debuts can be underbaked and short stories are not always my thing, but this collection is TIGHT. mt. stackmore has a couple of short story collections in it right now, and i’ve been grabbing around them in the stack because i am apprehensive about reading short stories in general, and because reviewing short story collections is such a drag. but i read this one in a single day, much of it in the hour-or-so i spent at the bar waiting for connor to do some skype meeting thing so i could go back to his place and resume marathoning orange is the new black. they’re stories to devour – exceptionally fast-paced without being superficial, they flow so well you just zoooooom right through ’em. they are funny but also very, very sad.
you can daisy-pluck it if you want, but it’s more like a blend of both, where you’re laughing, but it makes the hollow parts of your heart hurt to do so.
i’m gonna cop out of writing a proper review of this by choosing an excerpt from each story instead of painstakingly reviewing each one individually like a chump.
but first, a super special call-out quote from Horse because this could be about me right now, except no one even calls me in for an interview. it’s my cover letters that have no soul.
Serena graduated with honors, and won an award for her thesis on eighteenth-century women’s novels. For her, intellectual labor felt like labor, in a good way, the way waitressing had for me: honest and exhausting and satisfying. But after graduation, despite her accolades, she couldn’t find a job. She had dozens of interviews, almost got several tenure-track positions, but in the end they always went with someone else. I encouraged her, but privately ascribed her failure to her meekness with strangers; with friends she was self-possessed, often cuttingly funny, but she was a cipher in interviews. She seemed to equate “professionalism” with a total erasure of her personality.
THAT IS WHAT I DO!! AND IT IS NO GOOD. i assure you, i have a personality AND i can also be professional. please someone hire me!
okay, here comes the excerpt parade:
THE WRONG HEAVEN
I shouldn’t have been so stuck up in the bloom of my youth. I turned away six objectively impressive men. They were all just so boring. But it’s also boring, I now realize, to be alone.
THE OTHER ONE
What moral life wasn’t Sisyphean, tilted toward failure as much as success? The best one could do, it seemed, was to accept that paradox and try to really fucking enjoy oneself in the breaks between pushing the rock uphill.
Q: Will I need to make out a will, then?
A: Yes. You may not bring anything with you to Atalanta Ranch, besides your body.
Q: Can my loved ones visit?
Q: Will they recognize me?
A: Most of them claim to, but it is impossible to determine how much this recognition depends upon wishful thinking.
Q: Can they ride me?
A: We don’t recommend it. So far, every attempt has ended in tragedy.
“This is what I get for being a smart-ass,” said Sarah. “When you don’t take life seriously, death starts to take you seriously. It assumes you’ve been playing for the wrong team.”
In theory I do not approve of faking, but in practice it’s easier than explaining. I prefer to call it performing, and over time I’ve grown expert: the breathing that quickens to match my partner’s, the soft moans, the desperate yelps that signal the formal end of another person’s responsibility for my pleasure.
A ROOM TO LIVE IN
Was it possible to do a courageous thing fearfully? Perhaps one might propel oneself into the future even in a state of tension and panic, even with one’s fingers curled in a death grip around the past.
But eventually we learned a sadder kind of lesson: no matter how creative their sexual practices or identity politics, all couples fail in the same way. Barck Obama had promised us the future. Instead we got what we’d always had: the present. It was just as provisional and unsatisfying as ever, as clogged as ever with obligation and regret. Despite our best efforts to become different people, we had remained ourselves.
At night, after Buddy leaves, my mother sits at the kitchen table and makes life-affirmation collages. She cuts pictures out of magazines and glues them to sheets of construction paper. The pictures are of the mountains and the beach and other places we have never been.
“They say you have to envision the life you want,” she explains.
“Who’s ‘they’?” I ask.
“Oprah.” She takes a drag of her cigarette and replaces it in the ashtray, then cuts out a small picture of ballet slippers and tentatively places it in the center of the empty page. She frowns, then removes it. “My feet are too big anyway,” she says. Then she stands up, gathers the magazines, and stacks them with the recycling by the door. She looks down at the pile, gives it a soft little kick with her foot. “The problem,” she says, “Is that I have the wrong kind of magazine.”
DORIS AND KATIE
“Partners.” Perhaps this was the best word for her and Doris, after all. They didn’t sleep together, of course. But “friends” seemed like a hollow word for what they’d become: their lives peeled down like carrots, so that they were the only ones left standing. Her children moving away, with families of their own; Evan returning after leaving her – twice – just in time to get Parkinson’s; then Fareed passing away too, a year after Evan, facedown in the flowerbeds.
Then again, in some ways the two women were less like partners – willing intimates – than like survivors of the same catastrophe: thrust together yet always a bit apart, each insulated by her own ghosts.
I met Sharon at something called Goddess Night. I had come to meet girls. I wasn’t a lesbian, but I hoped to become one.
Everyone knows now that heterosexuality isn’t real, it’s basically brainwashing. Plus I had heard women kissed with softer lips and knew what to do down there because they had the same business going on. Also, women probably did not do things like ask you to “play dead” and then jerk off onto your face, or if they did, they’d Obtain Consent first and it would be called Play. Men just did what they wanted and didn’t call it anything.