No more Short Stories

This is the last post on stories from The Best American Short Stories 2008.  It’s been a fun ride.  I’ve enjoyed some of the stories, and did not enjoy others.  You can’t expect to captivate everyone when you write… otherwise it won’t be quality.  One of the things I enjoyed the most about my adventure with the collection comes in the form of a realization.  Each of these stories could have been expanded into a novel.  There were three-dimensional characters.  There were statements made that could have been explored further.  However, they remain contained in the short story…  The stories I’ve read sometimes captivated me and left me wanting more.  Why leave it as a short story?  Why didn’t a novel come around?  So many things could go wrong with a novel… and the stories may have lost the appeal.  I don’t know the answer… I’ve never written a novel or a short story.  But that would be my guess:  Everything that is worth telling is already told.

Now to the final four.

Quality of Life, by Christine Sneed, is about a young lady, about the age of 26.  She is in a dysfunctional relationship with a wealthy man who takes care of her every need.  I know what you are thinking.  This doesn’t sound dysfunctional.  It doesn’t sound dysfunctional to Mr. Fulger either.  And any time the young woman complains, he describes their relationship such that he is not in the wrong.  The story gives us information of how Lyndsey and Mr. Fulger met.  We are informed of how their relationship continues, even while Lyndsey is engaged to others.  We are told of how Mr. Fulger ‘strong-arms’ Lyndsey into taking a job closer to her family for a pay raise.  Yet, Mr. Fulger tells Lyndsey

We often rely on others to make out most important decisions.  There’s no reason to be ashamed of this.

It’s as if this older man has seen his opportunity to transform this girl’s life.  But he does so in such a manipulative manner so that he can benefit from the situation as well.  This story is all about control.  It’s as if Sneed wrote a milder version of 50 Shades.  Lyndsey was in awe of Mr. Fulger…. he was older and wealthier and he had taken an interest in her.  He takes advantage of this.  However, it can’t be all of Mr. Fulger’s fault, can it?  Lyndsey didn’t HAVE to move and take a new job.  She didn’t HAVE to keep seeing Mr. Fulger while she was engaged.  How can you escape, though, a person who seems to always have the answers?

She had so much freedom, was accountable to him for so little, only a few hours a month, and it wasn’t like he did anything but spoil her.  He had a point, of course.  His logic, though it troubled her more than she could say, remained unassailable.

This is how I would escape:

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Unfortunately I understand Lyndsey.  Although she could get up and leave at any point, it doesn’t seem possible when the other person involved is in a position of superiority and you feel like their lesser.  You just obey how he wants you to just to avoid the headache of displeasing him.  This is abuse.  Lyndsey has been brainwashed to think otherwise, even though her heart tells her it is true.  

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The story Missionaries, by Bradford Tice, takes us into the world of young Mormon men trying to save people one door at a time.  Young Mormon men.  Those kids who ring your doorbell, wearing white shirts and black ties.  Those of us with peep holes have ignored these kids from time to time.  However, us non-Mormon people don’t actually know what goes on with them.  

The story is about Joseph, a closeted gay boy, and his straight counterpart, Case.  Both boys are 19.  It’s never actually stated in the story, but I think missions are a right of passage for these kids.  The number of people you ‘save’ determines your reputation within the Church of Latter Day Saints.  Case is the boy who “was able to sell the Church”.  Is it just me, or does that phrase bother you too?  You shouldn’t have to sell the church at all.  It’s not a thing you buy off the shelf.  

Right away I feel displeased with these kids.  THEN Case is smoking a joint with a homeless guy… walking around naked… pushing his friend from deathly heights and bruising Joseph’s side.  Case talks shit about an old woman he is ‘saving’.  The last mission we witness ends with Case sleeping with a Goth girl while leaving Joseph in the other room.  This kid… Case… he has the best record for the number of saves.. whatever that means… “It’s like a game to you, Joseph thought.  It doesn’t mean anything.”  Joseph sees the same thing we do as readers.  That Case doesn’t save people because he cares about them.  He only cares about the numbers.  This is representative of most people of some Religious organization, don’t you think?

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I grew up in a Protestant Church.  Although we didn’t go knocking at everyone’s door, the Pastor and Members couldn’t stop talking about money.  Meanwhile, there were poor people giving every last cent…  Seems wrong to me.  Seems wrong to Joseph.  Unfortunately, we can’t choose the people we love, and Joseph loves Case.  Case is the worst person in the world… and at the end of the story, Joseph is swearing to be what Case wants him to be, “a force to be reckoned with.”

Poor Joseph 😦

His loneliness at that instant made him gasp.  The weight of everything was immense.  He pictured his mother and father, growing accustomed to his absence.  Somehow everything they’d given him wasn’t enough for this mission.

In Straightaway, by Mark Wisniewski, we encounter luckier individuals than Joseph.  Bark, James, and Tre are friends who played basketball in HS.  They live together, and work together as junk haulers.  That doesn’t seem quite so lucky… in fact, most of the story is about how unlucky they’ve been.  But, at the end of the story, they make it where they always hoped to be :):)  Yay for them.

The trio only makes it out because of a scare.  They went to do a job in Poughkeepsie, NY.  Some shady “sister” has an oil drum she needs removing from her property.  She offers to pay 1K in cash… and doesn’t have the details of what is inside.  Bark, James, and Tre decide that it is a good idea to take the mysterious drum and dump it off the side of the road somewhere even further upstate.  

You’re high, he says.  The last thing we need is someone up here seeing three brothers walking out of some woods.

True ‘nuf.  Discrimination is still lurking around every bend waiting to pounce on black people.  Not in this story.  The guys are extremely paranoid though, and decide that they need to leave town.  They need to do it THAT night.  And to do so… they need more money.  

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So the plan is to go to a Race Track, and make some bets: “We don’t bet every race, he says.  We bet one.  And before we do, we study all the races to see which one’s best.”  Smart plan… although I don’t think gambling is a way to earn money fast…  

Bark makes the best bet of his life.  Because they win the whole shebang.  I did not understand ANY of the horse stuff they were saying and how the bet won.  Buuuuuuut, they won.  The guys finally have the money they’ve always wanted, and they can go do something outside of the Bronx.  If it hadn’t of been for the drum scare, they would have stayed in the Bronx forever and have “been caged into a future in which you will finally do something no-holds-barred-stupid.”

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These were all really good stories.  However, I think I like Bible, by Tobias Wolf, the best.  It’s about some teacher lady.  We learn a little bit about why she’s drinking the night of the story.  Then we see her get kidnapped.  The kidnapper turns out to be the father of a student who has been cheating all year.  When the failed kidnap attempt ends, the kidnapper gives the teacher lady a Bible… which is where I believe the title comes from.  I’m not sure the exact significance.. but we are left with the following quote

Where was she now, this Clara?  What had become of her, this ardent, hopeful girl in her white dress , surrounded by her family, godparents, friends, that her Bible should end up in Goodwill bin?  Even if she no longer read it, or believed it, she wouldn’t have thrown it away, would she?  Had something happened?  Ah, girl, where were you?

The story is filled with people trying to save other people, and those people turning away.  The teacher lady, Maureen, tried to save her daughter and pushed her away instead.  The kidnapper was there trying to save his son, but knew his son is not save-able.  Maureen was given a Bible at her own confirmation.  Her father tried to instill the beliefs and principles into Maureen, but she is not very Godly (if we use the Biblical definition).  It really doesn’t matter what was used to save someone… what matters is that… people cannot be saved, if they don’t want to be.

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