1.04.2015

The Ten Best Short Stories I Read in 2014




"The Inner Room"
by Robert Aickman,
from The Wine-Dark Sea.









Have you ever wanted to live in a doll house inside a remote gothic-like mansion in a forgotten English moor?  So have I!  Swear this story would've made a great Twilight Zone episode.

"Taxi Driver, Minus Robert DeNiro"
by Fernando Ampuero,
anthologized in the excellent The Vintage Book of Latin American Stories.
A very different take on what amounts to human-trafficking ... of drunks.

"Ben-Tobith"
by Leonid Andreyev,
collected in Jorge Luis Borges' classic anthology The Book of Fantasy.
Set in Jerusalem just prior to and literally on the night Jesus Christ was crucified.  Poor man had a maddening toothache that nearly drove him to jump off his roof, to suicide, the very moment the three "malefactors" (Jesus & the two thieves) were being beaten and whipped, driven by the enraged mob up the same lane where he lived, carrying their crosses, toward the summit of Golgotha.  Weirdest thing.  The man's throbbing toothache, heretofore not even pacified by the then popular home remedy of "rat droppings", went away just like that, lickety split, the very hour Christ was crucified.

"The Shunammite"
by Ines Arredondo,
 in Underground River and Other Stories.









I'd rate this story as the best one I read this year.  Find a copy of Arredondo's book, or find an anthology that has it (there are many, because it's apparently one of the most anthologized stories ever published by a Mexican writer) & hopefully be as mesmerized by it -- as creeped out by it -- as I was.  A young woman's sense of family duty is exploited to the extreme by her supposedly "dying" uncle, who twists and then perverts her loyalty in a way unimaginable and shocking.

"The Church of No Reason"
by Andrea Barrett,
published in American Short Fiction, Spring 1991

"Night Talk in a Cabin"
by Nagai Kafū,
collected in American Stories.









"Swans"
by Janet Frame,
collected in the anthology Some Other Country: New Zealand's Best Short Stories.









"Friendship"*
by Steve Katz,
collected in 43 Fictions.
The funniest, most darkly twisted story I read this year. It was hysterical black comedy to the max, the way I like it. Imagine what a writer with a twisted, demented sensibility could do with this opening paragraph below and then multiply that imagination by at least ten or thirteen.

"My friend Sadie was a closet cannibal and that was why I introduced her to Herman in the first place.  At the time I thought it was best for people to get these propensities out in the open, at least on some level.  Express yourself.  Let it all hang out.  I thought Herman might do that for her because among all my friends he was the one who tended to be most willing, even driven, to sacrifice himself."

*originally collected in Stolen Stories, but I read it in what's like the equivalent of The Portable Steve Katz -- 43 Fictions.

"House of the Sleeping Beauties"
by Yasanari Kawabata,
in House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories.

"Sign"
by an online friend,
an unpublished story, though likely soon to be.

"Thunderstruck"
by Elizabeth McCracken,
in Thunderstruck & Other Stories.







In the beginning of the story, both parents are disconnected from their daughter's reality in ways I get: they're both shocked when Helen sneaks out for a nitrous oxide party and is brought home by the police.  Helen's mother, Laura, interrogates Helen with the who what where when & hows, but not the whys:  "Laura wanted to know everything.  No, that wasn't true.  She wanted to know nothing, she wanted from Helen only consolation…." Ignorance is bliss--I get that.  But rather than address the reality of their daughter sneaking out & using drugs; rather than ever analyzing why Helen is doing these things, they jump straight to how can we fix this problem right now, and the next morning they decide that fleeing to Paris is the answer.  And that I don't really get though I can still sort of imagine some parents being that screwy with their discipline.  And McCracken's narrator is so good at letting the parents rationalize their Paris decision, you almost believe, reading it, that it might work:

"The plan was to disrupt their lives, a jolt to Helen's system before school started again in the fall.  The city would be strange and beautiful, as Helen herself was strange and beautiful.  Perhaps they'd understand her there.  Perhaps the problem all this time was that her soul had been written in French."

But it doesn't work.  Helen behaves the same way in Paris right under her parent's noses --surprise surprise-- until one night she winds up in the ICU with serious head trauma.  Finally, when it's almost too late, the father, Wes, experiences a parental epiphany and tells his comatose daughter bedside that he wants to know everything, all her secrets, he wants to just plain 'ol know her for a change, and that she can tell him anything.  But not so with Laura.  She wishes her daughter had rather died than be kept alive on life support.  And even when Helen comes off life support, and is conscious but unable to talk or move very much unassisted; even though Helen is making progress in her recovery, albeit slowly, it's still not good enough (or maybe it's just Helen isn't a plain good enough daughter) for Laura.  Laura's lack of hope, faith, belief in her daughter, and how over the top it went -- wishing she had just died when she struck her head -- is what I wasn't able to imagine could exist in the mindset of a parent, being one myself ...

Such a thought provoking story, and I zeroed in, above, on merely one tangential aspect from it.

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