Monday, April 30, 2012

Day One Hundred Twenty-One: "Sleepover" by Roxana Robinson

Degradation. Acceptance.

A man suffers the ultimate humiliation as he is forced to answer questions for the first time when his children ask where their mother goes one night a week. These "sleepovers" seem to serve as a rejuvenating force for the woman who returns each week as a new woman, a better mom, a changed spirit. But this is just the overview. The opening scene of the story sets the tone for how painful the ending will be when this father/daughter confrontation finally occurs.

A mother stands in a bathroom applying calamine lotion to her young daugther's leg to treat apparent poison ivy. The girly simply asks her mother, what happens if it itches me during the night and the mom flatly replies that the girl's father will reapply if needed. He's secondary in the mom's mind and with just that quick scene, the reader believes it too. There is more to this story that we don't know. There is more to the father that we want to know. There has to be a reason for her actions. The reader doesn't want to believe that it is as gratuitous as the story projects.

But there doesn't have to be a reason, not in the story and not in this woman's life. Once we start looking for one, we miss the bigger and more important picture. She makes a choice. It isn't a chance or random act. There is will and she is exerting it. For me, in reading the story, that idea at its core is enough.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Day One Hundred Twenty: "Monday or Tuesday" by Virginia Woolf


The idea of "truth" is revealed through language in this rare short short story written by the wonderful Virginia Woolf. Truth in flight, truth in the flight of a heron at sunset or at dawn. Fog glazed like sugar on the mountains in the distance, leaf light, rising smoke, ferns like feathers, images all that shape the story, drive it forward, proving what a master the reader is working with.

In just 5 paragraphs, this story opens the eyes of the reader, a flash of brilliance and beauty, so much left unsaid but cleverly so. I loved loved loved this piece, but then again, rarely has Woolf ever disappointed me.

Week Eighteen Short Story Selections

Day One Hundred Twenty: "Monday or Tuesday" by Virginia Woolf
Day One Hundred Twenty-One: "Sleepover" by Roxana Robinson
Day One Hundred Twenty-Two: "The Apparition of Mrs. Veal" by Daniel Defoe
Day One Hundred Twenty-Three: "Roughie" by Stewart David Ikeda
Day One Hundred Twenty-Four: "Hand" by Stephen Dixon
Day One Hundred Twenty-Five: "Losses" by Libby Schmais
Day One Hundred Twenty-Six: "A Field of Rice" by Pearl S. Buck

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Day One Hundred Nineteen: "Excerpt from Echolation" by Myfawny Collins


Two women find themselves in a situation where they are responsible for their aunt's affairs after she passes, a situation that means they will have to deal with a swarm of cats that the aunt left behind. The solution: shoot the cats. This story tracks the two women's decision making processes as they come to terms with this choice. Ultimately, this story is mostly a metaphor for the idea of moving on after a loss. Sometimes it is best to simply take aim and fire. Otherwise, cowardice sets in and in the face of death, that's the last thing anyone wants to have on their backs. Written well, this story appears to be an excerpt of a larger piece and I'd definitely read more to see what other dilemmas these two women will face. Nice work.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Day One Hundred Eighteen: "Peeling" by Nathan Holic


A woman struggling with fertility finds a distraction away from her marital and emotional struggle. She finds herself collecting beer labels, craft beers of all kinds, and saving them, pasting them into a scrapbook. As she catalogues this minutia, the reader sees her disintegrating mental state and can't help but wonder if she will ever be successful in both removing that last unattainable beer label (a Sweetwater 420 label) and the pregnancy she and her husband so desperately want and have been trying for.

This story was well-written and compelling and a very different story than I've read before in its originality. Below is the link to the story. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day One Hundred Seventeen: "Runs Girl" by Chinelo Okparanta


A young girl must decide how to help her mother who needs medical attention but who doesn't have the money she needs to get it. Set in Nigeria, the story is both heartbreaking and vivid with images of the lives of the lower class and how those lives are shaped by the poverty, by the corruption around them, and by the limited options they have to overcome any of it.

There is rape, shame, and death without resolution or forgiveness, all things that work together to make this story a nice spin on a traditional theme one sees in literature often. What do we do to protect the ones we love? Are there limits? Do we dare test them? Sadly, the answers this story provides are hard ones but realistic ones. The mother dies. The girl is ruined. Life...goes on.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Day One Hundred Sixteen: "The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged)" by John Varley


I loved this story. LOVED IT! Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way, I have to say that this was a treat and a much needed break from some of the heavier stuff I've been reading and writing lately. Even so, this story has a darkness to it that is not lost in the ease of the read.

It's basically a narrator going through the phonebook and telling the reader about listing after listing, opening secrets, sharing intimate details of the lives that are given names on the page. It is such an innovative and interesting story that by its conclusion, feels like a sort of politcal statement even. That this author could pack so much into a very short story is astounding. I'm not disappointed in the least by this one.

Now I feel compelled to pick up my own phone book and let my mind go!

A link to the story is here:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Day One Hundred Fifteen: "Out of the Tombs" by Madison Smartt Bell


A man looks death in the face, literally. He's playing Chinese Checkers waiting for a class of Tai Chi to finish when there is an image approaching him, beckoning, ominous and strange. Transitioning seamlessly from reality and dream, this story was on one level disturbing but on another level, not altogether very interesting to me. I wanted to like it but I couldn't get there. I re-read the ending several times and I still feel like the story was somehow incomplete despite the vivid descriptions.

Oh well, it was still worth the read I suppose. But now, on to the next story.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day One Hundred Fourteen: "Petty Thief" by A Yi


Two cops pursue and decide to torture an orphan who is a petty thief, his only crime, stealing sweet potatoes and cured meat. There is no explanation for their desire to torture the boy and in the end, they find themselves outsmarted by the boy when he escapes. Sadly, the escape is only temporary but there is a level of respect that is established by the mere fact of the escape itself. Ultimately, the two cops rescue the boy from a certain death as he stands on a ledge in fear of retribution.

I sense that on a metaphorical level this story is much richer than what I gathered on a quick first read. This is one I'd return to and even in translation, it is powerful and hasn't lost its strength. That alone says a lot for this story and this writer. Very nice.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Day One Hundred Thirteen: "Little Nightmares, Little Dreams" by Rachel Simon

Resignation. Hesitation.

An aging couple develops a plan to dream together and the story tracks the afternoon when the two plan to actually go through with it. Filled with memories the couple shared and moments that may seem small unless they are the moments shared between two people who love each other, this beautiful story is full of detail, both bittersweet and sweet. The fear they both have about death, about the change it will mean to both of their lives is examined in a subtle and touching way that will make any reader shed a tear or two.

This is an excerpt from the story that makes this point very well I think:

"Then and now, we keep each other from falling. That's what those talks before bed are about. Holding out our arms as we stumble through life together, working each other loose if one of us gets stuck in a bad situation."

I absolutely love this image of an elderly couple so in love with each other that they are still trying to find ways to be closer when from the story, they seem inseparable and content and very much alive and at peace with themselves and their age. I'd read this writer over and over and I look forward to finding more of her work.

Week Seventeen Short Story Selections

Day One Hundred-Thirteen: "Little Nightmares, Little Dreams" by Rachel Simon
Day One Hundred-Fourteen: "Petty Thief" by A Yi
Day One Hundred-Fifteen: "Out of the Tombs" by Madison Smartt Bell
Day One Hundred-Sixteen: "The Manhattan Phonebook (Abridged)" by John Varley
Day One Hundred-Seventeen: "Runs Girl" by Chinelo Okparanta
Day One Hundred-Eighteen: "Peeling" by Nathan Holic
Day One Hundred-Nineteen: "Excerpt from Echolation" by Myfawny Collins

This week, I'm hitting on a Chinese writer, A Yi, and a Nigerian writer, Chinelo Okparanta, to supplement my reading... should be interesting.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Day One Hundred Twelve: "Tower Street" by Pierce Butler

Decline. A man visits his mother late at night on his way home from work. It's not where he wants to go but he is obligated. So he goes and the story that unfolds is a short and heartbreaking look at a mother-son relationship on its way out.

Strangely, I seem to have included several mother-son stories in my reading this week without even knowing it. The comparisons this has allowed me to make is refreshing and unexpected. I wonder what the universe is telling me by sending me into this reading direction. I guess we'll see what next week holds in that regard.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Day One Hundred Eleven: "Something Went with Daddy" by Larry L. King

Clinging. A man observes his mother on the verge of seeming insanity following the death of his father. He witnesses her mental and emotional state unraveling while at the same time trying to keep peace in his home, a place where his wife and his mother do not see eye to eye. Interestingly, this story on the surface seems very straightforward and simple but it has a serious dark side-a father with some sort of mental illness maybe? or simply a father who truly can't swim and loses his life because of it? The reader is left to sort this out but with tons of dialogue rich in southern dialect and spice, this story is one that keeps the reader wanting to know what really happened, what it is that went away with daddy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Day One Hundred Ten: "Withered Leaves" by Alexander Kielland

Interpretation. A man ponders on the mysteries of art, its effect on people, how easily it may be observed and digested to fit into our own needs at a given time. This man in particular muses that a particular painting he is admiring is about a young couple on the verge of falling apart. He notes how often one stares at a painting and contemplates, one's mind reverting to memories and the wistfulness that accompanies that sort of journey.

Heavy in metaphor and with fantastic lines like the ones listed below, this little Norwegian gem of a short story was a wonderful discovery.

"The only thriving thing in the whole picture is the ivy; for ivy, like sorrow, is fresh both summer and winter."

"And in the course of time we all come--each in his turn--to seat ourselves on the empty chair in a corner of the garden and gaze on a little cairn of withered leaves."

For anyone interested, the story can be read here:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Day One Hundred Nine: "Theodore and the Blue Danube" by Ludwig Bemelmans

Identity. A waiter decides to change his life, saves us money, and leaves his lonely apartment one day a new man, a man with an identity that has been restructured by a simple stroke of the pen. He signs a guestbook as "Director" and all of a sudden, it's as if his life has been transformed. People treat him differently, with more respect, all because of the title he has bestowed upon himself. By story's end, he has taken the title to heart. He owns it, is living his life by it with all of the extravagances he imagined that life would entail.

This was an interesting story and it was really well written with lots of interesting details. Coming from 1936, I was amazed at how forward it was, the actual story and the writing. I enjoyed this far more than I anticipated.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Day One Hundred Eight: "I Couldn't Have Dreamed It" by Christopher Coe

Faith. Wake-up.

A woman shows up on her son's doorstep after a gypsy tells her she has one year left to live. With bags packed, she stays at her son's house for one last night and talks of the travels she is about to undertake, explaining that she had no problem spending the rest of her life with her husband, her son's father, but that she couldn't stomach spending the end of her life with him. Her son and his wife try to come to terms with his mom's decision and in turn, examine their own life together and where it is headed and why.

I will say, this story's conclusion is one of the most poignant and heartbreaking ending's I've ever read. Talk about a profound story with so many layers that I'm not sure I fully comprehended all that was going on with just one reading. Sadly, I don't know that I can read this again, not yet. It's a lot to digest, especially if you are a woman, and especially if you are a woman struggling with her own identity, with loneliness, with how to live in the midst of all of it.

Breaks my heart. I wept at this ending. That's all I can say about it for now.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Day One Hundred Seven: "Three Hundred and Forty-Five Horsepower" by Irving Shulman


A young lawyer drives his sports car up the east coast and picks up a "tramp" or hitchhiker on the way. Through their conversations, you get a sort of warning from the tramp about what life can throw at you and how choices you make can shape everything and you see the smug lawyer looking for ways to fix the tramp but you can see, as the reader, that the lawyer isn't really listening like he should. He's driving and he's going fast. His life seems to be on the same speed and this great excerpt illustrates just this:

"With half of his attention given to the road, because never wanted it said of him that he was a man driven by his automobile,he could still hear the monologue of the old man at his side, a monologue of many wanderings...there were countless, better to have lost count, cold showers and bars of abrasive soap in the missions, the necessity to sleep in the raw in unheated dormitories with the two legs at the head of his cot stuck into each of his miserable shoes to keep them from being stolen."

Then, in a clever twist, the young lawyers finds himself questioning whether the tramp is his own father who had abandoned him as a child. When the story concludes, the reader finds the lawyer abandoning the tramp at a restaurant and driving already guilt ridden and swearing himself to secrecy over the meeting of this man and we know he is going to drive his car into perhaps as devastating a future as the tramp had.

WOW...this story was fantastic as a whole. The metaphor being played with was perfect and subtle. I'd read more of this writer for sure.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Day One Hundred Six: "Good Sounds" by Lou Ann Walker


A daughter recounts her deaf parents' engagement and marriage ceremony, their courtship and its tenderness and the care with which they entered into a life together.

I'm so in love with this writer, with how she draws me into a world of sign language and alternate expression, that I will likely read the entire collection from which this story comes. It's titled "A Loss for Words" and wow, everything in it so far is just beautiful.

Talk about a fresh perspective. A child of two deaf parents. I can only read about this but I feel so honored to do so. This story is a great start!

Week Sixteen Short Story Selections

Day One Hundred-Six: "Good Sound" by Lou Ann Walker
Day One Hundred-Seven: "Three Hundred and Forty-Five Horsepower" by Irving Shulman
Day One Hundred-Eight: "I Couldn't Have Dreamed It" by Christopher Coe
Day One Hundred-Nine: "Theodore and the Blue Danube" by Ludwig Bemelmans
Day One Hundred-Ten: "Withered Leaves" by Alexander Kielland
Day One Hundred-Eleven: "Something Went with Daddy" by Larry L. King
Day One Hundred-Twelve: "Tower Street" by Pierce Butler

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Day One Hundred Five: "Conviviality" by Carol Zapata-Whelan


A young girl rides a train and contemplates the cultures of those around her. She listens to Spanish and to Californians acting as if their lives are of significance. It's almost as if this passenger is on some sort of existential journey without realizing it and when the story concludes, the train has stopped and the world is waiting for her.

Is it a social scene she is ready for or is it a social scene at all? Her identity is in question and she is okay with that. Otherwise, the reader doesn't see much else into her mind. I'm not sure I liked the ending because it felt a little too abrupt and left me with a lot of questions. However, the dialogue was authentic and it really moved the piece along. I'd read more of this author.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Day One Hundred Four: "Things We Do Not Want to Hear" by Marcela Carbajo


A woman suffering from depression gets out of bed and tries to make tea. She tries. That is all she can offer her husband who is apparently not buying in to illness but who is in effect ignoring it. When he tells her he doesn't want to hear what she has to say to him at a moment where the reader can see the woman is about to perhaps make a breakthrough, the husband tells her he knows that what she has to say "will hurt" so he chooses to NOT hear it, thereby condemning her to ONLY hear the very things she can't say...the very things that might just set her free.

This was a sad look at marital communications but it was spot on. We only hear what we want to hear. There is a reason for that.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Day One Hundred Three: "Hands" by Sherwood Anderson


A man is troubled and paranoid about the size of his hands. He keeps them in his pockets, scared of the looks he'll receive if he removes them and waves them in the air while he talks. He is a man who is defined by this feature and his self-consciousness has made him isolated and lonely.

The story ends with him pacing the floorboards of his porch, looking into the night for someone who won't run away...he is lost to himself and the saddest part is that he knows it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Day One Hundred Two: "The Backward Fall" by Jason Helmandollar


A man observes his wife as she struggles with dementia, moving fluidly between different times in her life, between memories that include him, lead up to him, and some that sadly leave him behind. The reader gets the sense that the marriage, albeit a long one, has had its rocky turns but, in the end, the man is still there. He's more than just an observer. He spends his days coping, allowing her to slip away, documenting in his mind her deterioration whether he wants to or not.

This is a story about love, love challenged and love that persists despite it all. Rich in dialogue, the reader can't help but get caught up in the life of this couple. But what a place for us to begin. So sad.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Day One Hundred One: "She" by Charles Kaufmann


A female protagonist challenges the authority of her author and refuses to remain the "she" in the story. She wants a name, and to get it she forges her own identity and this story cleverly shows how control can define a person, particularly a female. I thought the voice was clear and the point being made was subtle.

What an interesting read this was and a nice change from the stories I've been reading up to this point.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Day One Hundred: "A Still Life" by Ruth Harris

Suspension of Disbelief.

A lesbian couple deals with the discovery that one of the women has breast cancer. This beautiful look at the horrors that follow from detection to treatment to the fear that simply never goes away is memorable and frightening. There are several lines from this story that hit you when you read them but this one sticks out and is worth including here:

"How strange it is, when moving away from the equilibrium of small changes, that extreme good luck, as well as bad, seems to be a given."

This story had a fantastic closing line too which I won't put here for fear of spoiling it for the reader. Needless to say, I'm pleased with my 100th day story selection for sure.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Day Ninety-Nine: "Grief" by Anton Chekhov

Too Late.

A man, after 40 years of marriage, finally decides to show his wife some attention and takes off on a trek to find her medical treatment. But he ventures out into the snow, into the dark, and he only thinks about his horse once he's on his way, the way the cold hits him in the face, the way the horse struggles to walk as the ground beneath them thickens with heavy flakes.

As the story concludes, the man realizes his wife has frozen to death and he is struck by the irony of losing her at a time when he finally cared enough NOT to lose her. While this story was a tad difficult to get into, by its end I felt myself spiralling out of control with the narrator and also felt that sometimes, it's all just a little bit too little...too late.

Week Fifteen Short Story Selections

This is a big week with day 100 on the list...I can't believe it's finally here. I hope my pick for that day will warrant that place on my list. Here are the picks:

Day Ninety-Nine: "Grief" by Anton Chekhov
Day One Hundred: "A Still Life" by Ruth Harris
Day One Hundred-One: "She" by Charles Kaufmann
Day One Hundred-Two: "The Backward Fall" by Jason Helmandollar
Day One Hundred-Three: "Things We Do Not Want to Hear" by Marcela Carbajo
Day One Hundred-Four: "Hands" by Sherwood Anderson
Day One Hundred-Five: "Conviviality" by Carol Zapata-Whelan

All of these stories can be found online at

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Day Ninety-Eight: "My Name is Electra" by Joanna Leyland


A little girl idolizes her father and is blinded by that, unable to see how she is being manipulated already by observing his relationship to her mother. Her father is sexist and openly so and the little girl is seen applauding him, calling him her hero. There's such an innocence to her voice, to the headlong way in which she loves her father and relishes in his jokes at her mother's expense, and as a reader, you want to see more. You want to believe that the little girl will not always be this way.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Day Ninety-Seven: "La Lupa" by Giovanni Verga


A man is cursed by the allure of a she-wolf, a prostitute, a woman who seems determined to destroy him with the evils of her body. She ensnares him after he pushes her away by offering her daughter and her dowry. He accepts and gets much more than he bargains for. By story's end, he is committed to killing her in order to rid himself of the constant hunger, the preoccupation with something so vile but he can't do it. Her eyes and unrelenting love are all he sees.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Day Ninety-Six: "Counterparts" by James Joyce


A man laments his job, the meaninglessness of it as he waits for quitting time so he can meet his friends afterward for drinks. But, on this day, he stands up to his boss and likely will lose his job but he's okay with that as soon as the post-work day alcohol kicks in.

Interestingly, this story takes a sad and revealing twist toward the end when the man's mood spirals downward as he watches those around him who are truly carefree. He notices women and he notices them not noticing him. He can't handle it and ultimately, he goes home and takes out the frustration on his son.

The ending of this story is brutal. I'm quite impressed by this James Joyce find. I was not disappointed.

my own short story

1,651 words...good words...a story I've fought telling for some reason but that I now can't get enough of.

There is a voice. That voice is mine, mine as it was when I was just shy of 7 years old, and it's that voice that is telling me to keep going this time. My grown up self will have to wait a while. I'm starting to realize that I don't mind this so much. That scares me, as it should, but I'm writing and the words are coming and coming fast. There's no need to complain and no room for it.

For now, I'm happy to spend time with me, the little girl me. We'll see where it goes!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Day Ninety-Five: "The Lolita School" by Brock Clarke


An instructor of an all girls' school where students are being taught to become "lolitas" in the Nabokov fashion narrates this story, shares with the reader what it's like to create these little monsters. There is a line that somehow doesn't get crossed with the storytelling even in how clearly disturbing it is and is reminiscent of the way Nabokov achieves the same thing in his masterpiece.

Overall, I found this story interesting even if very little happened. I could see that this piece was about pushing limits and by story's end, I found myself wishing it had pushed them a little bit more.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Day Ninety-Four: "Sam Weller Makes his Bow" by Charles Dickens


I don't know what to say about this story other's classic Dickens. For me, the story lagged, had too much dialogue that didn't advance the story and even then, the dialogue was so full of some sort of German dialect that it made it difficult to read entire passages.

I did it and I don't feel like I wasted my time doing it. Still, this reminds me why I don't read much of good ole Charles Dickens. It's just too much.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Day Ninety-Three: "Jeffrey, Believe Me" by Jane Smiley


A woman drugs her gay male friend in hopes of getting him into bed. She wants a child and she knows he won't agree to it, at least not any time soon. So, rather than keep waiting or embarrassing herself by asking him about it and getting rejected, she drugs him with marijuana brownies and then has her way with him though in truth, she doesn't remember much about the encounter herself by the time it's all over.

Told from her perspective as a sort of apology to this man, she is pondering where he might be as it is apparent by story's end that her efforts were a success. She is pregnant and alone. I couldn't help but wonder myself if it is what she really wanted after all.

This story was strong in voice and the author sustained it throughout the story. I'd read more Jane Smiley for sure after reading this story.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Day Ninety-Two: "Gathering Highland Moss" by Jonas Hallgrimsson


A boy and his sister gather moss on the side of a mountain. During their journey, the sister tells her brother stories and when the story concludes and the two of them are huddled against the mountain to avoid a rockslide, the story takes a turn. It became something more than a mere depiction and instead, became a reflection of something bigger, of the life outside of these two that the reader knows they will be returning to.

Interestingly, this is the first Icelandic story I've read (and it is supposedly the first Icelandic short story ever written) and I read it in translation, a link to which is below. Overall, I thought the writing was solid and the story was layered in a way that made me wish there'd been more. A sibling rivalry on the literal rocks. Need I say more?

Week Fourteen Short Story Selections

Day Ninety-Two: "Gathering Highland Moss" by Jónas Hallgrímsson
Day Ninety-Three:"Jeffrey, Believe Me" by Jane Smiley
Day Ninety-Four: "Sam Weller Makes his Bow" by Charles Dickens
Day Ninety-Five: "The Lolita School" by Brock Clarke
Day Ninety-Six: "Counterparts" by James Joyce
Day Ninety-Seven: "La Lupa" by Giovanni Verga
Day Ninety-Eight: "My Name is Electra" by Joanna Leyland