What I read

Reading: Short Stories from The Atlantic and The North American Review

Ten splendid short stories I read this week.

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Short stories from Granta, The Atlantic, and North American Review. Note: To read the stories in North American Review, you need to log in to JStor. Worth the effort. This is North America’s oldest extant literary magazine.

1. Caoilinn Hughes’s “Prime” is an evocative group portrait of loss and healing. Children on the cusp of adolescence have lost a classmate; their teacher has lost a son. In the perfect setting for magic realism, teacher and students collaborate in the alchemy of making meaning.

2. Alexander MacLeod’s “Lagomorph” traces the coming together and growing apart of a couple through the narrator’s connection with the world’s longest-lived rabbit. The rabbit’s growth pains, adult misfortunes, and apparently supernatural hearing — ground a life in transit.

3. Clemens Meyer’s “Late Arrival” is a poignant portrait of incipient senility. An aging train-cleaner steps out of her routine to form a friendship, perhaps something more. The narrative starts off orderly; its fragmentation is at first disorienting (“Did I miss something?”); then clearly falls apart (“Oh. It’s not me.”). The effect is chilling. But the ending is pregnant with possibility.

4. Anthony Veasna So’s “The Shop” is the deliberately rambling narrative of a graduate frittering away his youth. Helping at his immigrant father’s auto-shop, feeling ambivalent about committing to his lover, wanting to help his family but not clear how. You feel the jolt when it all comes together via an insight that will, let’s hope, galvanise the narrator into action. A sharp cross-section of the generation that refuses to grow up. Mine.

5. A. B. Hemenway’s “Wolves of Karelia” is a fictionalised true story. Of a Finnish sniper demoralising Russians during the Winter War (1939-40). Vignettes about his harsh childhood, his wartime activities and comrade, and his postwar attempts to build a life unfold with a stark and luminous clarity.

6. Maria Reva’s “Novostroika” documents one family’s life in a tenement in the Soviet Ukraine. A tenement that, on the books, doesn’t exist. Poverty, overcrowding, and bureaucratic inefficiency are distractions from sheer primal hunger. There’s stark irony: a man has died, and so many people are crowded into one flat that there’s no room to pivot the coffin doorwards. Hope flickers like a candle in the wind.

7. In Samanta Schweblin’s Kafkaesque “Toward Happy Civilisation,” one man gets stranded at a railway-station. (Or is it just one man?) Trains come and go. Stockholm syndrome.

8. Setting: the horse-races. In Michael Rosenbaum’s “Daily Double,” father and son flirt with confronting their addictions. The son’s include: resistance to romantic commitment. The father, a professional addict, dispenses advice. A third wheel from Gamblers Anonymous resurfaces to puncture everyone’s facade.

9. In John Smolens’s “The End of the World,” two women confront an artist’s death off the shore of Scotland: a place he loved, and called “the end of the world.” His wife and daughter start off cold, the daughter hostile. As truths come out, the two women recognise, through the dead man, their own bonds.

10. Zdravka Evtimova’s “For Sava” is a rollicking tale about a spunky young Bulgarian girl: who defies the whole village, and her own family, to claim her own honorific.

***Special Mention: Ted Chiang’s “The Great Silence.” If you only read one thing this week, make it this. A tiny story that lucidly links disparate ideas. A story told with love. Heartbreaking.

Read anything interesting this week? I’d love your recommendations. If you get time to read any of these, let me know what you think!

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By Amita Basu

I'm a writer based in Bangalore, India.

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