from Lauren Groff’s short story “L.Debard and Aliette”

In this story, “L.Debard and Aliette,” published in The Altlantic, and set during the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 in New York, Lauren Groff tells a gothic tale of love and loss..

“Before them sits a girl in a wheelchair. The swimmer’s glance brushes over her, and veers away when he sees her wizened child’s face, the diluted blond of her hair, her eyes sunken in the sickly white complexion. A nothing, he thinks. That he looks past her is not his fault. He doesn’t know. And so, instead of the lightning strike and fluttering heart that should attend the moment of their meeting, all the swimmer feels is the cold whip of the wind, and the shame at his old suit, holey and stretched out, worn only on the dark days when he needs nostalgia and old glory to bring him to the water.

….

And so, Aliette does something drastic: she unveils her legs. They are small, wrinkled sticks, nearly useless. She wears a Scottish wool blanket over her lap, sinfully thick. L. thinks of his thin sheet and the dirty greatcoat he sleeps under, and envies her the blanket. Her skirt is short and her stockings silk. L. doesn’t gasp when he sees her legs, her kneecaps like dinner rolls skewered with willow switches. He just looks up at Aliette’s face, and suddenly sees that her lips are set in a perfect heart, purple with cold.”

 

 

 

 

from the short story “Toast” by Matt Sumell…

Boy can this Sumell guy write. In this short story from the latest Paris Review Matt Sumell documents the cutting meanness, both funny and sad, of a young man towards a woman as two people find out they are not really suited for the long haul…

Here’s a taste...

Also, one night, when she was standing still and naked and backlit by the bathroom light, I noticed a kind of white, almost invisible fur all over her body. It bothered me. I never said anything about it ’cause I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but she had no problem commenting on how my dick is browner than the rest of me. “It’s like the dark circles around Indian people’s eyes,” she said. I pretended I didn’t care, but I did, but not as much as I cared about her shoes. She always wore high heels, like even on bike rides always, and to the beach and batting cages always, and to a Super Bowl party we went to once. And believe me, it wasn’t so much the height thing, which she thought it was about – it was that I got sick of hearing her clomping around everywhere like a pony. At first I just made little jokes about it, started calling her Trusty and offering her carrots all the time, said things like, “You can lead a lady to water, but you can’t make her sneaky.” Soon enough though, I was promising to shoot her if she ever broke her leg. She got upset, and I said, “It’d be real sad, but I’d have no choice. Sorry.” Then I pointed a finger at her like a pistol and went, Pchoooo.

One Sunday she took an hour getting ready to go to the dog park, and I told her to giddy it the fuck up. She gave me the whole-I-do-this-for-you! thing in the car on the way and I said, “Whoa now. Slow down there, Seabiscuit. If you’re doing it for me, lose the fuckin’ foot ware. It annoys me.”

She got real quiet then, looked out the window at passing stuff, said, “You can just drop me off wherever.”

 

 

from Larry McMurtry’s memoir “Books”

In the opening to Larry McMurtry’s memoir about his passion for collecting books he describes the ranch house yard of his childhood;

“The fifty yards or so between the house and the barn boiled with poultry. My first enemies were hens, roosters, peacocks, turkeys. We ate lots of the hens, but our consumption of turkeys, peacocks, and roosters was, to my young mind, inexcusably slow.”

Junot Diaz on the writing process

When talking about creating fiction Junot Diaz says “if you are not lost you are in a place that someone else has already found… what’s the use of being in mapped territory…. the new requires that you be completely lost.”

F Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “List of Troubles” (from his Notebooks)—

List of troubles

  • Heart burn
  • Eczema
  • Piles
  • Flu
  • Night sweats
  • Alcoholism
  • Infected Nose
  • Insomnia
  • Ruined Nerves
  • Chronic Cough
  • Aching teeth
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Falling Hair
  • Cramps in Feet
  • Tingling Feet
  • Constipation
  • Cirocis of the liver
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Depression and Melancholia

This list was from a blog I follow called biblioklept

Karen Russell on what makes fiction work

What, in your opinion, makes a piece of fiction work?

I think that different pleasures work for different readers—a friend of mine won’t read anything that’s not a cardiovascular sort of page-turner. I tend to care less about plot, but I’m a sucker for humor and strangeness. I love weird or funny or beautiful sentences; Joy Williams could write a microwave-oven manual and I’m sure I’d love it, because the sentences would be tuned up like music. And I do think that great fiction, even when it’s comedic, has an urgency or an inevitability to it, a sense that the writer absolutely had to write this particular story in this way.

Check out the full interview in the New Yorker

from “Ham on Rye” by Charles Bukowski

 

from “Ham on Rye” By Charles Bukowski;

“I was in the fourth grade when I found out about it. I was probably one of the last to know, because I still didn’t talk to anybody. A boy walked up to me while I was standing around at recess.

‘Don’t you know how it happens?’ he asked.

‘What?’

‘Fucking.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Your mother has a hole…’ – he took the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and made a circle – ‘and your father has a dong..’ – he took his left finger and ran it back and forth through the hole. Then your father’s dong shoots juice and sometimes your mother has a baby and sometimes she doesn’t.’

‘God makes babies,’ I said.

‘Like shit,’ the kid said and walked off.

It was hard for me to believe. When recess was over I sat in class and thought about it. My mother had a hole and my father had a dong that shot juice. How could they have things like that and walk around as if everything was normal, and then talk about things, and then do it and not tell anybody? I really felt like puking when I thought that I had started off as my father’s juice.

That night after the lights were out I stayed awake in bed and listened. Sure enough, I began to hear sounds. Their bed began creaking. I could hear the springs. I got out of bed and tiptoed down to their door and listened. The bed kept making sounds. Then it stopped. I heard my mother go into the bathroom. I heard the toilet flush and then she walked out.

What a terrible thing! No wonder they did it in secret! And to think , everybody did it! The teachers, the principal, everybody! It was pretty stupid. Then I thought about doing it with Lila Jane and it didn’t seem so dumb.”

from “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick DeWitt

There are many descriptions of brutality in this book, inflicted on humans and their equine companions. But however brutal, there is often great beauty and simplicity in the prose. There is a formal elegance to the text, a rhythmic beat to the language. In this part Eli’s poor horse, Tub, has his eye removed in the macabre way that was the norm for the time.

“The hand gathered the tools for the operation and placed these atop a quilt he had lain on the ground bedside Tub. He brought out a ceramic bowl filled with water and laudanum; as Tub drank this the hand called me to his side. As if in secret, he whispered, ‘When his legs begin to buckle I want you to push with me. The idea is that he falls directly onto the blanket, understand?’ I said that I did, and we stood together, waiting for the drug to take hold. This did not take long at all and in fact happened so quickly it caught us off guard: Tub’s head dropped and swayed and he stumbled heavily toward the hand and myself, pinning us against the slatted sides of the stable. The hand became frantic under the weight; his face grew red as clay and his eyes bulged as he pushed and cursed. He was scared for his life, and I found myself laughing at him, squirming around with not the slightest sense of dignity, something like a fly in honey……

Tub lay dozing and breathing, and the hand went to fetch a spoon that had been sitting in a pot of boiling water in his kitchen. Returning to the stable, he tossed the steaming utensil back and forth to avoid burning himself. His hands, I noticed, were filthy, though our alliance was so tentative I dared not comment. Blowing on the spoon to cool it, he instructed me, ‘Stay away from the rear of this animal. If he comes to the way that heifer did, he’ll kick a hole right through you.’ He pushed the spoon into the socket, and with a single jerk of his wrist, popped the eye out of its chamber. It lay on the bridge of Tub’s nose, huge, nude, glistening, and ridiculous. The hand picked up the globe and pulled it to stretch the tendon taut; he cut this with a pair of rusted scissors and the remainder darted into the black socket. Holding the eye in his palm now, he cast around for a place to put it. He asked if I would take it and I declined. He went away with the eye and came back without it. He did not tell me what he had done with the thing and I did not ask.

He took up a brown glass bottle and uncorked it, glugging the contents into Tub’s eye socket until the alcohol spilled over, levelling to meet the rim. Four or five pregnant seconds passed when Tub’s head shot back, arching stiffly, and he made a shrill raspy noise, “Heeee!’ and his hind legs punched through the rear wall of the stable. Seesawing on his spine, he regained his footing and stood, panting, woozy, and less an eye. The hand said, ‘Must sting like the devil, the way it wakes them up. I gave him one hell of a lot of laudanum too!’

By this time Charlie had entered and was standing quietly behind us. He had bought a bag of peanuts and was cracking their shells and eating them.

‘What’s the matter with Tub?’

‘We have taken his eye out,’ I told him. ‘Or this man has.’

My brother squinted, and started. He offered me his peanut bag and I fished out a handful. He offered the bag to the hand, then noticed the man’s outstretched fingers were slick, and pulled it away, saying,’How about I pour you some?’ The hand opened his palm to receive his share. Now we were three men eating peanuts standing in a triangle. The hand, I noticed, ate the nuts whole, shell and all. Tub stood to the side, shivering, the alcohol draining down his face. He began urinating and the hand, crunching loudly turned to face me. ‘If you could pay that five dollars tonight it would be a help to me.’ I gave him a five-dollar piece and he dropped it into a purse pinned to the inside of his coveralls. Charlie moved closer to Tub and peered into the empty socket. ‘This should be filled with something.’

‘No,’ said the hand. ‘Fresh air and rinses with alcohol are what’s best.’

‘It’s a hell of a thing to look at.’

‘Then you should not look at it.’

from short story “Vivian Relf” by Jonathan Lethem

In this passage Jonathan Lethem writes of two young people standing outside at a party trying to work out where they know each other from, feeling distinctly familiar to each other, but turning out not to be acquainted.

” In the grade of woods over the girl’s shoulder Doran sighted two pale copper orbs, flat as coins. Fox? Bunny? Racoon? He motioned for the girl to turn and see, when at that moment Top approached them from around the corner of the house. Doran’s hand fell, words died on his lips. Tiny hands or feet scrabbled urgently in the underbrush, as though they were repairing a watch. The noise vanished.”

” Later that night he saw her again, across two rooms, through a doorway. The party had grown. She was talking to someone new, a man, not her friends. He felt he still recognised her, but the sensation hung uselessly in a middle distance, suspended, as in amber, in doubt so thick it was a form of certainty. She irked him, that was all he knew.”

from “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen

In this scene an unmotherly mother attempts to mother a teenage daughter who has been raped;

“It was shocking to see her mother in the gym and obviously shocking to her mother to find herself there. She was wearing her everyday pumps and resembled Goldilocks in daunting woods as she peered around uncertainly at the naked metal equipment and the fungal floors and the clustered balls in mesh bags. Patty went to her and submitted to embrace. Her mother being much smaller of frame, Patty felt somewhat like a grandfather clock that Joyce was endeavouring to lift and move.”

 

“Well then how could this happen!”

“Let’s just go home.”

“No. You have to tell me. I’m your mother.”

Hearing herself say this, Joyce looked embarrassed. She seemed to realise how peculiar it was to have to remind Patty who her mother was. And Patty, for one, was finally glad to have this doubt out in the open. If Joyce was her mother, then how had it happened that she hadn’t come to the first round of the state tournament when Patty had broken the all time Horace Greeley girls’ tournament scoring record with 32 points. Somehow everybody else’s mother had found time to come to that game.”