I have traditionally written an end-of-year post listing a few short stories that fascinated me during the previous twelve months. I wanted to do the same for 2011. These are not stories that were written or published in the given year, but stories that awed me.
Early this year, I came across One Story Magazine’s Top Ten Short Stories of all time and I made reading through this list my summer reading project. This top ten list was actually 36 stories, about half of which I had read before. This year, I’m choosing a few of my favorites from this list.
Love is Not a Pie, by Amy Bloom
This is an excellent story that inverts the traditional beliefs of love and marriage in a daring and profound way. During her mother’s funeral, Helen starts doubting she should go through with her own marriage. Through a story her sister relays about their mother, Helen comes to see love in a new, non-traditional way. This was truly a pleasure to read and reflect upon.
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates
Spellbinding. Creepy. A fifteen-year-old girl named Connie is home alone one Sunday afternoon when two older kids show up and try to entice her to go for a ride. One of the boys, Arnold Friend, uses a combination of sweet talk and threats, and the descriptions of Arnold are drawn out in surreal detail. The dialogue and the descriptions of this scene are unnerving and realistic. The story builds right to the end.
Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot, by Robert Olen Butler
I had bought this book in 1996 when it came out, but had forgotten how funny and sad the story Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot is. What makes this story resonate is the husband/parrot’s first person account of this ordeal. When his wife comes over in the pet store, he can’t believe how lovely she is. “Her touch makes my tail flare.” Of course, the husband is now caged and is subjected to seeing the new men in his wife’s life now that he is gone. The absurdity of the situation is offset by the sadness of the husband. He comes to understand that he loves his wife, where as previously, as a man, he only felt jealous rage. This underpins the whole story and makes it an extremely satisfying read.
Sexy, by Jhumpa Lahiri
This story Sexy intercuts two stories about extramarital affairs that come to reveal what the term sexy means. At one point, as they visit the Mapparium, Dev whispers to Miranda, “You’re sexy.” Eventually, the intensity of the affair cools off though. One day as Miranda is babysitting, the young boy asks Miranda to put a dress on. An odd request, but she is kind of bemused and flustered and so she does. “You are sexy,” the boy tells her. She is taken back that the boy would use this word. She asks him to define sexy and he does so, as a child whose father has left his mother, would. But his response reveals a larger truth about what the word sexy means and how it’s interpreted in our culture today.
Final Thoughts on the Year
On a personal note, 2011 was an extremely exciting time for me in many ways. Oermead Press, my nano-publishing project, published Chester County Fiction featuring thirteen authors from our region. The response from the community was astounding. We broke even within two weeks. We were highlighted on several radio stations and newspapers, our events were well attended and sales were brisk through the Christmas season. Earlier this year, my short story collection Elephant: Short Stories and Flash Fiction was released and I’ve been fortunate to take part in several readings, book clubs, signings and discussion panels. In addition, I’ve interviewed several authors who I truly admire, including: Donald Ray Pollock, Bonnie Jo Campbell and Steve Geng. The West Chester Story Slam is moving to a larger venue to accommodate the growing audience. This year has been overwhelming and I am excited to see what 2012 brings! Thanks for checking in and Happy New Year!