"I was thinking about this really kind of beautiful and naive faith people have that death is going to give them some kind of final answer, you know. Either there’s going to be, you know, whatever the answer is. Like: That’s it. The end. Or that there will be kind of a final reckoning. And I was just thinking about these poor guys who — it’s even more mystifying than their lives on this planet. And just the kind of arithmetic we’re doing all the time where we try to explain our present circumstances based on our past actions."
I loved Russell’s new collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove. The story here is about presidents reincarnated as horses in some kind of purgatory and is amazing as only Karen Russell can be. More of my thoughts at Everyday eBook and JennIRL gives it all the love at Tor.
Colbert: Why do you write short stories? America likes big. Go big or go home. We like big, huge, huge, huge novels.
Saunders: I’ll tell you why. If you imagine this, let’s say you were madly in love with somebody and your mission was to tell the person that you love them. So here’s two scenarios: one is you can take a weeklong train trip with the person, take your time, you’ll be in boring situations, beautiful scenery, everything. That’s a novel.
Colbert: Sounds good, sounds really good.
Saunders: The second scenario is she’s stepping on the train and you’ve got three minutes. So you have to make all that declaration in three minutes. That would be a short story.
Colbert: Can I get on the train with her?
Saunders: No, you’ve just got to shout it as she goes.
Colbert: Why can’t I get on the train?
Saunders: Because it’s a short story. You’re not allowed. You have to end it in eight pages and get out.
Colbert: But this is the short story I want to read — where is she going? Why can’t I go with her? We’re on to something here. Does she love me back? I’ve got to know!
Saunders: I don’t know yet! Sometimes a short story will just end with that question — does she love me back? So it’s a very special kind of beauty.
Saunders will be at the library with another legendary talk show host, Dick Cavett, next Tuesday, Feb. 26 to talk about his much-lauded latest story collection, “Tenth of December.”
LONG LIVE THE SHORT STORY.
"This is not exactly the fantastic made realistic or the realistic fantastic. It’s a story sure of itself in the frolic of its strangeness. Fiction is by definition unreal, and Russell takes this coldly awesome truth and enjoys fully the rebel freedom it confers. […] But Russell is no coy or mannered mistress of the freaky. Much of the pleasure in reading her comes from the wily freshness of her language and the breezy nastiness of her observations.” (via Joy Williams, ‘Vampires in the Lemon Grove,’ by Karen Russell - NYTimes.com)
I nabbed an ARC of this at the bookstore; I loved it. It has a surprising thread of horror (as in the genre) throughout, and seems more mature then her previous work. I think my favorite story in it is “Reeling for the Empire,” which provides the inspiration for the gorgeous illustration with this review.
"The great short stories – by Gogol, Chekov, Munro, Wolff, et al – seem to affirm that human experience is at least somewhat shared – that what matters to you probably matters to me too. That’s a pretty optimistic stance, even if a given story is, on the surface, “dark."
New issue of Storychord, who you might remember from such events as Around the Campfire and their Birthday Party here, guest curated by Michael Barron, featuring Kelsey Ford, Jocelyn Spaar, and Single Ben.
Check it out, I love this project. Every two weeks an issue features a short story, paired up with an image (photograph, painting, etc.) and a song. Discover the next big thing. (via Storychord.com: ISSUE #60: Kelsey Ford, Jocelyn Spaar, Single Ben)
"My thinking is there’s no such thing as a bad idea for a story. Or perhaps what I mean is every idea for a story is bad until you make it good. Any time I’ve written anything good I’ve spent the vast majority of the composition process convinced it was an utter stinker. And they were stinkers, until they weren’t, at which point they were done. The only way to get from one to the other is work."
The Battleborn author on some of her worst story ideas (“There was the one about a town that builds a rocket ship to colonize the moon, deciding to leave all the rabble-rousing feminists behind.”) and the myth of the good idea (“imagine Toni Morrison saying, ‘Picture this! Ghost baby has sex with her mom’s boyfriend! It’ll win a Nobel!’”).
dirtyriver asked: Any suggestions for short stories collections published in the last thirty years?,
- Bad Behavior and any and all Mary Gaitskill
- Battleborn, Claire Vaye Watkins
- Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
- Boys and Girls Like You and Me, Aryn Kyle
- Blueprints for Building Better Girls, Elissa Schappell
- Collected Stories, Nikolai Gogol (obviously technically much older but the new Pevear & Volokhonsky translation is good enough to merit inclusion on this list)
- Collected Stories, Amy Hempel
- Drown, Junot Díaz
- Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever, Justin Taylor
- Four New Messages, Joshua Cohen
- Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, Alice Munro
- How This Night Is Different, Elisa Albert
- How We Are Hungry, Dave Eggers
- Instant Love, Jami Attenberg
- I Looked Alive, Gary Lutz
- Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
- Last Evenings on Earth, Roberto Bolaño
- Like You’d Understand Anyway and You Think That’s Bad, Jim Shepard
- Long, Last, Happy, Barry Hannah
- Other People We Married, Emma Straub
- St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, Karen Russell
- The Train to Lo Wu, Jess Row
- Unaccustomed Earth (I much prefer this to Maladies), Jhumpa Lahiri
- Where I’m Calling From, Raymond Carver
- Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work, Jason Brown
“My friend Ron Hansen, the novelist, always says to me: ‘You’re crazy! You know, you did eight months of research and all you got out of it is a story. I would get a four hundred page novel and make a lot more money.’But part of it is also that, you know, it doesn’t feel like drudgery to me. If I’m reading about these subjects, it’s because I’m strange enough to want to be interested in them anyway. So the idea that I have to read yet another book about volcanology doesn’t make my heart sink. It makes me think, ‘Oh, good, I get to do that!’”
Read more of our interview with author Jim Shepard here.
What, you haven’t read Jim Shepard yet? Fix your life.
"A lot of people who want to see the short story have a renaissance of readership—they tend to think of short stories, and sometimes poems too, as being well-suited to the way we now live, with all of these broken-up bits of time. I hope they’re right, but my sense is that our fiction reading has become, if anything, more cherished as a kind of escape from fragmentation. So, short stories have an even harder time, because they tend to get read during the day, between other things. They’re interstitial. And yet the content of short stories tends to be very much “nighttime” content. I mean, Chekhov’s stories are about the moment that a life goes off the rails and the price that will be paid—forever. That’s a typical Chekhov story for you. Something that you’re used to lying in bed worrying about at four in the morning, before you have the psychic defenses to kid yourself and tell yourself to get up and shower and go to the office. Right? Or short stories are about adulterous passions, or kids having terrible accidents. You know, all of this stuff is nighttime, nightmare, dream stuff. And I like the idea of trying to take a piece of the night and trying to plunk it down in the middle of the day. But that’s the kind of fun that isn’t for everybody."
Yes, in fact, I will be blogging a quote from every Lorin Stein interview.
If, as Alfred North Whitehead said, “all Western philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato,” then on a much smaller scale, all funny Tumblr blogs are footnotes to Barthelme. There’s a set of overlapping styles that can be seen in many places where satire is found these days, including places like McSweeney’s and its progeny, as well as many other funny blogs and sites, which are varied but have key elements in common, including formal experimentation, an emotional affect that can best be described as deadpan whimsy, and a love of all things old-timey (especially anachronistic mashup pictures of old-timey people in new-timey places), and these styles trace some of their DNA back to Barthelme, who predated, prefigured, and prepared readers for this mode of humor. Each of his stories is its own clever, satirical Tumblr: sometimes pastiche, sometimes variations on a theme, pretty much always tantalizing and sly and oblique. (Charles Yu reviews Guilty Pleasures via 1975 - All Exhibition Pages - National Book Award Fiction Finalists)