6 Shorts 2015

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The Glove Maker’s Numbers by Rebecca F John A Sheltered Woman by Yiyun Li Hungry by Elizabeth McCracken False River by Paula Morris Interstellar Space by Scott O’Connor The Wedding Cake by Madeleine Thien

The Finalists For the 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

10 thoughts on “6 Shorts 2015

  1. “What are numbers knit
    By force or custom?”
    — Percy Bysshe Shelley

    The Glove Maker’s Daughter by Rebecca F John

    “It had not taken Christina long to learn to see them divided, like portions of a sugary apple tart, into parts that would eventually make up a whole.”

    I think this is the first story that has genuinely made me feel a lunatic, as mad as the subject of it, Christina. Except I hold on to the fact that she is not the “lunatic” that everyone thinks she is, certainly now cured, a glove-maker the stitches of which job makes her see things turned into numbers and then those numbers as tactile and shaped into various emotions, and you must read about each number as we are told about them in this context. The loops and endlessness, the sharpness of ends, etc. The death in the past of her brother when young. The woman beside her in the lunatic asylum. Her husband reading her Shelley … after she comes home, hopefully healed. There was nothing to heal, I say. But what is the Devil’s number? I know how to escape this story. Pretend it never happened? Count its pages? Or letters? Take my mind off. Who is the glove-maker, the mother or the daughter? Only one photograph.

    • “What are numbers knit
      By force or custom? Man who man would be,
      Must rule the empire of himself; in it
      Must be supreme, establishing his throne
      On vanquished will, quelling the anarchy
      Of hopes and fears, being himself alone.”

  2. A Sheltered Woman by Yiyun Li

    “: a mother is a mother, even if she speaks of flushing her child down the drain.”

    A ‘first-month Nanny’ called Auntie Mei, who keeps one of her two notebooks (the second one unnecessary) with numbers recorded from the previous story, numbers now of those Babies she has cared for through their first month along with each Baby’s Ma. The latest Ma has a dishwasher engineer come to repair and to zap an egret, a handyman with whom Mei links up like many stories have women link up with handymen recently in my reading, but Mei herself is a bit of a fluid engineer, too, as she massages Ma’s wet-nursing paps, I guess. A story of stoicism and officiousness and acceptance between genders and roles and ancestors and scions, methods of motherhood with mothers and daughters and mothers of mothers. And masquerading with mother-surrogates like a Nanny or the dishwasher engineer with a surrogate wife and child to spite a foe who is also a sort of brother by being a foe. I felt my own naive wisdom had been disarmingly enhanced by this story, but it is best not to know exactly how it did that to me because then that knowledge (like this story’s entrapped ‘knowing’) would diminish my wisdom back to what it was originally before I read this story.

  3. Hungry by Elizabeth McCracken

    “, their childhood had been one long period of Sylvia like a mad bomber installing explosives in the bodies and souls of her children, set to go off when they became adults.”

    Who’s counting calories? More numbers, as Yiyun Li’s previous grandmother-mother-daughter syndrome takes on a new turn, quite hilarious, quite tragic, too. The grandmother looking after the granddaughter Lisa and other mother-daughter and family syndromes as Lisa’s father begins to die in hospital. I am made to imagine the eponymous hunger to be this syndrome as love rather than as cannibalism, yet there is a blend of love and would-be cannibalism, too, a hearty caring blend that makes the love ever greater, and a studied forbearance when Lisa gets a wig powdered with talc by a woman neighbour using a dangerous walker, a powdering to help with the effectiveness of Lisa’s forthcoming speech as George Washington, at a forthcoming neighbourly party, a rôle-playing once encouraged by her now sick Dad, or so I infer. It all makes sense when you read this story. It’s just as if a retelling of it, like my précis above, becomes a bit like making a story review into a party performance itself!

  4. False River by Paula Morris

    “You know I hate it when people say things like 1700s,” Thea said, her voice loud. “What are we, Italians? In English we call it the 18th century. When someone says 1700s to me, it’s as though they don’t trust me to work it out.”

    I worked out today while reading this in the UK that False River is a real river, one that is in Louisiana. A story of post-Katrina New Orleans with that Katrina era a backstory, a story hinted of a marriage kept together by transcending marriage itself and incriminating footprints expunged as either real footprints that had evaporated or false footprints that were never there in the first place, and old friendships, old flings and secrets in backstories kept further back, and two funerals, the male narrator instructed by his feisty crazy wife to burgle her late father’s house in NO for the expensive vintage wine in bottles to be shown off at his, her father’s, funeral. Either real or false bottles? Reuniting, as the narrator does, with youthful comrades Thea and Jimmy (the latter obsessed with the explorer Stanley and in trouble with the police for moving a moveable he was not meant to move). Pass the bâton rouge along? Or throw the drink in the False River. A gesture of defiance or just cinematic panache? A story still haunting or clinging to my folk memory of these events, without it being possible at all for me to be in a position to remember them in the first place. The narrator with no name, I presume. Unless I missed it?

  5. Interstellar Space by Scott O’Connor

    “I wasn’t able to go inside like Meg did, the full withdrawal from questions, from the shed, the world. Occupying some distant interior space, there but not there, not really.”

    Cate (narrator) and Meg, two sisters, played, when children, games of DEAD MAN FLOAT and PRISONER in the family home’s shed by the pool. Father works for the rocket and satellite industry. Meg hears voices. I can’t do justice here to how she hears voices; she blames father for them? Aliens, channelled through by him? Meg’s later mental ill-health circumstances. Cate’s Movie scenery job, designing for a plot about a SF colony for humanity on a distant planet, incorporating the shed in the fabricated copy of their childhood home, in hope of transcending it… and, for me, this story comes fully alive at the end with the shared fiction concept of all us readers empowered through the triangulation of just such a process as Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing of mutual hyper-imagination, thus this being a story prophetically pre-fabricated by preternatural means, in parallel to the post-fabrication within the story itself. Equivalent to the real False River…

    “Meg in her pinwheel dress, her thin body covered in multicoloured spirals. KFAC on the radio, Mahler or Bartok or Holst’s Planets, our father’s favourite, strings and horns swelling but Meg hearing something else,…”

  6. The Wedding Cake by Madeleine Thien

    “In this country, when they’re serious, they whisper! But when they’re frivolous, they shout! They only want you to hear their stupidities!”

    A new colony for their culture (cf the previous story) in a new land. A story, as all good short stories should, that gives us the gift of stoicism as a defence against the odd items of life we all suffer, odd and tragic things that are given perspective and an art form, a sculpture, as one of the characters does, as a prize for good aesthetic living or as a punishment to break teeth! This set of stories, here, now, with an ambition of building a transparent building that one’s dead son imagined building, and “Strato imagined that everything in this universe was produced by weight and motion.” My sense of the Hawling quality now almost threatened: “There were cracks in the plaster, lines emerged from the walls as if the building was writing them a message.” This is a story of four men, as four friends, who are alienated Lebanese come to Canada and reunited there, and they have set up their lives anew, shared names with their sons, as is their culture’s wont; they escaped from the endless-intermittent war in Beirut. We learn their poignant backstories, and one of the strongest objective-correlatives in literature I can recall is the eponymous cake, that one of their wives had preserved in the freezer upon their son dying before needing it, his wedding aborted, of course. The events and tribulations in their lives are an honest mix that made the several stories or storeys of the cake, this book as a whole, a mighty cake in reality or only as imagined by the blind one among them. A False Cake as a Real Cake like this book’s earlier river. I hope none break their teeth on it.
    (Love-eating or Sin-Eating? cf McCracken)

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