breathe. Her prose is fantastical but solid–you know there’s more bubbling under the surface, even if you can only glimpse it.

The characters are all complex, flawed, and relatable. They don’t always behave well (you can guess that from the title), but you can’t help but relate to them anyway (And who behaves well all the time, anyway?).

One of the subtler themes in this book is that of longing and belonging. Many of the characters want something that they cannot have, or can only have at someone else’s expense. Some of them appear to belong to a group, but feel isolated and alone. Watching them all work through their problems, sometimes to a tragic conclusion, is riveting and heartbreaking.

For the audiobook, each story has a different narrator; a common practice for audiobooks of short story collections. Generally, there’s at least one narrator I can’t stand (it was hard for me to get through Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes because one of the narrators irritated me so much, and of course that one read multiple stories), but there wasn’t a bad one in this bunch.

Like the stories, the narrators feel as if they go together. There’s no discord or disharmony in their reading–each one fits the story he or she reads, and they sound good next to each other.

If you like authors like Karen Russell, Haruki Murakami, Jorge Luis Borges, and/or Aimee Bender, give Kelly Link a try.

Request Get in Trouble in print, as an eBook, as an audiobook, or as an eAudiobook.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

New in SF/F: Sisters, Storms, and Song

Everything’s coming up sci-fi and fantasy on my reading list these days. Whenever I get frustrated with the world as it is, it cheers me up to spend time in the company of authors dedicated to imagining the world as it could be…or, arguably, should be.

Here are a few of the many fantastic–in multiple senses of the word–reads I’ve picked up from the Library this week.

Sisters of the RevolutionAnn and Jeff VanderMeer, eds.

The VanderMeers have a long track record of publishing excellent SF/F anthologies, and Sisters is no exception. This crowdfunded collection describes itself as Sisters of the Revolution. Click on image to reserve a library copy.“feminist speculative fiction,” and as such will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Octavia’s Brood or The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women. You might also want to try these stories on for size if you’re not sure about sci-fi, but are definitely interested in race, class, gender, motherhood, or any of feminism’s other concerns, and want to see how the genre handles them.

The collection is a healthy mix of material from the 1970s/80s and today, and includes work by Nnedi Okorafor, Angela Carter, Hiromi Goto, and James Tiptree Jr. (a/k/a Alice B. Sheldon). At least one reviewer has described the collection’s older stories as “cringe-worthy” in terms of expressing outdated attitudes. While keeping that in mind, it’s also possible to read the stories critically, with an eye to where women’s SF/F has been, and where it’s going. Available in print only (which is kind of ironic, but that’s the future for you).

Loosed Upon the World, John Joseph Adams, ed.

With a title drawn from W.B. Yeats’s famous poem “The Second Coming,” you know this anthology is going to be literally earthshaking. Adams delivers a a solid collection in the Loosed Upon the Worldrelatively new subgenre of climate fiction (Cli-fi, for short) featuring tales of environmental woe from Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Seanan McGuire, and other contemporary luminaries. Though the premise behind the stories is pretty clear-cut–we broke the planet and now we must pay–the variety in the execution makes this collection seem like a bouquet of poisoned flowers: gorgeous, but deadly.

Cli-fi makes no bones about having an agenda, and the stories in this volume–published by Simon & Schuster’s SAGA imprint–point the finger at excessive consumerism, ignorance, and flawed public policy (among other things) as the reason for environmental catastrophe. Long on cautionary tale and short on solutions, this is a great read for passionate environmentalists, their skeptical opponents, and anyone who enjoys a good disaster flick.  I’d suggest pacing yourself, though: you’re reading fiction here, not watching the news. At least, not yet.

Last Song Before Night, Ilana C. Myer

Lin is an incredibly gifted musician in a world where women are forbidden to sing or play. Once upon a time she had another name, but she fled her family and her fate to follow her musical destiny. Once upon a far more distant time, Lin’s world was filled with magic, and musicians and poets could work wonders far beyond simply entertaining the masses. A terrible plague, unleashed by the quest for dark magic, put an end to all that. But now somebody’s trying to work dark magic again, which means Lin must venture to the Last Song Before Night - click URL to order from libraryOtherworld to bring back their ancient musical powers and save their culture…if she can.

Myer delivers high fantasy at its best, creating a world in which artistic skill and political savvy are equally valued (and having both certainly doesn’t hurt). Lin is a dauntless heroine who is willing to suffer an awful lot for a world that doesn’t appreciate her properly in the first place, if only because dark magic loosed upon the world would be an even more unpleasant alternative. Lin isn’t even sure the object of her quest, a legendary silver branch, actually exists; all she has is her teacher’s word. That’s still enough to send her and some of her fellow poets (think “frenemies”)off to seek it. It’s sort of like the Orpheus myth in reverse, except Eurydice might be a myth. While we’re gender-swapping things, don’t think the menfolk won’t learn a lesson or two about denying women their musical, magical birthright. Good stuff for folks who like their fantasy fiction with both melody and conscience.

It’s hard to keep up with the really avid SF/F fans and their serious reading addictions, but I’ll never stop trying. Where are my genre warriors and social justice mages? Sound off in the comments section if you’ve read any of these books, plan to read them, or have other suggestions you think the rest of the blog audience would enjoy.

–Leigh Anne

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Short Stories for Long Nights

Reading in bed is one of my favorite pleasures in life — made more enjoyable when the nights get colder, as has been the case recently here in Pittsburgh.  (Yesterday it snowed in some parts ’round here, and last night the temperature went down to 28 degrees!) In my mind, there is nothing better than being under the covers and spending time with a good book right before falling asleep … assuming, of course, that I don’t actually fall asleep before turning the first page.

Lately, I’ve taken to reading a short story before bedtime. This works out well because I seem to always have a short story collection on my nightstand.

Here are a few that are keeping me company on these cooler nights.

A Manual for Cleaning WomenA Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories has been getting quite a bit of buzz from the literary community, partly because this is a posthumous collection from Lucia Berlin, who was somewhat unknown as a writer during her lifetime. So far, the buzz is deserved, as these are very, very short stories that pack a punch.  Of the handful that I’ve read thus far, “Dr. H.A. Moynihan” was enough to keep me awake for the rest of the night.

Wonderful Town

Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker is one of those books that I’ve “always been meaning to” check out someday.  These are very New York-centric stories, giving the reader a flavor for The Big Apple. The audiobook version, which I listened to several months ago, is an abridged version of this collection.

John Cheever(OK, technically this one isn’t a bedtime book for me — I listened to it in the car — but most of these stories are set in so-called bedroom communities, so it counts for this post.) I spotted The John Cheever Audio Collection on the shelf recently and decided to try his stories.  This is where I confess that I’ve never read any John Cheever, which is something I think I should have done by now. Someone who loves short stories as much as I do really should have some familiarity with Cheever.

The narration is key to this collection of 12 stories. Meryl Streep is brilliant on “The Enormous Radio” (how could she not be?), but that doesn’t take away from this being one of the best stories in the bunch. “The Five Thirty Eight” is another great offering. These stories evoke another time — a simpler world — which is why I’m enjoying them.

I’m always on the lookout for great short stories to read, either before bed or any other time.  What have you enjoyed recently that you would recommend?

-Melissa F.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Three Absurdist Short Story Collections

One of my favorite sections at the Main Library is the short story collection on First Floor. Every time I have occasion to walk back to the stacks that way, I linger (just for a minute!) over the books the wonderful First Floor librarians have put on display.

And let me tell you, they put some awesome books on display.

Recently I’ve discovered three absurdist / fabulist collections by new-ish writers that I absolutely loved. If you want to laugh, cry, shoot your breakfast cereal out through your nose or just enjoy a delightful story, I recommend checking out all three (or if you wanted to be conservative you could start with one, I guess, but don’t ask me to rank them).

grayAmelia Gray’s Museum of the Weird: This collection delivers on the title’s promise in a big way. The front cover features the weird objects from each story, illustrated and placed on pedestals with name tags, like something you’d find in a real-life museum: Plate of Hair. Armadillo With Miller High Life. Javelina Eating Sunflower Seeds. Human Tongue Sauteed in Buttermilk. The stories themselves plumb the depths of humanity in an off-kilter way. They often end short of a satisfying conclusion (what happened to the woman with a bezoar in her throat?!), and leave you with an unsettled feeling.

When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen FoundsWhen Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds: Founds’ debut collection reads almost like a novel instead of a collection, except that each story can stand on its own. Taken all together, though, the book becomes a powerful meditation on mental illness, education and the joys and trials of love. The stories mainly follow an English teacher and several of her students, and take the form of school assignments, email exchanges, diary entries and more. About two-thirds of the way through the book, it gets rather dark, but the ending redeems it.

cohenThe Hypothetical Girl by Elizabeth Cohen: Cohen tackles the bizarre world of online dating in this hefty collection of flash and short fiction. Cohen’s made-up dating site names alone are worth the read. Marryme.com, loveforreals.com and flirtypants.com appear on the second page, and the names get funnier as the book progresses. Some of the stories feature fantastical elements, like a mother who can literally remove her heart from her chest, but most compellingly highlight the strange things people do when they’re in love, think they’re in love or really want to be in love in a way that’s only a little bit exaggerated.

What’s your favorite absurd, bizarre or fabulist book?

-Kelly

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sharp Short Stories

Short story collections are a great way to get to know an author, and reading them is a win-win situation: if you enjoy the tales, you can see what else s/he’s written; if you don’t care for them, you haven’t wasted a lot of precious reading time. Short story collections are also a treat for people who already love an author, and are pining away for her/his next novel.

There have been a number of really solid short story collections released this year. Here are three that pair nicely with the cold, dark winter ahead of us.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Mantel. Quiet people leading Mantelquiet lives that suddenly take turns for the uncomfortable, supernatural, or just plain deadly are the meat and potatoes of this collection. They’re all outstanding, but my favorites were “Harley Street,” which, up to the very end, pretends to be one kind of story and then suddenly turns into another; “The Heart Fails Without Warning,” which reads like an homage to Kate Chopin‘s “The Story of an Hour”; and “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher,” which plays fast and loose with English history. Available in print, audio book, eBook, and eAudio.

AtwoodStone MattressMargaret Atwood. Atwood can do terrible just as nicely as Mantel can. However, her terrible tends to have spots of sweetness, melancholy, or other gentler emotions mixed in as well. This tone is set with the fantastical “Alphinland,” which is then followed by two stories that occur in the same universe to the same characters, forming a lovely little world I would’ve liked to see more of. Other highlights include “The Freeze-Dried Groom” (not a metaphor) and “Torching the Dusties,” in which an elderly woman with Charles Bonnet syndrome must flee an attack on her assisted living facility (uncomfortably plausible) with the help of a fellow resident. Available in print, eBook, eAudio, and Playaway.

Spoiled Brats, Simon Rich. Rich sticks it to the clueless and the entitled with this richwickedly funny collection of tales, narrated mostly by characters who have no idea how clueless and entitled they are. Rich doesn’t let himself off the hook, either: two of the stories feature a character named Simon Rich who is unpleasant as all get out (one of those tales, “Animals,” is narrated by a classroom’s pet hamster). Other highlights include “Gifted,” which satirizes privileged, pushy parenting, and “Elf on the Shelf” (’tis the season, after all). Available in print only.

Dark fiction for dark nights, in easy-to-read bites!  Are you a fan of the short story form? Who are your favorite authors? Read any good collections lately?

–Leigh Anne

 

 

13 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

7 More Ways to Get Sher-LOCKED

If you are patiently–or not-so-patiently–waiting for the next season of the BBC’s Sherlock, consider this:  a keyword search for “Sherlock Holmes” brings back over 900 results in the Library catalog, while a subject search for Holmes, Sherlock (no quotation marks needed) nets you another 600+ results. This means you have plenty of material to obsess over focus on during the show’s hiatus (that is, when you’re not on Tumblr reblogging otters who look like Benedict Cumberbatch).

Original meme by Red Scharlach. Image reposted at RadioTimes.

Original meme by Red Scharlach. Image reposted at RadioTimes.

Given the large number of written pastiches, plus the fact that the character of Sherlock Holmes has appeared in television and film more than anyone else except Dracula, this shouldn’t surprise you at all. You may, however, find yourself overwhelmed by your good fortune: where, with so many adventures to choose from, should you start?

Here are seven suggested points of entry*, in various formats:

1. Sounds familiar…

To bridge the classic and contemporary fandoms, you might want to try the audio book Sherlock1The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories. Author John Taylor uses the conceit of a locked cedar chest that contains Watson’s notes on cases that, for various reasons, were never made public. These tales, which feature the science of ballistics, stolen goods, and a baffling murder, stack up favorably with Amazon reviewers. But, of course, with audio books, it’s the narrator that makes or breaks the story…and our narrator, in this case, is none other than Otterface Whatsisname. Try not to break your fingers while making the catalog reservation, okay?

2. Across the pond

sherlock2American versions don’t always ruin everything. Exhibit A: Watson and Holmes vol. 1: A Study in BlackJon Watson’s internship at Convent Emergency Center in Harlem gets a lot more interesting when the mysterious S. Holmes shows up shortly after the victim of a vicious beating is brought in. Intrigued by what he learns from Holmes, Watson tags along on what seems, at first, to be a simple kidnapping case, then blossoms into a far more sinister conspiracy. A gorgeous color palette of blacks, browns, and purples (with some luscious golds and icy blues for contrast) enriches a comic that is incredibly faithful to Conan Doyle’s vision (Irregulars, fetching haberdashery, and all).

3. Media Studies 101

Rather than start a knock-down, drag-out argument over which actor made the finest manyfacesSherlock**, make the time to familiarize yourself with The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes. This documentary covers eighty-five years of stage, film, television, and radio portrayals of the master detective, and is narrated by Dracula Saruman Sir Christopher Lee. At a run time of only 48 minutes, you can have yourself up to speed on the topic in the space of a lunch hour. And because you can download the film to your portable device, you can still have lunch outside, if you like.

4. Worth the wait…

company holmesLaurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger–two authors you can trust on this topic–invited a group of well-known contemporary authors to write new stories inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work. The result, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, is definitely worth putting yourself on the waiting list for it. Contributors include Michael Connelly, Cornelia Funke, Jeffrey Deaver, Sara Paretsky, and Harlan Ellison, so you know King and Klinger took this project very, very seriously. Tied together with a terrific introduction, and the promise of a second volume to come, this short story collection should be on your don’t-miss list.

5. Three pipe problems

If your vocabulary organically includes terms like “heteronormative,” “deconstruction,” or21st century holmes “paradigms,” you will most likely enjoy Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century, a fascinating bundle of scholarly essays. Contributing editor Lynette Porter has assembled a collection of work that examines the relationship between a broad spectrum of cultural themes (which include sexuality, fandom, information literacy, and tourism) and the recent Holmes canon. The connections the authors draw between present and past iterations of the consulting detective make for a fascinating look at how, in each generation, we create the Sherlock we need, want, and–perhaps–deserve.

6. Get ’em while they’re young…

death cloudYA readers keen on historical fiction might enjoy Death Cloud, the first in a series of teenage Sherlock Holmes mysteries authorized by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle. If you can imagine the highly functioning sociopath as a bored, bright youngster on holiday, the concept isn’t at all far-fetched. While staying with relatives over the summer, young Sherlock makes a friend, confounds his tutor,  and encounters a mysterious cloud that’s followed by a series of puzzling deaths. Obviously somebody has to investigate, and who better than Holmes? Fun historical fiction that functions as a gateway to the real deal.

7. And, inevitably, tea

While visiting the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, Julia Carlson Rosenblatt and her dininghusband got the idea for a dinner showcasing food from Conan Doyle’s era. That dinner, held on June 2, 1973, paved the way for Dining With Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook. The foodies in the fandom will appreciate this Herculean effort, which is clearly a labor of love by people who did their homework (with the help of the Culinary Institute of America). Every recipe is either tied to a direct quote from the original canon, or its inspiration is thoroughly explained. If you’re thinking about having a Sherlock party, and really want to take it over the top, you’ll want this cookbook in your hands…though a healthy dose of kitchen proficiency is definitely a pre-requisite.

That’s a lot of Sherlock, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Do you have a favorite Holmes, or Holmes-inspired book/film? Tell us about it in the comments section!

–Leigh Anne, whose own gateway drug was Young Sherlock Holmes.

*I’m assuming, of course, that you’re already well-versed in the Conan Doyle canon. If you’re not, what are you waiting for? Go get those books!

**Even though the answer is clearly Basil Rathbone.

 

11 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized