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Showing posts from April, 2016

New Yorker Fiction Review #134: "Mother's Day" by George Saunders

Issue: Feb. 8 & 15, 2016

Story: "Mother's Day" by George Saunders

Rating: $$$

Review: Nothing could make me happier (within the realm of New Yorker short story reviewing) than seeing that a George Saunders story is on deck, and then actually reading it, and being reminded why Saunders is one of our greatest living fiction writers.

Told in alternating first person perspective, "Mother's Day" is the story of two elderly women -- Alma and Debi -- who shared the love of the same man (Alma's husband Paul) in their youth. Now, in their old age, neither holds any particularly great love, or hatred, for that matter, for the other, but the thoughts that go through their minds on their brief encounter on the street on Mother's Day contain, it seems, their entire history, both personally and through the only connection they still have, their once-love for Paul.

The beauty of George Saunders' writing is that it is so "of the moment," or "con…

New Yorker Fiction Review #133: "The Philosophers" by Adam Erlich Sachs

Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

Story (novel excerpt): "The Philosophers" by Adam Erlich Sachs

Rating: $$

Review: I'm normally not a fan of the novel excerpt appearing in The New Yorker being passed off as a short story. First, I don't like being overtly "teased" into buying someone's book. Second, and most importantly I suppose, when I sit down to read a short story in the NYer, I sit down to involve myself in a complete end-to-end experience. Having said all that, I can forgive the NYer this time, because Adam Erlich Sachs's piece "The Philosophers" is so abstract that it doesn't really matter where the beginning or the end lies. And also, it's the NYer Fiction section after all, not the Short Story section. But as Marty DeBergi said: "Enough of my yakkin. Let's boogie..."

This piece is part of a larger novel called Inherited Disorders due out in May, which apparently explores the relationships between fathers and sons throughout …

New Yorker Fiction Review #132: "Aspic" by Tatyana Tolstaya

Issue: Jan. 25, 2016

Story: "Aspic" by Tatyana Tolstaya

Rating: $

Review: There's not much to go on here. "Aspic" is a little less than one New Yorker page long and is more of a meditation or a remembrance than a story. The narrator describes the process of making aspic, a sort of Russian meat gelatin mold type of thing that that doesn't sound too appetizing. No wonder the aspic triggers such dark feelings in the narrator. Not only is aspic normally made just before New Year's eve, when the days are at their shortest and northern hemisphere winter is (or used to be) in full blast.

The making of the aspic is something that goes beyond mere food preparation. It is tied to years of deep deep family memories, not all of them pleasant, not all of them unpleasant, but so embedded in the narrator's soul that she doesn't know why she makes the aspic, but she knows she cannot not make it:

"It's a special kind of religion, making the aspic. It's …

New Yorker Fiction Review #131: "The Story of a Painter" by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Issue: Jan. 18, 2016

Story: "The Story of a Painter" by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Rating: $$

Review: The more and more I read short fiction, the more I come to appreciate the sort of "magical," or "fairy-tale" type of story that rears its head occasionally. Not the oh-so-tired "re-tellings" of classic fairy tales using some sort of modern spin (What if Rapunzel had a cell phone! Tee hee hee...) but the distortion or compression of reality into a story with an overt moral bent, meant to -- if not impart a lesson -- at least hold up a funhouse mirror to some aspect of real life for reasons slightly more "useful" than mere entertainment. In the pages of the New Yorker, I have been exposed to the best examples of this kind of short fiction from the likes of Steven Millhauser and Robert Coover and now, this gem from an author I've never heard of until today.

In this story, a Russian painter gets swindled out of his apartment (in Russia) in b…