I Know What You Need – Starting off this batch of stories is one from Stephen King’s “Night Shift.” Night Shift is a strange collection, it’s not bad, some of the stories are actually quite good and clever, but it is much less mature then his later works. Unlike his later collections the stories in this collection are almost entirely horror based, and all but one or two are actually short story length. This story is about a college girl that falls in love with this mysterious and somewhat nerdy kid who always seems to know just what the girl needs. This is probably the second best story from the collection, my only problem with it is the title, the title is applicable of course, but it’s kind of bland and there could probably be a better one.
I Want to Live – a candidate for my favorite story form the BASS Century (the other being Gish Jen’s “Birthmates”), this was the first and for a long time only Thom Jones story I had ever read. Since then however I have read one entire book by him, and while two or three of the stories (in that book) are really good, the rest are basically just variations on the same handful of topics. It seems that every story he writes is either about Death, Diseases, Boxing, Africa, Cars, or some combination of the above. This story falls into the Death and Disease category and it’s beautifully written. Jones has his own voice that seems to be cultivated almost independently of any particular influence. It’s a combination of minimalism mixed with train of thought and colloquialism. Three styles which shouldn’t be able to work together, but in this story Jones is able to do just that. Perhaps if he chooses other topics to cover in his stories he would have had a more lustrous corer, but hey there may still be time.
Illinois – one of the historic semi-non-fiction stories from Munro’s “The View from Castle Rock.” It’s not one of my favorite stories from the collection, as it is a western tale and deals largely about a baby and raising a family while fording the wilderness. I have little interest in these topics (i.e. babies and families), but that’s just me. On the plus side it is short, clocking it at a little over half an hour, so you won’t get weighed down in it for too long if you don’t like it.
In Another Country – this is one of the Hemmingway “War Stories,” written in the minimalist vein in which almost nothing significant happens, and there’s almost no plot at all. There is a line in this story where the narrator says he got his medals because he was an American, where as the others (Italians) had earned their medals from the time they spent on the front. That says an awful lot about the meaning the story is trying to convey.
In Sight of the Lake –This story is about a woman who goes to a town she is not familiar with to find a doctor the day before her appointment so that she doesn’t have to look for the doctors on the day of the appointment. Which is not a terrible idea to tell you the truth. This is one of the rare Alice Munro stories to have an unexpected twilight zone-esqu twist ending.
Incarnations of Burnt Children – for a while this is one of the very few audio stories I could find from Wallace’s third story collection “Oblivion.” The story was actually read by Wallace himself at I believe a book signing. Not one of my favorite works of his, probably my least favorite from the collection. It’s about a baby that is accidentally scolded. It ends in a bizarre way that is open to interpretation. The story is painful to read, but on the plus side it is very short.
The Interior Castle – I’ve read this story a few times and I’m still not quite sure what it is about, but I think this fogginess is intentional and also well used given the circumstances. The story is about a woman who has survived a car accident and is in a hospital going through surgeries and so on. You never really find out who the woman is, no friends or family seem to come and visit her, etc. If the intention of the story is to mimic the haziness an accident victim is wont to experience, then the story is highly successful and deserves to be in the BASS century collection. To me, this one is worth a few more reads .
It Grows On You – this is another good, but somewhat weird, story from Kings “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” it’s not really all that scary, and has a high literary value to it. There is actually a whole lot that goes on in this story even though almost nothing actually happens, kind of like a Seinfeld episode. It’s basically about a haunted house and all the townsfolk speculations about it.
The Ivory Acrobat – this is a story about an American woman living in Greece working as a teacher and dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake. The name comes from a gift that the woman’s friend gives her, a small statuette of an acrobat jumping over a bull, the original statue (according to the story) had been destroyed in an earthquake some 80 years before. Like most of DeLillo’s stories, it is very vague and difficult to understand.
The Jelly-Bean – I’ve read this story before, a few times I think, and never really understood it or liked it, until this go around. It’s more or less about wealthy college and post-college hedonism, like a less disturbing 20’s era Less Then Zero. (Maybe it was more disturbing and controversial for the time it was written). It’s one of Fitzgerald’s better stories (now that I’ve had time to digest it) and certainly better then the choice from BASS-Century.
Jerusalem’s Lot – easily the best story from King’s “Night Shift” and clearly the one he spent the most time on. It’s also the longest from the book, and I would put it easily in his all time top ten best stories. I was a little disappointed to find out that a lot of things from the story were taken from Lovecraft, but not greatly. The story is told in Epistolary form about the strange Abandoned town of Jerusalem’s Lot. Evidently this is the same place as ‘Salam’s Lot (note the parenthetical mark at the beginning of the title) for which the novel and movie of the same name take place. The story is about the spiritual remains of a satanic puritan splinter group, which is a pretty interesting idea in itself. Definitely worth the read, and it is a little more spooky then most of his stories.
John Billy – one of the stories from Wallace’s “Girl with Curious Hair” collection. I have mixed feelings on this particular story. It’s written in a southern dialect and it’s about a guy named Chuck Nunn Jr. who’s superhuman exploits are highly reminiscent of Chuck Noris Jokes. That’s the down side to the story. The plus side is that it is a pretty interesting story, and is told in an interesting way. One of the characters in the story T. Rex Minogue, has throat cancer and has to talk through a synthetic voice box, which the narrator uses in order to affect the voice, which is a nice touch, Robert Petcoff (Wallace’s Standard Reader) is quite a good voice actor.
The Killers – this is actually my favorite Ernest Hemingway story, at least from all the stories I’ve read by him (which isn’t a huge amount of them). it’s based in part on a painting I really like called “Nighthawks” by Edwin Hooper. The story is a very early example of minimalist writing, both in them and writing style, little happens in the plot and the sentences are generally very small and simple. Personally, having spent a lot of time in diners, I like the back and forth with the two gangsters trying to order dinner when only the breakfast menu is available: “I can make you ham and eggs, bacon and eggs, liver and bacon, or I can cook you a stake.” what a great line.
Killing – a John Updike story that deals with divorce and the death of a parent. The main character has taken her father off life support and is waiting for him to die. After the funeral her ex-husband comes to visit and support her and the kids and the two end up sleeping in the same bed, but he is unable to perform sexually and finds this to be a vindication that he is truly in love with his current wife. It’s good but not Updike’s best.