Saturday, May 21, 2005

Favourite New Yorker stories etc.

My subscription ended in February after three years, but here is my list of favourite short stories from those years. I posted this message (more or less) on the New Yorker forum, but it's dead as a doornail over there.

A House on the Plains by E. L. Doctorow
A tour de force by the author of Ragtime and many more.

What is Remembered by Alice Munro
One of three in one issue by the high priestess of slow burn short fiction.

The Performance by Arthur Miller
This concerns a vaudeville tap dancer with a troupe touring Europe at the end of the 1930's, when he receives an invitation that will end up testing everything he believes in. It's fascinating how Arthur Miller, even in his fiction introduces elements of drama. Note how the narrator plays the part of somebody "in the audience" with us. Great.

The Thing in the Forest by A. S. Byatt
A massively talented writer. If only she'd use her talents for good instead of evil. Haha.

The Trouble with Mrs Blynn, The Trouble with the World by Patricia Highsmith
Great one. One of the few that are not shown online though.

My Father Addresses Me on the Facts of Old Age by Grace Paley
Funny and compelling.

Sacred Statues by William Trevor
Coarser woven but just as high quality fabric as McGahern's. McGahern is up there in the stratosphere, thirteen years for his latest novel, a book mined from living flesh. Trevor is circling with the eagles just below the cliff edge. (Where are the McGahern stories? He used to be a prolific short story writer. His Collected Stories is a huge volume. Maybe he's not writing short stories, but at least Granta had an excerpt from "That They May Face The Rising Sun.")

The Obscure Object by Jeffrey Eugenides
The best and juiciest bit from the subsequent novel Middlesex. Reviewers on BBC Newsnight Review complained the novel didn't start till chapter N (13, I think). I could've told them - this is the chapter they were referring to.

Already We Knew Nothing - by Dave Eggers
A sort of literary Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. This is youthful and vaguely infuriatingly shallow until you realise that it is really being satirical and by the end it is beginning to dawn on the guys that the world is not what they expected it to be.

Safety Procedures - Nadine Gordimer
Surprisingly ordinary but good enough story by the Nobel prize winner. Could be subtitled Fear of Flying.

The Ocean - Frederik Reiken
This is a beautiful rites-of-passage story, first love at age thirteen against a background of diving on coral reefs. One of my all-time favourites.

Baby Wilson - E. L. Doctorow
Your girlfriend has always been a little crazy. Then one day she walks in with a newborn baby. The only problem is, she wasn't pregnant. You might not decide to drive across America with them while thinking what to do, but then there would be no story.

Travis, B - Maile Meloy
Damn, who is this guy! (Actually it's a gal.) Brilliant. This is a great little love story. It's one of those bleak plains, empty roads, snowy stories.

The Bare Manuscript by Arthur Miller
A writer enjoys early success and romance, but when his marriage and his writing both dry up he finds an unusual way to revive his muse. He places an advert and finds a woman who will let him write all over her.

Summer of the Hot Tubs by Annie Proulx
I hope places like Elk Tooth really exist. (My US friends confirm they do.) Proulx country. A real rib-tickler.

The Fruit Cage by Julian Barnes
All is not as it seems in the black comedy that unfolds, in the heart of darkest England. Funny, surprising and very English.

Sitting with the Dead by William Trevor
Superb trademark rural inscapes.

Bulldog by Arthur Miller
One of the best. A kid buying a puppy from a woman gets more than he bargained for.

Touched by Hanif Kureishi
A classic of its kind by the best British short story writer around, in my opinion.

A Bit on the Side by William Trevor
London office affairs - some of you might relate to this.

Our House by Martin Roper
Dublin household cross-religion blues - wistful.

A Poor-Aunt Story by Haruki Murakami
Amusing. Everyone has a poor aunt, but not like this.

Visiting George by Nadine Gordimer
Short short & poetic. London streets.

Justina's Priest by William Trevor
Touching. Masterful. One almost to restore your faith in religion.

A Boy in the Forest by Edna O'Brien
It's the Brothers again / meets The Butcher Boy. A nightmare. Subsequently part of a novel.

An Unfair Question by Sam Shepard
Horrifically funny party nightmare.

The High Divide - by Charles D'Ambrosio.
Camping seems to play a large part in the lives of some American writers.

Red from Green - by Maile Meloy.
An interesting comparison, camping from a feminine perspective.

Both of the above are brilliant stories in the tradition of Salinger's youth versus the phoniness of the older generation.

Bohemia by V. S. Naipaul
Essential reading for London dwellers. Pity he's turned snob, and misanthropist in old age.

Harvey's Dream by Stephen King
King happens to be a very good short story writer. Also worth reading the New Yorker article On Impact, his vivid account of the day and the accident that nearly killed him, what he thought of the person responsible for it, and how he started writing again.

The Surrogate by Tessa Hadley
Tres amusant as they say, esp. reading from England.

Recuperation - by Roddy Doyle
This is interesting. The rhythm of a daily walk. Easy to read, unusual format, a little repetitive at first, but mirroring an awful emptiness that threatens to engulf us. It's not without its highlights and even a shot of redemption. Well worth a read.

I should also add:
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner by Roddy Doyle
I think I've remembered that name right - same as the film (?) Anyway it was great too. I sometimes worry that he might be exploiting Dubliners rather than representing them. Perhaps I am too close to his target. I feel I'm inside looking out, while he is outside looking in.

Another Roddy Doyle one, recent, can't remember the name of it. As good as the others, better maybe. The whole story seems to cover just the moment when a man decides to say something or not, to rise from his armchair halfway, maybe refuse his wife's request, maybe make waves, and in following his thoughts we get a picture of their entire existence, their relationships, what they've lost - all in a moment.

In The Palace of the End by Martin Amis
Brilliant and apposite account of torturers in some place like Iraq. This story is not online at the New Yorker. It subsequently appeared in Guardian Online.

Long Ago Yesterday by Hanif Kureishi
Kureishi on great form - man I just love his writing, though personally he's not at all winsome, quite the reverse - writing about a son who meets the ghost of his father when they are both middle-aged. Another great one. Look for Kureishi's book "My Head to his Heart" an excerpt from which is on Guardian Online.

I almost forgot to mention the exceptionally wonderful Gogol by Jhumpa Lahiri (later a novel) and the spectacularly great debut by Nell Freudenberger, and just as good follow-up story (collected in the Orange Award nominated, Lucky Girls).

But wait. Why no stories by David Means, Irvine Welsh, James Hamilton Paterson, Edmund White, Garrison Keillor, Gabriel Garcia Marquez ... or did I miss them?

I also miss the New Yorker's peerless non-fiction articles. I'm thinking especially of Jonathan Franzen's piece 'My Father's Brain' and many more, too many to list or ever recall, about everything from Abu Ghraib to Shad to Wodehouse. Oh and the poems, Heaney, Milosz, Kinnell (especially his epic about the twin towers) and Zagajewski - who can forget his back page poem in its context, Try to Praise the Mutilated World.


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