Car Crash While Hitch-Hiking – The second story from Denis Johnson to appear in this anthology, the first in Stories B called “Beverly Home” was the last story of the collection “Jesus’ Son” this is the first story from that collection, so again it still hard to judge if these stories individual pieces. This story is still pretty good, once you get use to the chaotic style of Johnson’s writing. The story features the line “I knew every raindrop by name.” There are certain times when a single line speaks volumes above the rest of the story and this is one of those lines (The story “Birthmates – See Stories B – is full of these kinds of lines). It seems to stand well on its own, at least with this reading. It seemed to end well, finishing in a place where you’re content, you don’t necessarily need to know what happens to the main character after the events of the story. Once I get to the third story from this collection, which should be in the next block of stories, I’ll have a more definitive answer as to whether or not this collection is in fact a collection or a novel (or novella since it is so short).
Cassandra – there has been an ongoing story in my area about a missing college kid, candlelight vigils held for him, hefty awards for information about him posted all over the place, etc. I started to think that if he just turned up one day, healthy, and said he just had some sort of personality crisis and that’s why he disappeared, people (not those close to him) would just get pissed off about it. They spent all this time hoping and praying and so on and they would want an award, a body, or maybe a brazen rescue from something, but how often does that happen. I then thought that would make a good story, and very soon after I had this thought I remembered that Palahniuk had written a story about exactly that, and that story is of course this one: “Cassandra” from Palahniuk’s Fix-Up novel, “Haunted”. It’s a good story thought, and very short, 7 or 10 minutes long, one of the last ones from the collection/novel. The Character of Cassandra appeared in 3 or technically 4 of the stories in the collection, and in a way can be seen as the focal character of the novel, but in a limited sort of way.
The Cat from Hell – This story was published in Stephen King’s latest story collection “Just After Sunset” however it was written and originally published way back in his early years of writing, and it definitely has that style to it. It’s about a hit man who is hired to kill a cat, that a doddering old heir to a chemical company fortune is convinced has been killing his family. I get the feeling that the old man is based on the du Pontes but I could be wrong. Good story though, especially for any fan of animals.
The Catcher in the Rhine – Probably my favorite of Harry Turtledove’s stories. As the title might suggest, it is written in the vein of Salinger’s “Cather in the Rye” which is a terrible highly over ratted novel. Turtledove captures the voice perfectly. The story however is not very Salingeresqu, as the main character (unnamed but unmistakably Holden Caulfield) finds himself whisked into Wagner’s “Ring of Nebiloung.” Interesting that Turtledove (who’s Jewish) would even touch a Wagner work, though maybe this is his way of mocking it. Regardless, the story is a riot. Check it out.
Chattery Teeth – One of King’s stories from “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” which is as I may have said before, my favorite collection of his. This story is about a guy who picks up a hitch-hiker in a sandstorm, and the hitch-hiker proceeds to attempt to steel his car, luckily he has a guardian angel in what would appear to be a possessed pair of Chattery Teeth that he has just picked up from a road side gas station and novelty shop (where he picked up the hitch-hiker as well). Good story, a bit long at more than an hour, making it a long story and not a short one, but it doesn’t feel all that long, which is a good thing. This is not King’s only story about a hitch-hiker either, he will return to the theme in the story “Riding the Bullet” which unfortunately is not part of this anthology.
The Christmas Gift – Terrible. This was for some reason unbeknownst to me, selected as one of the “Best American Short Stories of the Century.” It’s written by Robert Penn Warren, who’s books I’ve come across any number of time’s while trying to find a Wallace book at a used book store. Penn Warren, is considered one of the best of the “Southern Writers”, and along with Crain’s “The Blue Hotel” I have come to the conclusion that Southern Writers can’t actually write. Now I’m not saying that all people who happen to be born and/or in the geographically southern region of the United States can’t as a rule write, that would just be overly pejorative. What I am saying is that the people that boast proudly that they are from the south, and take on the identity as a “southerner” prior to and more important than the identity of being a “writer” i.e. “Southern Writer” can’t write, do you see what I’m saying? Agree or disagree? Read this story for yourself, and tell me if you understand any of it. Is there any more substance to this story then that of a man sitting on his porch in the afternoon shade, glass of scotch in his hands, thinking warmly of the “good old days”? I for one don’t think so. I don’t know what else was in that year’s collection, but I’m sure there must have been something better than this story, anything would be better than this, literally everything in this anthology is better than this story.
A City of Churches – I like this story a lot. It’s by Donald Barthleme and another story from the “Best American Short Stories of the Century” and decidedly better than the last one. It’s about, as its title would imply, a city of churches, every building in the city is a church, everyone lives in one of the churches, all businesses are conducted from inside one of the churches, etc. It’s unclear whether this is a “real” place or it exists inside the main characters dream. There is an allusion to the idea that the main character can control her own dreams and she may use this power to destroy this city. Some of the things said also don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense (the whole concept of a city of churches for one) which could be another clue as to this story being a dream. I love stories that are based on dreams and have written several of them myself, two of which have been published (“Tunneling into Infinity” and “Venus Returns to the Sea”). I also really like this story because all this is conveyed in about 15 minutes, that takes raw talent.
Civil Twilight – another story from “Haunted” this one is about how, in the face of horrendous crime sprees the overall crime rate of the affected area will significantly decrease. The crime in this story is an invisible monster that makes a thudding noise and seems to kill indiscriminately. I don’t want to spoil the story in case you may want to read it, so I won’t reveal what the “monster” actually is.
A Clean Well-Lighted Place – finally, we get to our first Hemmingway story, despite that Hemmingway published I believe over a hundred stories in his (too short) lifetime, only ten of them are in this anthology. All of them collected in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and all read by Stacy Keach, who is as good a reader as he is an actor, if not better. This story is about two men working at a Mexican cantina late at night serving an old man who had recently survived a suicide attempt. The one man wants to close up so he can go home to his wife and to his bed, but the other wants to stay in the cantina and leave it open because he believes that some people “need” this sort of clean well-lighted place. Like most of Hemmingway’s stories, there is very little “story” here, heavily dialogue based, and has taken me years to understand. Finally I do, and I’m glad that I do, and I highly recommend it (and most other Hemmingway stories) to anyone interested in the short story genre. If you don’t get it the first time around, keep reading it, eventually you will, I think.
Corrie – an Alice Munro story from here most recent collection “Dear Life” not the best story from the collection, but it is up there. The story is about a well to do partly paralyzed woman who has a life-long affair with a married man. The affair is set back a little by someone who catches them in the act and blackmails them. It’s pretty good.
Crazy Sunday – this is F. Scot Fitzgerald’s contribution to the “Best American Short Stories of the Century” I don’t know how many other Fitzgerald works appeared in the yearly anthologies, but this is not one of his best. I barely understand what happens in this story, something about Hollywood life, but I can’t remember any details, which is bad, it’s worse since I’ve read this story at least three times so far and still can’t figure out what it’s about. If you want to read a good Fitzgerald story, this isn’t it. I’d personally go with: “Head and Shoulders” or “Bernice Bob’s Her Hair” or “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or just go for broke, forget his stories all together and read his novel “The Great Gatsby” which is (in my opinion and many others) one of the greatest novels ever written.
Creation – this is the first story from DeLillo’s collection “The Angle Ezmerelda” and if I’m not mistaken the first story he ever published. It’s also one of the better ones of the collection. The story is about couple who has been on a vacation to some Caribbean paradise, only to find they are now stuck there because of the poorly managed airline, and the paradise becomes a sort of purgatory. I’ll have to show this story to my parents, given how much they have traveled in the past, I’m sure they will related to it. The story is beautifully written and more poetic than any of the other stories in the collection. It’s good, but it kind of sets up a false expectation for the rest of the collection.
Crippled – yet another story from Palahunick’s “Haunted.” This is a story about a guy who was on disability and kills the privet investigator who discovers that he might not really be handicap after all. The story is kind of funny but kind of spooky too, one of the best from the collection. It’s another story that had a single passage in it that just blows everything out of the water. It’s a little longer then the afore mentioned: “I knew every raindrop by name” but here it is: “Day time television, you can tell who’s watching by the three kinds of commercials. Either it’s clinics for drying out drunks, or it’s law firms that want to settle injury suites, or it’s schools offering mail order vocational degrees to make you a book keeper, a privet detective, or a locksmith. If you’re watching daytime television, this is your new demographic. You’re either a drunk, or a cripple, or an idiot.” I also like the ballsyness (not sure of the spelling of that) of Palahniuk using such a politically incorrect term as the story title. Of course the ballsy shock writing wore off by about his eighth novel.
Crouch End – another King story again from “Nightmares and Dreamscapes.” The reader (not sure who he is) is British and does a very good performance of the story which is about an American woman who gets lost in Crouch End (some small town in England) and loses her husband in some sort of different dimension. It’s more scary then a lot of his later work’s usually are, but again not purely a horror story. It’s odd the way it’s written, it starts off with the detectives talking about the woman who had just come in, alluding to a lot of other strange things that happen in Crouch End, and then goes into the woman case specifically. The story ends with an epilogue telling what happened to all the characters from the story. This is quite odd as most novels nowadays don’t even bother ending with that sort of summarization epilogue, let alone a story. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen this technique done outside of maybe an ironic/comedic sort of use.