Short stories? Whaaaaat?

Yes.  What?  I’ve read a few collections of short stories.  Notice, though, I said a few.  I don’t think I have really read or studied short stories since The Lottery or The Most Dangerous Game from Freshmen year in High School.  In fact, the collection I’m reading is The Best American Short Stories from 2008.. and I only have this collection because it was a gift from the English department of the college I attended as an undergrad.  I don’t know why I don’t read short stories.. I don’t think anyone knows why they don’t read short stories.. maybe because people walk into a book store not the short story store.  Unless a collection is published like above, you won’t find these short stories on shelves.  You can only find these works in literary journals or magazines… or, if you’re adventurous and don’t care whether the author has been approved by publishers, various websites on the internet (maybe even WordPress.com hmmm).  Anyway, who cares, right?  Except… short stories can be very interesting.  I recall reading The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe in middle school.  Choosing the most important aspects of a story, intricately weaving a theme or two into a smaller amount of print, etc… Edgar Allen Poe wrote a masterpiece.  Shirley Jackson and Richard Connell wrote masterpieces.  I don’t think this is true because my English teacher told me so.. nor because the rest of the world says so.  I think this is true because these stories immediately grab your attention, keeps your attention, and the story ends in an appropriate way relative to the message delivered.  There are SO many books that cannot do any of these..

This post is the first of a series of posts where I’ll kind of discuss the short stories within The Best American Short Stories from 2008.  

The first story is called Admiral, by T.C. Boyle.  The story is about a girl, Nisha, and her life after college.  She obtains a job as a dog-sitter.. sitting for the same people and for an almost-the-same dog from before college.  The story’s title is the name of the dog.  This dog has a little back story.  He’s an Afghan… but he’s also a clone O.o

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The Admiral Nisha took care of while in High School was hit by a car.  The Strikers (Admiral’s owners) are rich, and do as rich people do… they pour their love and affection, i.e. money, into Admiral, i.e. obsess over him.  When he dies, they decide that they will clone him.  However, to get the same dog they had before, the Strikers hire Nisha to recreate four of the years the first Admiral is alive.  

It is obvious that Nisha isn’t happy with this arrangement, despite the pay and benefits.  But who would be happy?  No college graduate, that’s for sure.  Every kid that goes to college believes that it is his/her way out… to get away from home, to get a degree which will lead to the job of his/her dreams.  But this doesn’t happen for everyone… and Nisha is one of those college graduates whose hopes are crushed and wind up back at home working the same dead-end job she worked in High School..  

This short story is long enough to let the readers know that Nisha’s past was ruled by Admiral, her present is about Admiral, and alludes to her future also being about Admiral.  

Man, if I were Nisha, I’d be upset as well.  To go to college on a scholarship and do so well, only to graduate to be treated like a High School student… it’s not at all what one expects.  This is the reason so many students are now going to graduate school.. and why one day a graduate degree will mean as little as a Bachelor’s *shrug*.

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The next story is called The Year of Silence by Kevin Brockmeier.  This one is quite unusual.. seemingly Science Fiction.  The story is based on a city, and narrated by a citizen of this city.  There are periodic unified silences.. literally not a sound for several seconds at a time.  The people of this city become obsessed with the peace that comes out of the silences.  Eventually, the people try to recreate the silence: “we would be reminded of the magnitude of what we were striving for.  How inexcusably flimsy, we realized, was the quiet we had managed to create.”  They try over and over again.  Once they succeed, periodic unified spurts of noise occur, and remind the people of the life they used to have.  With this reminder, the people go back to their old life and end the man-made silence.  

I can’t even tell you what the theme or lesson is for this story.  I’m so confused.  These people want the silence, the feeling of “contentment,” as they call it.  The narrator describes how people began to accomplish more, set goals for themselves and could see their lives clearly, and how they could sleep, and how “the quiet we had generated was so encompassing.”  Then, when the noise returns, “their minds [start] spinning with joy and exhilaration.”  So they were bored with the silence?  Did they feel secluded?  Did they feel lifeless?  Does the chaos they were so eager to be rid of actually breathe the life into them?  

Despite the fact that I’m not sure what is going on, this was a very interesting story and I highly enjoyed the concept.

The last story I will discuss in this post is called Galatea by Karen Brown.  A girl named Margaret living in upstate New York meets a boy named William.  They know each other for a week, and then spend a weekend together.. possibly having sex.  They marry at the end of the weekend… WTF?!  Statistically, marriages like this don’t last very long.  Brown adds another happy couple to that record; when Margaret tells William that it’s unacceptable for the theft of her property, he leaves her and never returns.  No, that’s a lie.  He returns to steal the rest of her stuff.  I think Brown is trying to tell us young women not to marry a man you hardly know.. or maybe we should learn to distinguish the difference between love and the sympathy-lust mixture.

I had to look up the meaning of Galatea, because my knowledge of Greek Mythology is minimal.  Wikipedia (an excellent source; give your 3 dollars!!) states that Acis, the spirit of the Acis river in Sicily, is the lover of Galatea, a sea-nymph.  Galatea means “she who is milk-white”… must be all that time she lets he skin prune in the ocean.  Anyway..  there is another who loves Galatea, the Sicilian Cyclops Polyphemus.  He is jealous, and pulls a braver King David, and kills Acis himself with a boulder.  Galatea then turns Acis’s blood into a Sicilian river, called Acis.  

The link between this story and that of Margaret is the temporary tragic love these women share with the respective men in the stories.  Both William and Margaret are lonely, searching souls.  They connect, and thus create “the illusion of the warmth we wanted.”  This is all it is though, an illusion. Margaret makes note: “how easily I could be abandoned”… and all William did was fall asleep.  If this was truly love, she wouldn’t feel abandoned, she would feel comforted.  She’s constantly observing William’s sad eyes, and always reassuring him over and over, when she also needs this reassurance:

“Tell me not to go,” he said.

“Tell me you want to stay,” I told him.

“Ask me to kiss you,” he said.

“Do you want to kiss me?”

Yet, the loneliness shared between them is enough.  The snow outside, covering reality, is enough to push them together.  It’s all enough for William and Margaret to get married.  Even though they both know, that this wasn’t really love:

“Isn’t this being in love?” he said

I told him I didn’t know.

Margaret doesn’t trust William though… they both know it.  And with all good reason!  I mean, he stole from you.  Then you find out that he’s the Collegetown Creeper (a fellow sneaking into girls’ apartments and watching them while they sleep).  WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!  I mean… he creeped on her too.  Unlike the rational girls who threw him out and called the cops, Margaret welcomed him into her bed XD  

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But one never knows what lonely hearts will do…

I’m going to post about every three I read.  Enjoy!

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