Story Sundays: “The Gun” by Lisa Allen-Agostini

Lisa Allen-Agostini
Lisa Allen-Agostini

Justin is a good boy. He minds his little sister, Lichelle, when their mother teeters off the edge of responsibility, when her presence at either the dinner table or the ironing board is conspicuously absent after a night of unspecified work. It is Justin who fastidiously readies Lichelle for school, Justin who hands over twenty of his own dollars for a textbook she needs, a textbook she will be physically punished for not having. Brother and sister pass by the enterprising young Pedro on their way to school, Pedro’s faithful, mange-riddled pothound Mackie trailing in their wake. Pedro, with his dapper threads and ready supply of crisp notes, is well disposed to treat Justin kindly: it is thanks to Pedro that Justin wears a pair of spotless Clarks to school. After classes, Justin goes to check Pedro at the latter’s request. While liming beneath a mango tree, Justin accidentally dislodges Pedro’s gun from its concealment cubby. The gun in Justin’s hands is dense, a previously unknowable entity coming to life in his hands, a thing of great promise and dread.

Allen-Agostini’s biting use of urban Trinidadian vernacular reads like a welcome two-fingered salute against the edicts of writing dialogue by conventional, powdery-wigged standards. The narrative is arguably at its strongest when it issues directly from the mouths of Pedro, Lichelle and Justin, as well as the story’s more peripheral characters: the overbearing schoolteacher haranguing Justin over his tardiness; the elaborately coiffured receptionist who somehow manages to conjecture that Justin has been late six days in a five-day schoolweek. What the characters say becomes entrenched in the manner in which they say it, and the writer is good at fuelling the exchanges of direct speech with just enough spatial context to sell us the scene convincingly, while steering away from an expository paint-by-numbers approach. Witness, for instance, Pedro’s gentle admonition towards his less fiscally endowed friend, when the latter refuses the chance of an evening toke.

“If is money you ain’t have, you know that is not a problem, faddah.” Pedro slipped the bag backing into his pocket and flicked away a seed from the handful of weed he had been cleaning as he leaned against the mango tree. “You know you’s my boy. Ent we play pitch together? Ent I give you them Clarks you does wear to school? A ten dollars ain’t nothing, faddah.”

Pedro’s mannerisms reveal his practiced swagger, his fingers dismissing the seed a tiny testament to previously-acquired proficiency with handling the marijuana. One gets the impression that ten dollars may be ‘nothing’, perhaps, but that all manner of transactions between the two, those which attest to Pedro’s magnanimity — whether over a ten dollar spliff or a pair of shoes worth hundreds — will be catalogued, mentally recorded and set down in an invisible ledger of accounts. As the story’s suggestive antagonist, Pedro is a formidable piece of characterization: affable, kitted out in the respectable accoutrements of his profession, young, far from unintelligent, and deadly.

Yet the treatment of villainy in Allen-Agostini’s story is far less simplistic than holding up one streetwise little boy for vilification. A single juvenile weed-peddler may do well for a less involved treatment of the roots of urban domestic decay, but not here: here, the finger-pointing can justifiably waggle in multiple directions. For all that she is conspicuously absent in the story, Justin and Lichelle’s mother’s weighty shadow dominates the children’s familial disarray. Nothing is even remotely intimated of the pair’s father. What we absorb of the mother is revealed through her off-stage actions: the sounds of her slapping her daughter, the sight of a sequined bra sticking out of an overflowing clothes barrel, the silence that Justin uses in response to “Eh heh? And where your mother was?”

As with the best writing that knows how to cleverly conceal its bruise-making declarations, “The Gun” is good at knocking you where you least expect it. Consider the markers of measurement used by Justin to gauge the gun’s weight.

“Hefting it in his hand, he thought it was about the weight of his sister’s bottle, which he still had to make her every night even though she was going on six. No, it was heavier than that. Maybe the weight of the pot he made her porridge in, a battered old iron pot with fat, round handles on either side. The gun’s barrel was smooth. He had never felt anything like it.”

Virtually every experience endured by the protagonist is filtered through his solicitude for his sister. He categorizes his interest in the death-delivering weapon through the objects he uses to help keep Lichelle alive. We want nothing more than to root for this solemn boy-adult, flung unceremoniously into the daily duties of a grown man. He is less of a cape-collared, stolidly-hewn hero against Trini lower class wars, and more someone who does what he must because no one else does, or can, or will, in a series of meticulous, stoic gestures that make him all the more heroic.

“The Gun” reminds the reader of the often-vacant desperateness of hope: we hope that Justin will continue going to school, even though his needs seem insufficiently and obliquely-met within those walls. We hope that he will not abandon his painstakingly pressed uniform to sidle alongside Pedro’s dubious, pistol-toting ranks of sequined shirts and solid blocks of ganja. We hope that even the most starved and runtish of common-breed puppies will survive to endure another uncertain day, and we wonder at the quality, consistency and base worth of hope as a precious, limited virtue.

You can read “The Gun” by Lisa Allen-Agostini here. (sx salon) Author photograph by Richard Acosta.

Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation and engage in discussion on the short fiction form, which often receives less attention than full-length works. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine.

Story Sundays: “Earl Grey” by Sharon Millar

Sharon Millar
Sharon Millar

When we meet Leah, the central figure of Sharon Millar’s short story, “Earl Grey”, she is trying to keep her thoughts well below room temperature. The room she’s in is the sweltering, westward-facing kitchen of a Santa Cruz cocoa estate house on the mend, run by Leah and her comparatively unruffled husband, Henri. Leah isn’t given to a coolness of touch, most times, but it matters more than mildly now that she create a perfect quiche, because Henri’s mother, Sally, is visiting the estate for the first time, to have tea. To Leah’s mind, the formidable Sally, a matriarch of tea parties that manage to be both inventive and exquisite, will be expecting nothing less than perfection, and a cool-handedness that Leah hasn’t previously been able to plate up. According to Henri, all his mother will require boils down to far less than what Leah imagines. As the hour of Sally’s arrival looms closer, and Leah’s quiche takes a less-than-savoury turn for the worse, the question of what the mother in law will receive begins to linger as oppressively as the midafternoon Trinidad sun.

Sharon Millar’s writing is as necessary and brutal as a matador witnessing his first bullfight, which seems an odd analogy given the apparent domesticity of a story like “Earl Grey”. Culinary and cultivating notions infuse the narrative: Leah follows (and detracts) from a quiche recipe primed for the sublime; she savours this science of cooking far less than the pleasure of a fresh cocoa pod, brought to her by Henri as a palliative against his mother’s arrival. These ideas of growth and fruition permeate the text, signalling that the relationships between what can be harvested, and what might be prepared, aren’t always seamless or simpatico. We can engage in food-artistry that turns the stomach, even if it appears from the oven like a master-quiche maker’s dream.

Leah’s relationship with her mother-in-law both embodies and transcends the expectations of well-chronicled bacchanal surrounding two women who pick at the same and separate ribs of a man, tugging for prominence on either side. Millar conducts these palpable and unseen tensions so convincingly that we feel we’ve rather taken the measure of the sublimely awful Sally without having heard her own voice on the page. We feel for Leah, with her earnest, pathetic quiche-wrangling, whether or not we’ve got crotchety husband-or-wife-mothers of our own, lurking in the recesses of our every misstep, judging while offering platitudes that are barely half-baked. Leah’s expectations, projected onto the surface of the pastry that has not yet disappointed her, are clearly defined islands of hurt, bound up with good intentions. In her anticipations for the serene procession of the evening’s events, one reads the dismantling of past attempts at graceful encounters, of the dogged desire to be thought useful, presentable, well-manicured.

“She imagines the quiche, perfectly fluted at the edges, the pastry lightly browned, the bacon, spinach, and tomatoes in layers of green and brown and red. She has become a woman who can make a quiche and this woman has cool hands. She will serve the quiche to her mother-in-law. They will sit on the lawn. Leah will be careful to invite Sally to sit in the garden, not the yard. She will chat amicably about the small joys of the farm, the pleasures of seeing the cocoa move from jewel coloured pod to rich dark chocolate.”

What stings the worst (and therefore, the best) about “Earl Grey” that it’s a short story obliquely about cooking but persistently about failure. As Leah is forced to consider, the burnt edges of our incompatibilities with others will pursue us, even in the places we feel comfortable, even in land that’s our own to claim proudly. Nowhere, and nowhere, are we immune to the smoother, sharper hands of another, telling us all we need to know about ourselves by embodying everything that we ourselves are not. That Millar reigns in this modulated torment in even swathes of unerring exposition is a semaphore to her rich, bruising talent. The story hurts and compels, and we want more. We want to see what lies on the other side of ruined savouries and reanimated cocoa estates, what beats in the hearts of complex, guarded women offering up too much of themselves in the service of wrongsided idols. “Earl Grey” reads briskly, the length, perhaps, of a tightly palmed cup of chai, but if your pulse is attuned to short fiction that navigates delicate terrain searingly,  then you will need to read it again, with several cups of tea and many aching wonderments within arm’s reach.

You can read “Earl Grey” by Sharon Millar here. (Draconian Switch, .pdf – allow a minute or two for full issue to load.) Author photograph by Ross Millar.

Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation and engage in discussion on the short fiction, which often receives less attention than full-length novels. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine.

Story Sundays: “The Silencing” by K. Jared Hosein

“The waves pushed and retracted in almost an artificial way, as if propelled by some tidal mechanism in the distance, the winds by gigantic fans, oscillating and whirring from beyond the horizon. Gyasi suddenly felt despair… being here on the island was a constant reminder of it. He came here to find a means of escape. The longer he stayed here, the longer he would realize how artificial this is. He needed to fix everything, so he could wake up with bright eyes once again.

So he could scratch his fingers against an early morning grin beneath the tussled blankets.”

Gyasi is looking for a way to make things better. He has left Trinidad and travelled to another island entirely, one fuelled by the power of night, one accessible only through operation and unable to be circumnavigated without risk. This island isn’t, in the strictest of senses, tangible — its beaches won’t provide the familiar heat and revelry associated with a mid-afternoon Maracas lime. It’s safe to suppose that no bake and shark will be vendored on its infinitely less welcoming shores. As Gyasi gingerly picks his way across the sandy wastes, headed in the direction of the lighthouse that hugs a cliff’s sheer edge, he is hoping to find an entirely different sort of sustenance: one that makes it possible for him to live with what he’s done.

Whether Gyasi’s nightmarish littoral-scape is pixellated, painted or Photoshopped, it is evident that the writer has taken considerable care with its construction. The island in “The Silencing” is emblematic: if for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than the gentle reminder that in atoning for one’s sins, one is almost always forced to revisit the scene of the crime. It is refreshing to witness the use of island-symbolisms outside of their typically sanguine contexts. The island itself is an unpromising no man’s terrain, rooted in nothing but an individual’s expectation of redemption. It could be anyplace; it could hold any set of predetermined structures linked to a crime of passion or omission. This is Gyasi’s sunless journey, Hosein is telling us, and we all have our own separate versions.

Stories like “The Silencing” are multilayered, weighty things. There is more to their composition and content than is evident on a first reading, or a second. When they’re allowed to embed themselves in your consciousness, you’ll find yourself unnerved by the methodical clink-clinking of empty, discarded beer bottles, rolling across a deck floor. Statues of little children may prove to be even more disconcerting than usual. Despite the elegaic solemnity of inverted moral contemplations such as this one, a curious kind of hope resonates at its waterlogged chest: we are all, every sin-soaked one of us, capable of accessing forgiveness, whether we deserve it or not.

K. Jared Hosein (1986 -…) has been working on his prose and poetry since his early teenage years. In 2009, he penned a poem entitled “The Wait is So, So Long” that would go on to be adapted as a short film that would be featured and win a Gold Key Award at the NY-based Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. He frequently writes to the local newspapers but those pieces are only of political and sociological nature. Although he is currently employed as a Biology and Physics secondary school teacher, he writes fiction frequently to have a significant body of work, to build discipline and to create his own voice and style in the world of West Indian literature. (Author portrait by Portia Subran.)

Kevin graciously agreed to answer a few questions I had on his writing process; the power of imagination and suggestion, as well as his exciting literary plans in 2013.

Kevin, we’ve discussed before that writing stories set in a Trinidadian environment didn’t always come instinctively to you. What benefits (and, possibly, drawbacks) do you think there are to creating fiction based in your country of origin?

For a long time, I was turned off by the atmosphere of West Indian books. I thought that they were repetitive and focused too much on the same themes, such as cultural identity and post-colonialism. In fact, whenever the words “West Indian literature” or “Caribbean art” crossed my mind, the repulsive image of chickens defecating in a donkey cart came to mind.

However, after attending Elizabeth Nunez’s writing workshop, I became more attuned to the idea that the Caribbean benefits as an “exotic” location, with locations, customs and folklore ripe for the picking. I realised, when the word Caribbean was uttered, that I didn’t have to write the same old “donkey cart story” I was bored with, but magical realism, psychological thriller and science fiction set in Trinidad. Because, why can’t aliens invade Trinidad during Carnival once in a while? Why can’t a serial killer angel visit here to parang? Or with The Silencing, why can’t a man enter a barren, deformed Trinidadian dream coast?

I mentioned in my analysis of “The Silencing” that so much of the text reads as photo-realistic: very clearly depicted. Is clarity important for you as a writer?

When I write, I like the reader to be able to feel every sense the protagonist is experiencing. However, the senses I try to convey the most are the senses of direction and misdirection. Stories to me are magic tricks. The audience’s attention is tantamount to the reaction you wish to elicit. If you cannot grasp the audience’s attention with theatrics and lights, they are not going to be impressed by the reveal. But sometimes the lights have to blind them a little while the trap doors are setting up.

Would you say that these themes of nostalgia, remembrance and forgetting are important to literature? Are any of your favourite books, plays, stories or poems influenced by these ideas?

I compare literature to a time capsule. A book is essentially a means of visiting a certain era or event in history, or what could have been. One of the most triumphant stories, I believe, is The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, a sufferer of locked-in syndrome who wrote his memoir by blinking his left eye. In his story, he recounted events and people of his life with equal doses of vivacity and melancholy. Remembrance can be a saving grace and it seems that a story of forgetting, such as The Silencing, always seem to be tragedies.

I’ll ask you a question I put to Shakirah last week: what was the galvanizing moment in your life that made you decide on fiction writing as one of your passions?

This might sound silly, but when I was 11, I watched an episode of Nickelodeon’s “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” The episode entailed a child who could write in a book and the story would come true. The concept stuck with me and I came to the realisation that whatever was written could be true. Well, in the fictional sense. It was still there and could affect others. I wanted to write a book after that. I took some sheets of paper and trimmed them with scissors to the size of those Illustrated Classics and scotched-taped them up. I wrote a story about aliens. When I was 13, I finished my first long story. It was about 90 pages long and it was called “The Devil’s Moon”. It was crap, but it was fun and I felt good to write. And that was most important to me at the time.

Finally, tell us: what current writing projects are you involved in now? Any big plans for 2013?

Right now, I’m working on my entry for National Novel Writing Month, called Wonder Boy. It is about a boy who, after experiencing the crash of a space vessel, discovers how it is directly linked to his family. I’ve put another project on hold, called The Exit. The Exit delves into the paranoia of four students and a teacher after the rest of the school population have suddenly dropped dead, and the exit doors of the school have all vanished.

In 2013, I plan to keep submitting my stories to literary magazines and competitions in hope to gain more traction. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe I’ll have to keep trying. But I’ve been writing for half my life now, and I will be writing no less in 2013 than I have in 2012.

You can read K. Jared Hosein’s “The Silencing” here. (Potbake Productions)

Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation for this undervalued fiction form. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine. Want to start up Story Sundays on your blog? Yay! Email for details.

Story Sundays: “Getting Marry” by Shakirah Bourne

“I was so distracted by the big kitchen that I didn’t even notice the cake on the counter until Kim point at it. It was bout three cakes in one, with pink and yellow icing flowers all over it, and I could understand why people get marry just for this cake. I hold Kim hand, and for a few moments we just stand in the kitchen staring at it.”

Jamar’s parents announce the news of their upcoming nuptials to him one day: happy tidings, under most circumstances, but this re-titling of his Mummy and Daddy’s relationship throws him. If they’re only just getting married, he wonders, then what were they ever since he’s known them? Perhaps even more worryingly, how will life change once they do become wed? Jamar’s neighbour, dear friend and mutually-appointed future bride, Kim, tells him that the pivotal point of getting married has to do with the cake — and what a cake his parents will have! Rumours of its majesty precede it, being crafted as it is by the legendary, but overpriced Miss Clement. If cake is at the heart of marriage, then Jamar and Kim quickly concoct a plan to sample Miss Clement’s cake before his parents, and in so doing beat them to the altar. An undercover trip to Miss Clement’s house (trailing behind Jamar’s daddy when he goes to pay a visit) reveals that the cake is beautiful, and one or two other things besides.

“Getting Marry” is brief: the length of a cup of hastily-slurped coffee, perhaps… or, more aptly, a slice of wedding cake that’s been quickly wolfed down, with gusto. The narrative is seemingly innocuous — the story of a young boy playing at wedding-themed games with his little ‘girlfriend’, but hints, beneath its carefree, giddy surface, at violence, instability and a tenuous domestic balance that barely functions, even with the upcoming peal of nuptial bells.

What I have long admired about Shakirah Bourne’s storytelling is that it takes the best sort of circuitous path. There are a set of guidelines that contemporary fiction writers tend to follow when drafting up their moral treatises on human behaviour — a hopeful New Yorker’s playbook, if you will. Stories like these indicate that it’s alright to break biche (i.e. play hooky) and act contrary to the strictures set out for you in any given MFA class. There is more than one way of investigating interpersonal relationships for the shams and farces they might represent. Writing like this is reliable proof that channeling the voices of the diminutive, letting the youngest person in the room carry the bulk of the dramatic action (or inaction) doesn’t make it juvenile fiction — quite the contrary. “Getting Marry” is not just a humorous story created with fine detailing and attention to economy; it’s a contemplation of everyday life from a shorter height than we’re accustomed. The richness of this technique is reinforced by how we interpret the clues dangled by the writer: expect many a lively debate to ensue over work created in this vein.

It takes no more than a few paragraphs to confirm that Bourne is adept at this fictive sleight of hand.  The very first story to make me question the easy assumptions of my first reading was one I encountered in an undergraduate English Literature classroom. I pored over it several times afterwards, highlighting crucial passages, telling turns of phrase, the use of a single sentence or word to torque meaning around to new, astonishing angles. Bourne’s work in this piece is heavily reminiscent of those talents, a series of eye-openers that assures you, with both humour and pathos leavened into its recipe, to reconsider your initial premises — there are still stories being told daily that will tickle and titillate you.

Shakirah Bourne is a Barbadian writer who specializes in short fiction addressing moral themes.

She has been published in journals such as St. Somewhere, Caribbean Writer,  POUI; Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing, Arts Etc, and NIFCA Winning Words Anthology, and was a participant of the Cropper Foundation Writers Workshop 2010.

She holds Certificates in Screenwriting from the Barbados Community College and the University of Edinburgh, and a Masters in Art & Cultural Management from Queen Margaret University.

Currently, she is owner of a freelance writing and editing company, getWrite!, and manages an online forum for struggling writers found at She is also a Part-time Lecturer at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

Shakirah generously agreed to stop by Novel Niche, and answered a handful of questions I put to her, on her process; her writing plans for the upcoming year, and how she sees herself as an author.

“Shakirah Bourne writes children’s perspectives in a way we’re not accustomed to reading them.” How true would you say this is? How much of your work focuses on stories from the viewpoint of young minds?

Oh, it is very true! Even though the main protagonists are children, my stories are definitely not suited for a family audience 🙂 .
I like to showcase controversial issues through the eyes of innocent and often naïve characters, and a lot of time I find that telling the story through the eyes of a child makes it easier to expose hypocrisy and often gives a new perspective on social issues. “Getting Marry”, for example, tells the tale of a young boy trying to get a piece of wedding cake, but in essence, it is really a story about dysfunctional Caribbean relationships.

If writers have one major theme they try to instil in their reading audience, what’s yours?

I have too many personalities to focus on one major theme *cues laughter*. Often times I write about themes that bring about a strong emotional reaction from inside. This could range from sympathy – two abused women debating who is in the worse relationship, to humour – four men in a rum shop arguing politics. So I don’t have one theme, but I do have one major goal; I want the reader to pause – even for one moment – and think about the story after they’ve finished reading it.

It’s been said that hopeful authors should strive to write the book they want most to read. Has your dream book been written yet, or are you going to write it?

There have been times I’ve read a book and thought “Man, why didn’t I write this?” But when I read The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie, I knew that it was my calling to write a Caribbean version of that collection of short stories. Olive Senior (I’m one of her biggest fans!) has done it with Summer Lightning so hopefully I will be next 🙂 .

What was the galvanizing moment in your life that made you decide on fiction writing as one of your passions?

I spent a long time thinking about this question, but I still cannot pinpoint that moment when I decided on fiction writing as a passion. I think it is because I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I don’t remember a time when I was not creating stories in my head and writing them down.

Tell us — what current writing projects are you involved in now? Any big plans for 2013?

Well this year I had decided to focus on screenwriting, and getting my scripts from the page to the screen. I just finished writing the scripts for an animated series for the UNDP, and now I’m making the final edits to my first feature film, which should be coming out in 2013. Next year, I’ll be focusing on fiction writing again, and will hopefully finish the final draft of my first novel.

You can read Shakirah Bourne’s “Getting Marry” here. (ArtsEtc Barbados)

Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation for this undervalued fiction form. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine. Want to start up Story Sundays on your blog? Yay! Email for details.

Story Sundays: “Marrying the Sun” by Rachel Swirsky

Rachel Swirsky

“Bridget stared down at the blurred reflections of halogen bulbs in the water, submerged and insignificant suns. Everything can be overwhelmed, she thought. Everything can be drowned.

If you are an uncommon girl, or a boy who cultivates beyond-the-border thoughts, odds are you’ve already fancied yourself the bride/groom of someone… quite literally out of this world. What happens, however, when an unsought-for allegiance pairs you romantically with celestial bodies? How do you navigate the power dynamic, the extra-terrestrial tensions — the date nights? Can you ever really enjoy Instagram-worthy wedded bliss with a deity or demigod whose very nature ensures that they’ll outshine you in each photograph?

Rachel Swirsky’s unassuming heroine, Bridget, finds herself bereft of any reassurances on the day meant to mark a triumphant entrance into married life. When we meet her nude before the altar, her betrothed has glowed slightly too radiantly, scorching Bridget’s wedding dress from her body in the process. If this is the payoff for partnership with Helios, the god of the sun, Bridget begins to think that it’s a deal-breaker, after all — despite Helios’ several, um, glowing references. Helios, still consumed by slow-burning grief for the death of his son, Phaeton, and the subsequent loss of his daughters, is unsure of when the moratorium on mourning begins. All he knows is that he’s haunted by amber, and reluctant to face the beginning, or ending, of a day where Bridget’s not marking his progress across the skies.

What works best in this piece is a subtle, sweet thing — it’s Swirsky’s consistent melding of the severe to the effervescent. Easily, this story could have run each funereal bell of discontent possible; nothing spells tragic fiction more swiftly than a disastrous break-up. Few scenarios are as ripe for humour as an almost-wedding, either. The author pulls no punches in showcasing pathos — Helios’ contemplation on an amber gem, and the memories it summons, works as a shining example of how a lifetime of old hurts can be encapsulated within a few lines.

“Helios examined the gem. It was set in a simple silver oval. Rich, warm colors swirled through its heart: drifts of sienna, umber, burnt orange and carmine suspended like haze in a yellow sky. A bee hung in its center, wings trapped mid-flutter. Helios thought of all the grief that that had been poured into making this chaotic, vibrant thing, all the sorrow his daughters wept out when Phaeton’s chariot fell. Their solidified grief was incandescent as the sun. It burned him.”

Images such as this, of sorrow so potent it singes a Sun Lord to the core, are stacked side by side with mirth and playfulness. Helios’ immortal best man, Apollo, and the latter’s platinum-haired plaything, provide situational humour worthy of any primetime sitcom. Thoughtful, tiny details of setting and characterization can prompt our giggling, too — such as the fact that Helios’ bar side meal includes pepper vodka and pudding enflambé. Those who read closely will savour these telling treasures as the signposts of Swirsky’s storytelling charm; those who read for gist will probably miss them (and should probably not be reading short fiction, anyway.)

As in some of the best brief tales, characters are imbued with multiple meaning, and take on a variety of roles. Apollo and his tow-headed bedmate aren’t merely used for antics; their relationship stands in sharp contrast to Bridget and Helios, evidence of the distinct ways in which these celestial and terrestrial explorations are conducted. Eilethyia, goddess of childbirth and matchmaker for divine/mortal unions, does more than console Bridget over a meal of sumptuous dolmathakia me kima — she hints at the bitter endings that have accompanied countless other romances, trysts and assignations. The principal players themselves are more than a bare-skinned bride and a glinting groom. Their opening rift has them consider their pairing from a post-euphoric perspective, in so doing re-shaping the former wonderland of their courtship into something more sober, but no less electrifying to ponder.

What I loved about “Marrying the Sun” seems by turns simple and intricate — this ability to indulge your most fanciful romantic daydreams without the burning stamp of adult shame. Wedding tablescapes and after-dinner party tricks that might otherwise be thought of as gaudily anachronistic are a pure delight in this piece. If you’re feeling decidedly indulgent, there’s no finer fantastical fic-recommendation I could conjure up tonight. It’s intoxicating, frankly, to think that Bridget’s wooing could be ours: why, just picture it, and you will get some sense of the moon-burnt, sunbeam-seared appeal of this short story. The thing you most adore — that to which you devote aching hours of study, for which you forsake communion with others, beneath whose otherworldly gaze you consecrate your fiercest ambitions: that very holy (or profane) entity might knock on your door and beseech you, please, to be its bride.

You can read “Marrying the Sun” by Rachel Swirsky here. (Fantasy Magazine)

Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation for this undervalued fiction form. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine. Want to start up Story Sundays on your blog? Yay! Email for details.

Story Sundays: “Jane” by McKinley M. Hellenes

McKinley M. Hellenes

“She is a conventional woman — though she likes to imagine that she hasn’t always been, that once she wasn’t. She was something else, something bolder and guileless. Was she ever guileless? Was she ever bold? She doesn’t remember. Even now, out of the house and slinking her way through the night, she doesn’t feel bold. She feels nothing more than she ever does. She could be anywhere right now, doing anything but what she is actually planning to do.”

A woman goes in search of something one night, after the neatly ordered emblems of her suburban life are tucked away. She takes no one with her. She tells no one where she’s gone. Her purpose is best known to herself, and as she stealthily trawls the city streets for the object of her compulsion and fascination, it seems more than likely that she will encounter it… and encounter it, she does. Once the woman, this unassuming wife and mother, takes the male prostitute to bed, you’d be thinking that the goal of the story has been accomplished, with a few vigorous flesh-tangles and a nostalgic memory stamped into a bored homemaker’s carnal scrapbook. Not so… not when Hellenes is the one holding your attention rapt with each new paragraph, with each sleight of hand prose flourish.

Avid perspicacity in detailing marks every turn of the story’s progression. The writer imbues the most apparently mundane of images, such as the glow from a television screen, with surprising vitality. In so doing, the tv’s glare becomes an “auroral coruscation”, the comforting security of a vehicle is glimpsed as “a chrysalis of steel and tempered glass.” This isn’t verbosity so much as it is prose, given space to consider alternative workday outfits, descriptions that don top hats, similes that barely recognize themselves in their new and unaccustomed lustre. Hellenes polishes language with care, with a steadfast eye and ear for both the visual and auditory occupation of storytelling. When you combine this solicitude with a style that flows both compellingly and naturally, you receive lines like these, detailing the narrator’s steeling of resolve before she approaches the young man.

“She rolls down her window a few inches, like opening a letterbox in a door, and waits. Her heart is beating hard, but in slow-motion, like it is hesitating, deciding whether to keep on going or not each time it floods with a shipment of her blood.”

Duality of perspective can be a tricky navigation in short fiction, if one is aiming for a certain equanimity in voice, and even if one isn’t. If I was nervous about being privy to the prostitute’s train of thought, that concern evaporated within the opening syllables of the window into his consciousness. Indeed, seeing the assignation from his mind as well as hers brought a chorus of musings singing to the surface, not least among them this: that people who conduct sexual transactions, whether money is involved or not, never do so with just each other. There are always any number of spectres, sitting on the edge of the creaking bed, even if they’re never acknowledged (and really, maybe your backstory burns harder in your throat with the effort of having to keep it silent). The precious few words he shares with the woman, compared to the jungle thicket of his thoughts, are testimony to the truth, and usefulness, of some people knowing the deep value of silence, of how much we can hold, how little we ever need to grant.

From the top of the glimmering treasure cache of aspects I love best in this story, the following shines most undeniably: this story will make you investigate your own strongly or loosely held belief systems. I struggle with short fiction that paints a thick swathe of supposedly artful moralizing into its corridors of pseudo-subtext — you know, like a bitterly aching bit about a trip to the abortionist that’s glad-handingly strewn with pro-life sycophancy? Or an oppressive pamphlet piece detailing the cloistered sexploits of two nuns, signalling the erotic dangers of mono-gendered religious life? The problem, it seems to me, is that most writers have already decided, before they’ve written “Once upon a time…”, how they’d prefer you felt about the moral spine of their fiction. Writers like Hellenes merit respect for, well, the respect they confer on their readers. Stories such as “Jane” seem to declare nothing so strongly as: this is life. We live it gracelessly, spontaneously, messily, even when we’re struggling to be cautious. No one is immune to the daily poison or elixir of human interaction. Not everyone gets saved; very few are ever sainted. We can die, and be resurrected, on every stroke of the clock.

Reading “Jane” is a fresh, wrist-grippingly acute reminder of the fact that, though Hellenes undoubtedly is, not every writer of prose is a good writer of short fiction. If you’ve read spellbinding short stories, you’ll know that what’s needed are a different combination of tools from the same craftswoman’s lair — similar instruments, cunningly and piercingly reconfigured. Never trust a novelist who laughs off the challenges of honing a piece for brevity, paring it for tension, lining it with carefully coiled images, mistressing the necessity of each important word, of no trivial elements. It’s the job of the short story writer to ensorcell you in seconds, to ravish your creative nape with a million ink kisses, all bound up in the promise of the opening lines. Hellenes does this. It’s bewitchingly easy enough to think that the author has taken us down these furtive, dimly lit city pavements an entire, stuffed walletful of times. We feel like we’ve already made the journey with our narrator, crouched low in her armoured automotive titan, knuckles gleaming with a brand of audacious trepidation. “Jane” gives us the chance to huddle in the backseat, or to embody the narrator herself, to carefully lay out the crisp offering of hundred dollar bills on the nightstand, to figure out how much of the night we can safely hoard in our post-modern adventuresses’ hearts.

You can read “Jane” by McKinley M. Hellenes here. (This Reading Life)

Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation for this undervalued fiction form. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine. Want to start up Story Sundays on your blog? Yay! Email for details.

Story Sundays: “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie

April 2018: I believe the women who have shared their truths  of sexual harassment at Sherman Alexie’s hands, as described here. This Story Sunday is one of Novel Niche’s most viewed posts. Instead of deleting it, I use it as a springboard to uplift and signal boost the work of Native women writers, the very demographic Alexie sought to oppress and delegitimize. I support native women, and I believe their truths of assault and survival. 

If you’ve been keeping tabs on my Story Sunday posts, you’ll know that I’ve been on something of a hiatus. It wasn’t that I didn’t have brilliant, heartbreaking, resurrecting short stories about which to gush; I did, and I do. This story, in fact, has been at the top of that particular list for several months. I fell in love with Sherman Alexie on the basis of this one story, and everything I’ve read by him since has only confirmed my feverish adulation.

You could think of this entire tale as a curious, quirky escapade with the Lost and Found department of life, and you’d not be far off the mark. It centres on the misadventures of Jackson Jackson, a tragicomically titled Spokane Indian who stumbles across his grandmother’s long-lost powwow-dance regalia in the window of a Seattle pawnshop. Woefully bereft of financial resources with which to purchase it from the shopkeeper, Jackson Squared sets out to earn, beg, borrow and/or magick the money (nine hundred and ninety nine dollars, to be precise), in just one day.

Alexie manages with Jackson Squared, in the space of eight pages or so, more than some writers can achieve with their protagonists in three volumes. We’re never quite sure what to make of him, this hilarious, downtrodden, disarmingly pragmatic drifter who, in the story’s opening paragraphs, says of himself:

“I’ve broken a few hearts in my time, but we’ve all done that, so I’m nothing special in that regard. I’m a boring heartbreaker, too. I never dated or married more than one woman at a time. I didn’t break hearts into pieces overnight. I broke them slowly and carefully. And I didn’t set any land-speed records running out the door. Piece by piece, I disappeared. I’ve been disappearing ever since.”

Jackson’s epic, 24-hours-or-less quest reads like an anti-Galahad’s peregrination, his own personal Grail wrapped up in years of deprivation, cultural sidelining, in a certain inured thick-skinnedness that grows from someone understanding his place in the world. Yet for all that potentially suffocating bleakness, this story is more complex, more delicately modulated with grey areas, than to be thought of as a simple indemnification against Caucasian hegemony. It isn’t so clear-cut, Alexie seems to be urging us, as “Down with the paleface!”, though, certainly, if there are threads of that sentiment woven into the narrative, the author doesn’t shy away from them. There are contemplations of the fate/state of the First Nation peoples that are so bitterly steeped in the darkest humour that you’ll wonder whether you’re clever, or cruel, for bursting out in laughter. Here is one such instance, in which Jackson is amicably interrogated by a policeman friend, who finds the former decidedly worse for wear after a night of drunken carousing that’s gone awry.

“He walked around the car and sat in the driver’s seat. “I’m taking you over to detox,” he said.

“No, man, that place is awful,” I said. “It’s full of drunk Indians.” We laughed. He drove away from the docks.

“I don’t know how you guys do it,” he said.

“What guys?” I asked.

“You Indians. How the hell do you laugh so much? I just picked your ass off the railroad tracks, and you’re making jokes. Why the hell do you do that?”

“The two funniest tribes I’ve ever been around are Indians and Jews, so I guess that says something about the inherent humor of genocide.”

We laughed.”

As you’ve likely surmised by now, Jackson Squared is hardly the noblest narrator you’ll encounter. As I did, you might find yourself musing from time to time on how much he deserves to inherit his deceased grandmother’s regalia, after all. You might not admire him, in the final analysis, or want to emulate his series of patchwork-quilted life decisions… but my goodness, how you’ll want to root for him. Keeping faith with Jackson seems like casting your bets for the ultimate, endearing/bemusing underdog.

I’ve read this story more than twenty times now, and with each fresh visitation I find new lines to love, new perspectives to consider, fascinating and aching hypotheticals to mull over. This isn’t the politically correct tale of the noble savage that mainstream media has come to endorse through laziness and misinformation. Shiftily romantic stereotypes found wandering through Alexie’s prose are shot on sight, ribboned with rapier-sharp witticisms, with an unflinching eye that tends towards truth. Alexie’s prose is one of the best compasses for contemporary storytelling that I’ve ever read, and I shall eagerly follow it over the horizon, hoping, like Jackson Squared, that each day brings with it a little more redemption, a little more illuminating grace, a little more food money and fighting chances than the last.

You can read “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie here. (The New Yorker)

Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation for this undervalued fiction form. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine. Want to start up Story Sundays on your blog? Yay! Email for details.

Story Sundays: “How to Become a Mars Overlord” by Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente

“We have all wanted Mars, in our time. She is familiar, she is strange. She is redolent of tales and spices and stones we have never known. She is demure, and gives nothing freely, but from our hearths we have watched her glitter, all of our lives. Of course we want her. Mars is the girl next door. Her desirability is encoded in your cells. It is archetypal. We absolve you in advance.”

Catherynne M. Valente’s fictive worlds have been much on my mind for most of December. My first reading of her novel, Palimpsest, is one I’ve drawn lingeringly across weeks, when a part of me would have liked to devour it in one feverish night, but I resisted, because I was more interested in savouring each embellishment and prose filigree as though imbibing from a wineskin. Valente handles language with an adroit reverence that is both gratifying and illuminatory. She furnishes each page with landscapes that linger, with streets and signposts you swore existed only in your most chimeric of dreams. I became curious—would this mistressing of the written word translate just as resoundingly in her short fiction pieces? So I investigated, and “How to Become a Mars Overlord” landed in my lap, or, rather, I alighted upon its curious, ensorcelling geography.

The piece is, in its entirety, a proclamation, a seminar given at an unnamed (and, one supposes, intergalactic) advisory forum for a group of attendants interested in, to quote the introductory greeting, “the potential growth opportunities inherent in whole-planet domination”. This narration fills the story’s frame, told as it is in a metallically cheerful, almost-avuncular first person plural. One gets the feeling that this collective of Martian-conquest entrepreneurs has one’s best interests at heart, a sentiment that surely runs counter to the self-aggrandizement that fuels the core of each overlord’s personal interests. Still, despite the seemingly-simple, two-tiered approach to planetary despotism offered by the board, no records are permitted at the congregation, the uncertain significance of which seems to be understood implicitly by everyone present. The things revealed in this “how to” primer run deeper, possibly, than even the stealthiest trade secrets, but more for the revelations they hold about oneself rather than that elusive, lustworthy red orb.

Any writer with a basic command of her language could tell you, tongue-in-cheek, that the interstellar highway to Mars is equally informed by the journey as by the destination, and betrays just as much about the sanguine conquistadora’s aspiration-flooded heart, as the crimson-floored terrain of the planet itself. Catherynne M. Valente is an exceptional writer, and the transmission of this truth is jewel-studded, dripping with rich, effulgent lyricism. Not an adjective of adornment feels out of place, which is a rousing success when one considers how description-heavy is the writing, how much it shies away from a staid, thrifty commerce in storytelling. Despite this gilt-edged application in style, at no point is wandering through her fictive depictions of the history of Martian ambition cloying. This is a reading experience that is immersive in the best way; it tugs you down the labyrinth without the suggestion of a migraine, afterwards, when you’re trying to retrace your steps. Valente crafts copious, lush paragraphs of character exposition (more on those characters soon), and flanks them with precise declarative sentences, such as “Mastery of Mars is not without its little lessons”, and another in particular, which I won’t quote because it’s at the gleaming core of what makes this story so spectacular for me.

In a short fiction work spanning no more than a few thousand words, the author populates her chronicle with a legion of unforgettable characters, more than many full-length novels can boast. It will be impossible for you not to pick your favourite, as I have mine. Valente describes the unique, incandescent trials of those who have triumphed in the dominion of their own specific red planets: the titan of civil engineering industry and first All-Emperor of Mars, Felix Ho; the winged Muror poetess of celestial unrhyming, Oorm Nineteen Point Aught-One; the volatile,  impetuous and unsuccessful monarch, Harlow Y. She lovingly catalogues the exploits and endeavours of those who have reached for that distinctive brass ring that is Mars, and furnishes no less attention to detail on those who, crestfallen, have failed, dooming themselves to admire the planetary object of their affections from distant, less fiercely-burning surfaces.

As you come to the end of this parable that reads, simultaneously, as assiduously drafted science fiction and lyrical high fantasy, you might be most moved by the notion of discovery that ignites each paragraph of the piece. You’ll learn that Catherynne M. Valente has unveiled more than you thought apparent about space exploration and self-actualization—of how both to strive for Mars, and to strive to own it without losing ownership of yourself—and, if, like me, you’re new to her work, you will wonder where she’s been your entire series of lifetimes until now.

You can read (and listen!) to “How to Become a Mars Overlord” by Catherynne M. Valente here. (Lightspeed Magazine)

This Sunday, Ellen, the creator of the Story Sundays feature, proprietress of Fat Books and Thin Women, shares her thoughts on Touré’s “A Hot Time at the Church of Kentucky Fried Souls and the Spectacular Final Sunday Sermon of the Right Revren Daddy Love”, here.

Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation for this undervalued fiction form. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine. Want to start up Story Sundays on your blog? Yay! Email for details.

Story Sundays: “Something More” by Erica Lorraine

Erica Lorraine

“When Avery was nineteen, he saw a woman on the city bus. Imagine him, uncherished—alone. It’s not just a word, lonely. Lonely adds to solitary a suggestion of longing for companionship, while lonesome heightens the suggestion of sadness; forlorn and desolate are even more isolated. Avery hated the woman on the bus. She carried friendship, that fragile animal, but she withheld it from him.”

It’s not a premise that would alarm you, normally. A woman, quiet and thoughtful within herself, notices a man diligently at work, handling his craft with skill and consideration, and she wants him. Seizing her fate firmly between her palms, she pursues and secures him, moves her life into his dwelling, and thus begins the catalogue of their romance. This synopsis, so far, reads like the pitch for a straightforward romantic comedy, maybe a little on the staid side—and there’s no denying that if “Something More” were transcribed to screen, moments of it would be dutifully sweet. Thankfully, the story recommends itself for a studied perusal because its fabric is darted through with insinuations of guilt, buttoned up by bone fixtures done in implied and understood chaos. It’s as sinister as any “girl seeks boy” story can get without latching you into the surprise woodshed by force, and that makes it riveting.

One of the reasons that this unexpectedly fierce story works as well as it does is because of the calculated startle that opens it. We learn within the first few words that Avery is a rapist, but it’s not this that draws our principal narrator, Jackie, to him. There is much more to Avery, the bespectacled, talented florist at the shop from which Jackie makes her frugal purchases, than the intimation that he may, or may not, have violated a woman’s personal, sacred space. Why the element of doubt, then, that threads itself through much of the brief, sparsely depicted narrative? If we’ve been told within the story’s initial breath that he is, in no uncertain terms, a perpetrator of sexual assault, then why is our ultimate perception of him so studded with uncertainty? Delicate, astutely moulded ambivalence of this tenor makes reading “Something More” a Sunday afternoon’s disturbing pleasure.

What I liked best was the way that the entire experience of reading puts one in mind of being primed for violence, and yet, that violence is transmitted to us with self-conscious, earnest, almost awkward gentility. Jackie’s domestic pugilism, her premeditative conquest and capture of Avery, is so whisperingly well done that a coarse reader might easily miss it—but every devoted entry in her catalogue of ownership is neatly scribbled. From the moment she decides on making Avery her own, stalking him with delicate fixation outside the florist’s as he compiles a stunning bouquet for her, to the way she solicitously nurses him back to good health when she’s moved her life into his old-fashioned apartment, Jackie traces affectionate, unmistakable brands onto the artistic young man she’s made her partner and prey. The way she claims his body as her own is simultaneously chilling/thrilling to envision:

“She stayed home from work, stayed home from school, and when his fever broke, she made him hard in her hands and fit herself on top of him. She held his wrists above his head and buried her face against his neck.”

By having her consecrate all of her hours to Avery’s care (and in so doing sublimating her importance), and then asserting her importance by possessing him, Lorraine sculpts Jackie’s duality magnificently: the duality that simmers in each of us, to abnegate and to rule over another, over and within ourselves.

If you’re receptive to its imbedded frissons of alarm, and sensitive to its open-handed sense of storytelling justice, “Something More” will own your Sunday’s attention, utterly. I am almost always impressed by a fictive voice that documents with as little intrusive, perception-distorting authorial judgement as possible, and Lorraine is proficient at telling the intertwined stories of Avery and Jackie on a slate so bereft of omniscient frowns or applause as to be pristine. The authoress isn’t debating, here, whether or not people are compelled to do terrible things. Knowing that we already know the answer to that, she peels back the covers we make for our facilely lying faces, to examine our secret compulsions, and to probe discomfitingly at the tacit deceits we feed ourselves, even when we’re certainly fooling no-one.

You can read “Something More” by Erica Lorraine here. (Joyland)

This week, the lovely Jennifer of Books, Personally,  shares her thoughts on “Lucky Bamboo” by Agnieszka Stachura, here. Ellen, the creator of the Story Sundays feature, proprietress of Fat Books and Thin Women, is currently on blogging hiatus.

Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation for this undervalued fiction form. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine. Want to start up Story Sundays on your blog? Yay! Email for details.

Story Sundays: “Still Life, With Wreckage” by Paulo Campos

Paulo Campos

“Then everything was everywhere. Lowell walked through broken bags, airline seats, curls of fuselage, electronic devices, baseball caps, broken Duty Free bottles of whiskey, peanut packets, an inordinate number of tampons. Columns of steam moved away into the night from scattered hot bits of plane. The co-pilot stood on a rock and shouted through a rolled up magazine. Lowell stepped through the hole and looked up the luggage hull. Small fires burned some suitcases and chests inside. “I’m ruined,” Lowell said.”

This is one of those stories that pretentious literary criticism groups, or workshop writers, would subject to a series of elaborately obfuscating vivisections, all the while sipping french press, fair trade coffee, and lamenting the demise of whatever formerly hipster trend had gone sourly into the mainstream. Let’s not, here at Novel Niche, be pretentious about what we like, and about what discomfits us—and “Still Life, With Wreckage” prompts both reactions, though not necessarily in equal measure.

The narrative is divided into three sections, each of which features Lowell as its principal character. In the first section, he is trapped on board an airplane whose housing has been perforated, resulting in devastating consequences for its human cargo. He takes stock of the loss of human life as well as material properties, and notes the varying reactions of other passengers. As his box of official inquest documents flies further and further out of his reach, he remembers the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of his son, Carlos. In the second, Lowell returns to his home in the aftermath of the aircraft fiasco. He recounts the loss to his apparently glib, socially preoccupied wife, Fern, then heads to bed, where he falls sideways into a labyrinthine reminiscence (or is it a foreshadowing?), before being jarred out of it by Fern’s insistence that he remove his shoes. In the final section, Lowell is being carted off to an unnamed penitentiary (where the heavily implied promise of torture awaits him and his fellow prisoners), when he believes he recognizes his son Carlos, the last prisoner to be brought out for shipping to the new facility. Whether or not this sighting becomes a true reunion of father and child remains obscured by the forceful intervention of a nearby guard.

So many things are happening in this story that, once it doesn’t turn you off with its considerable (and, for me, much-appreciated) weirdness, you’ll want to reread it at least twice, slowly, so that its full effect can sink in. I’ve read it five times now, and I’m not sure that I can claim to a comprehensive understanding of every arc and sub-arc, every veiled plot suggestion or hidden character conflict. Once the prospect of rereading excites, rather than elicits groans of frustration, then you’re usually on to a piece of good writing. What makes the story worth each reexamination is the way it isn’t afraid to grow non-normatively. I think it’s safe to conjecture that if you liked watching Synecdoche, New York, you’ll enjoy reading this. It’s plausible, too, that even if you didn’t like Synecdoche, but you respected what its internal circuitry attempted to say, then you’ll appreciate what turns and ticks within the software of “Still Life, With Wreckage”.

There are several tiny treatments in the detailing of the narrative that demand our focus, and our consideration. There’s the way in which Lowell’s second son’s sunglasses are light blue, the same colour used to describe Carlos’ eyes. There’s the deliberate loss of Carlos in proximity to the People Eater installment at the amusement park, a  detail that renders as injected with painful irony, until it’s repeated by the security guard who tends to their case, so that it becomes both literarily ironic and bitterly humorous. There’s the muted horror of never knowing the fate of the woman who, hysteria-stricken, rips her breathing mask from its panel, to stare at it uselessly in her hands. There are stories within the minutiae begging to be told. Not telling them, but hinting at them with just enough detail to be maddening, suits the short fiction form eminently, and Campos employs it in full force here.

What moves the most, ultimately, is Lowell’s muddled, conflictingly articulated self-perception. Everything around him, every event he absorbs by being a part of it, from losing Carlos by the happenstance of his arachnophobia, to confronting his financial ruin through a candid confessional with the portrait of a plantation owner in his bedroom, holds the uncomfortable quality of being easily applicable to events we’ve each of us faced or fled from. What is most upsetting, and rewarding, to consider, is that Lowell’s life, its most colossally tragic, ludicrously uncertain structure, is our combined existence. His life has no backspace button, just like ours, and just like him, we march on irredeemably, resolutely, with as much grace as we can muster when our own fuselage tears loose.

You can read “Still Life, With Wreckage” by Paulo Campos here. (The Incongruous Quarterly)

This week, the lovely Jennifer of Books, Personally,  shares her thoughts on “Sinners” by Edna O’Brien, here. Ellen, the creator of the Story Sundays feature, proprietress of Fat Books and Thin Women, is currently on blogging hiatus.

Story Sundays was created by Fat Books and Thin Women as a way to share appreciation for this undervalued fiction form. All stories discussed are available to read free, online. Here’s Fat Books and Thin Women’s Story Sunday archive, and here’s mine. Want to start up Story Sundays on your blog? Yay! Email for details.