Weekend Shorts from the New Yorker Fiction Podcast

The New Yorker Fiction PodcastI haven’t been reading too much this week, so I’m glad to have this podcast just waiting for me on my phone when I need a quick escape into fiction. Last week I tracked down print versions for you to follow along in, but that proved to be far more difficult this week so I’m going to have to leave that up to you — but of course the audio is just waiting for you!

“I Bought a Little City”, by Donald Antrim

Oh, my goodness. As soon as I started listening to this, I was like, “I know this is only the third story I’ve listened to on this podcast, but I think it’s going to be hard to top.” And it will be.

In this awfully hilarious little satire, our intrepid narrator buys Galveston, Texas (as you do) and decides not to do anything drastic, except, you know, tear down some houses and build up not-too-imaginative new developments and have the newspaper publish diatribes against him because maybe his city people won’t want to do it themselves? It is very very weird, and Donald Antrim reads it so straight-faced that all I could do was laugh.

“You Must Know Everything”, by Isaac Babel

This was a weird story in a much different way. It’s got a pretty slow start, with a young narrator just sort of talking about his life and his day hanging out with his grandmother, but then toward the end it gets very serious, with the grandmother making the titular pronouncement and some other pronouncements that are maybe not quite what you would expect. I definitely appreciated this story more after the discussion with George Saunders (whose work I have checked out from the library right now!) about the cultural and societal implications of the story, which are actually pretty interesting.

“Somewhere Else”, by Grace Paley

More culture! It’s almost like these segues are planned, though I doubt that they are. As Nell Freudenberger, who discusses the story, says, this is a story about pictures. At first, it’s a story about a Western tour group in China in the 70s, when people weren’t really going to China, and the big event is an argument about taking photographs of Chinese citizens without their permission. Then the story shifts perspective to another picture-taking event in a completely different place with completely different people. The politics and privilege inherent in this photographic objectification (and the objectification of travel in general) are something that I’ve been thinking about lately, so listening to this story talking about the same thing from so many years ago was kind of cool!

“The Gospel According to Mark”, by Jorge Luis Borges

Aaaaaaaaaaaah. This is another story that starts off slow and then takes a turn for the exciting at the end, though on a second listen you can almost feel the buildup and where things start going very wrong. As Paul Theroux discusses, there’s a bit of a horror element to it, and it is definitely that type of horror that is my favorite, the kind you’d find in Shirley Jackson‘s work or certain darker Flannery O’Connor pieces. You should definitely track this down and give it a read or a listen and then another and then possibly another, because it will give you new things to think about every time.

How about you guys? Any short stories to share?

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier (1 October — 5 October)

This book took a little while to really get going for me, and then just as soon as it did, it ended! Sadness.

The Chocolate War is a story about power and conformity and how even when you win, you still lose. Depressing, right? So right. The chocolate part comes from a private high school’s chocolate sale (oh, memories) for which each student has to sell 50 boxes. The war part comes from Jerry Renault, who is assigned by the school’s secret society to refuse to sell the chocolates for ten days, you know, keep the teachers on their toes. He does this, but then after ten days, when he’s supposed to start selling again, he doesn’t, and some of the other students follow in his path. The teachers don’t like this, the secret society doesn’t like this… and bad things happen.

I wasn’t sure last night whether or not I liked this book, and… I’m still not sure. It was a very honest account of high school and how hard it is to navigate the social dynamics there, but I’m not really sold on the story itself. The story jumps back and forth between points of view and tries to use that to let you learn more about the characters, but I just never felt terribly involved in any of their lives. Perhaps I’ll ponder this some more.

Rating: 6/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)

See also:
an adventure in reading

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.