Friday, November 16, 2018

A Newly Published Story, and a Note about Awards Eligibility

My story "Simple Present" has been published at "Igxante: An Ontology / Becoming: An Anthology" (scroll down for my piece) by Kate Morgan / Human Decency Is Key. Though fictionalized, this is also the most personal piece I have published yet. It also serves as a reductio ad absurdam against Orhan Pamuk's rape-apologia in the form of a philosophical novel, The Museum of Innocence. And the person who inspired it is now 11 years old.

This is the time of year when writers of science fiction and fantasy start doing "awards eligibility" posts, with an eye toward nominations for the Nebula and Hugo prizes. "Simple Present," while it is "speculative" in the philosophical sense of the word, is not part of either of those genres of fiction, and so, even if you like it, this is not an awards eligibility post for that story, which is the only piece of my own fiction to be published to date in 2018. Another story of mine has been accepted for publication in the Geek Out! anthology forthcoming from Qommunicate Publishing, but I am not certain when it will appear, and thus do not know whether that story will be out in time for 2018 awards eligibility.

Something I did have a bit to do with, that would be eligible for awards, is the story "Walking" by Der Nister, which I translated from the Yiddish. The translation was first published in March 2018. I loved it enough to translate it; perhaps a few readers might love it enough to nominate it for some honor or another.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Note in Favor of Polemical Vignettes

Opposed to the philosophical novel--the bloated doorstop of prose in which two thousand years of patriarchal clichés take on the lyrical weight of a dubious story--is the polemical vignette, which peers into a corner of the universe that the novelist has deemed unworthy or uninteresting and finds there a probative counterexample to one or another grotesque generalization. Like Hamlet to Horatio, it says, here is something, from heaven or on earth, not dreamt of in your philosophy, take account! I have written a few such things, and I want to write more, but I find that they tend to be a bit hard to sell.

In any case, one such piece of writing, "Simple Present," has been accepted for publication in the project Becoming: An Anthology. As a tenacious Hegelian, I had to submit something to a project with that title! The anthology is scheduled to be published in November of this year, and if you who are reading this happen to be the sort of person who thinks and writes and thinks about writing and thinks by way of writing, then you might want to look at it carefully.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Catching Up: Der Nister, and more books

Illness, family obligations, and miscellaneous dramas have limited my time and energy for writing. Here are some quick updates:

Der Nister

The first of my Der Nister translations to be published is "Walking," my translation of the story "Geyendik." I've been able to trace the story's bibliography to the 1929 Kiev edition of Gedakht; if anyone knows of earlier appearances, please share the bibliographic information. Its appearance is thanks to the excellent Samovar project by Strange Horizons. You can read my translation here, and if you have Yiddish, here is the original text.

There is even more exciting Der Nister publication news pending, but I have to keep it embargoed for now.


Other People's Books

I have continued my project of reading books off my shelves that are as-yet-unread by me. (Some days, it was all I had the energy for.) These are the ones that I consider worth commenting on, for reasons good or bad:

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Chabon did not come to my attention until The Yiddish Policeman's Union, which I loved. Since I read it, I have made a point of buying any copy I encounter of one of his books, even if I do not immediately have time to read it. So this is one of those books that I did not read until well after seemingly all my friends--the Jews, the lefties, the queers, the comic book nerds, and the overlapping intersections of those sets--had read it and loved it. If you are a member of any of those sets, then you will probably like it, though the strongest correlation for loving it appears to be an appreciation for comic books, which are not my thing. Chabon's loving descriptions of its evolution as an art form, through the actions of his fictional characters and the cameos of their historical counterparts, left me with more appreciation for it. The fictional comics penned by the characters that I wish were real, so I could read them, are Luna Moth, the Citizen Kane-inspired pre-war editions of The Escapist, and various works by Rose Saxon.

Paulo Coelho, The Witch of Portobello. Coelho is an author who, when I hear third-party descriptions of his works, I think, "I should read him." Fabulist, literate, etc. My delay had largely to do with the fact that Portuguese is one of my languages, and I tend to be undecided about reading works in translation when it is theoretically possible for me to read the book in the original. Apparently, I should not have worried about it, since if his other novels are anything like this one, he is a waste of time, in English or Portuguese. I'll sum up why in two words: Mystical gypsies. (Yes, that is the word he uses.)

Charles Dickens, Hard Times. Forced high school readings of Dickens' most popular books--Great Expectations, Tale of Two Cities, and, egad, Oliver Twist--ruined him for me well into my twenties. We have a fair amount of Dickens on our shelves because my wife, at an earlier time of her life, aspired to become a scholar of Victorian literature. So from time to time, I resolve to give his lesser known works a chance. Previously, with his collected short fiction, and with Bleak House, the resolution has been worth it. Bleak House, in particular, I suspect may be one of the best English-language novels of the 19th century. But Hard Times, though worth reading for its almost Engelsian depiction of "the condition of the working class in England," is not, overall, a good novel. It has a message, and every character interaction must bend before its implacability. And that message is awful. It boils down to, "Hey, um, fellow rich people--maybe we should teach the poor some feeble sentimentalism, because if they get as calculating as we are, they might decide to eat us."

Nawal El Saadawi, Woman at Point Zero. This is a painfully sharp, fact-based novella by one Egypt's best known feminists. Content warnings: FGM, CSA, rape, sex work, and murder, but the murder is the least offensive part because it's a pimp who gets killed.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Seeing Ramallah

Can poets be great prose writers? Can a writer's quality be judged in translation? After having read I Saw Ramallah by the Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti, my answer to the first question is, "Why not?" And to the second, it is clearly yes if one is fortunate to have Ahdaf Soueif as one's translator.

The experience Barghouti describes--a displaced person is allowed to return to the hometown from which he was forcibly separated, not in conditions of freedom, but in an awkward power-sharing arrangement wherein the conquerors retain power--is not unique to Palestinians. And it is far from universal among Palestinians, being a privilege reserved to a minority of the displaced, and now effectively closed to nearly all. Prolonged statelessness is now a condition of being for Syrians, Rohingya, Somalis, Sri Lankan Tamils.... It does not seem likely that the now growing list of groupings will begin to diminish any time soon. Worldwide, there are more refugees and other displaced persons than there are Britons.

Nor is Israel the only agent of oppression. It was the police of Anwar Sadat who saw to it that Barghouti would be separated from his wife, the Egyptian novelist and literary scholar Radwa Ashour, and their son Tamim for most of the latter's childhood. In another generation, Ashour might have dutifully followed her husband in his wanderings, but Barghouti's feminism leaves traces throughout his narrative and seems sincerely felt--better to let her have a career, and for their child to grow up in a place that is at least partially home, than to make her into a camp-follower. He is critical throughout, not only of states and powers, but of political parties, social movements, and not least of all, himself--his old poems, his fateful choices, his rages, and his responses to feelings of loss.

The memoir is powerful, but leaves one with a desire to read him in his preferred medium, and that is something I should do soon.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

It Mek

I have bookshelves. Many shelves, full of books, and then there are the books that do not fit on the shelves. After more than five years in this house, the gradually increasing entropy of tsundoku had gotten to be too much, even for me. In the last few weeks, my wife and I--on my initiative--have alphabetized the books by author's last name, re-shelved them, and purged the collection of duplicate copies and other things we do not want. The books from U-Z are still unshelved, and I estimate we need at least another 8 linear feet of shelving to accommodate them. But more importantly, the process reminded me that I own a lot of good books that I have yet to read, and that perhaps I ought to do that.

So what I am doing is choosing an as-yet-unread-by-me book off each shelf, sequentially, and reading it. Thus far I have read It Begins with Tears by Opal Palmer Adisa and Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks. Today I started I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti. It was only as I was making my way through the Barghouti that I realized it would be worthwhile to blog about each such book I discover, or rediscover. Rather than do two separate posts about the Adisa and the Banks, I will post about their unexpected commonalities.

Banks is a writer who gets inspired by places. The novels and stories of his that I have especially enjoyed are those which peer into the wickedness of two of the stranger places I have lived, which he and I share biographically--southern Florida, and the Adirondack region of upstate New York. The stories work because, no matter how marginal the characters whose lives they trace, the places seem true, recognizable, and therefore uncanny. Rule of the Bone is not one of Banks' best works, I suspect precisely because it takes a lengthy detour into a place that Banks clearly does not know as intimately, Jamaica.

Adisa knows Jamaica very well, as it is her home. She tells the story of a village by interleaving the stories of those who have stayed, those who have returned, and the supernatural neighbors whose joys and tears wreak opposite effects upon the human world. While the book is written in literary Standard English, the characters speak in Jamaican creole, rendered on the page through the device of "eye dialect." Banks does the same, for a major character in Rule of the Bone is "I-Man," a Rastafarian who becomes a kind of spiritual guide to Bone, the teenage stoner dropout from Au Sable Forks who gives the book its name. There seem to be a lot of things that Banks does not understand about Jamaica, and a Jamaican could do a better job than I of picking them all out. I will focus on one symptomatic word: "mek".

"Mek" sounds like the Standard English verb "make," and that is how Banks has I-Man use it, as an eye dialect marker in places where make would have been used by an American or British speaker. In the mouths of Adisa's characters, "mek" reveals the wider ranger of grammatical functions and meanings that it has taken on in everyday Jamaican language. Yes, there are plenty of examples where it is used like make. But also: "Me dance wid all de boys cause me did love dancing, but me neva mek no boy touch-touch me breast or put dem hand unda me dress." (222) Here it functions more like "let" would in Standard English. As also in this folk saying, which Adisa uses as a chapter title: "Stand steady mek ant crawl over you." (180) In other places, "mek" functions more like an exclamatory "why?" For instance: "God, Marva, mek you use so much pepper! De children can't eat dis!" (130)

The last usage relates grammatically to one that can be found in texts that both Adisa's novel and Banks' reference, the corpus of Jamaican folk and popular music, with the latter coming into the awareness of North American culture vultures like Banks and me by way of ska and reggae. So for example, I have long puzzled over the lyrics to Desmond Dekker's classic "It Mek". The full refrain, and various interpretations of it on the internet, suggest a meaning along the lines of "That's why!" (As in, that's why you'll get what's coming to you.)

You think I never see you when you jump over de wall
You think I never see you when you accidentally fall
Me said a it mek - mek you pop your bitter gall
A it mek - while you accidentally fall
A it mek - hear she crying out for ice water

And now that I've puzzled that out with a bit of help from Adisa's rendition of everyday Jamaican speech, it occurs to me that the song carries the same note of glee at misfortune foretold that I would hear when my grandmother, translating Yiddish speaking ancestors, would gloat "God got you" at my misbehaving younger brother.

The levels of meaning to "mek" would have required more time and care for Banks to discern, just as it would have taken more time and care for him to sort out some of the apparent disjunctions in his narrative. (For example: Why would I-Man, seemingly a respected ganja wholesaler in Mobay and a prosperous smallholder in his home village, have ever left Jamaica to cut cane and pick apples on a migrant farmworker visa in the States? Reasons there may be, and are even suggested in the text, but he is too much the one dimensional "magical Negro" figure for them to ever hold.) In his narration, Bone refers throughout to Jamaican creole as "their Jamaican language," not recognizing the words he hears and eventually learns as English, and while this seems to be intended an indication of a northcountry crust-punk's lack of sophistication, it is something that linguists would regard as perhaps naively accurate, in comparison with the homogenized tolerance of treating all linguistic differences as matters of "accent." Creoles are languages in their own right, and can support not only the everyday speech of the village and the market, but carry the weight of literature and statecraft as well. That they are denigrated and held as lesser by their own speakers, regarded as "bad English" (or French or Portuguese or...) derives from social facts that make themselves felt within, but go far beyond, language.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Look Back on a Disappointing Year

My Own Writing

Three stories of mine were published this year. If you want to read "Ruins of a Future Empire," you will need to order a print back-issue of Salvage No. 4, since they do not put their fiction and poetry up on their website. I think it's worth it, not merely for the story, but because Salvage is a serious journal of political thought that deserves to be more widely read. "A Summary of Menistarian Law..." is, for now, only available to subscribers to Lackington's, another publication whose purchase I would recommend, but if either the money or the inspiration fails you, note that they will make it available online for free at some point. The flash-fiction piece "Cynthia" may be viewed by all on the website of Asymmetry.

As of now I have 13 pieces out on submission, 12 fiction and one creative non-fiction (essay), and I am doggedly, perhaps delusionally, optimistic about some of them. But at the moment I have no contracts in hand, so no concrete publication plans on deck for 2018. It is the first year since 2015 to begin that way for me. Which is to say, if someone reading this is a fiction editor who has been considering commissioning something from me, now would be an excellent time for you to reach out.

Translation: The Der Nister Project

Things finally settled well enough in my workday life that I can contemplate applying for grants and fellowships to further my literary endeavors--I am no longer a one-person office, but the Director of a two-person office, so I now have reliable back-up at work. Thus, if I am fortunate enough to receive something, I can arrange to take a bit of time off and know that the grant-seeking endeavors of my colleagues will be in good hands. My debut effort in this vein was to apply for a translator's fellowship from the National Yiddish Book Center. However, even if I do not get the fellowship, the preparatory work for the application stirred in me a great enough passion for the stories of Der Nister (pen name of Pinkhus Kahanovich, lit. "The Hidden One") that I shall proceed with the project one way or the other. (Or, as Der Nister would say, vi-nit-vi.) The initial stage of the project, proposed for completion within one year if I get the NYBC fellowship (longer perhaps if I don't), is translation of the stories he had published under the collection title Gedakht. I have already translated two stories ("In vayn-keler" and "Geyendik") and am working on a third ("A forshpil"). The tone and subject matter of the stories is such that they would fit readily, if perhaps a bit uneasily, in contemporary fantasy publications, which are increasingly open to the publication of work in translation. However, I have not yet sent them out for submission or query, since I need to finish my due diligence either to secure the rights or (what I think is more likely, since Der Nister died in a Russian gulag in 1950) to document that these are in fact orphaned works. Also, the story I am now working on, "A forshpil," has some references to Yiddish theater, so I will likely need to do some archival work in YIVO's excellent collection to try and pin down those references before finalizing that translation. The other two stories stand well on their own, and will likely be ready to go out once I have sorted out the rights question. Let the hidden one not be quite so hidden any more.

Other People's Writing (aside from Der Nister)

The amount of money I spend on things like memberships (e.g., to be able to nominate for the Hugo or Nebula awards) or magazine subscriptions (to keep on top of what is going on in the world of short fiction) is directly tied to my income from story sales. So the former have expired, and on the latter, I am down to The New Yorker, Lackington's, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (and I think my F&SF subscription will expire soon). This is all to say, only slightly apologetically, that I am no longer really trying to keep on top of new short fiction as it comes out. Therefore, this section will focus on what I read within the bindings of books, checked out from one of the libraries to which I have access. Of the books I read in 2017 that were published in this year, the following are those I believe to be worthy of note (arranged in alphabetical order by author's last name, to avoid the futility of ranking):

  • Lesley Nneka Arimah, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky
  • Elif Batuman, The Idiot
  • Roxane Gay, Difficult Women
  • Nick Joaquín, The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic
  • Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
  • George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
  • Jim Shepard, The World to Come
  • Pajtim Statovci, My Cat Yugoslavia
  • Jeff VanDerMeer, Borne

Some summary comments, in lieu of full reviews.

  • I had been looking forward to the publication of Arimah's first collection of short fiction since her story "Who Will Greet You at Home" first came out in the New Yorker. There is no shame in acknowledging a greater talent. The only notably weak piece in this collection was, ironically, the title story; I am so caught up in the dismal mechanics of climate change that I found its underlying world-building distractingly implausible. The rest are worth seeking out and reading again and again.
  • I am honestly not sure how well Batuman's first novel would stand up to reading by anyone who did not attend college in the mid-1990s. Since I did attend college in the mid-1990s, I loved it as a Bildungsroman that rendered obsolete my own potential contribution to the genre. I am glad she was bold enough to undermine the very genre of the Bildungsroman, ending it with the sentence, "I hadn't learned anything at all." And that it is a love story, not about falling in love with a boy (there is a guy, kind of a jerk) but with language.
  • Gay is not as great an essayist as she has been built up to be, and while I think she is a good novelist I recognize that there is room for debate. But if anyone makes so bold as to question her command of the short story, we will have to fight. Nearly every story of hers that I have read has been like attending a master-class on form; they are some of the best published in recent years. So finally she has a collection out. Particular favorites of mine from the collection include "I Will Follow You," "FLORIDA," "North Country," "How," and "Strange Gods."
  • In retrospect, it appears that Nick Joaquín was one of the best short story writers of the 20th Century. And yet despite his having written in English, he is hardly known by anyone who is not Filipino. So perhaps we should remedy that oversight and all read this new Penguin collection of his work. I don't think he's as strong a playwright as a prose writer--"A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino" has some compelling stagecraft in the first two scenes, but lapses into melodrama and sentimentality in the third. But unlike the play, all the stories are worth reading straight through. I suspect that for readers that share a background knowledge of Catholic religion, there are points of reference that this Jewish atheist cannot identify with, but their emotional and intellectual range was evident to me even with such barriers to shared comprehension or experience.
  • The irony of my inclusion of Roy's new novel is that it reinforced my suspicion that she is a better political essayist than a novelist, so unlike many critics I was in no great rush for her to "get back" to writing fiction. Two data points is not enough, but the hypothesis seems to accrete further evidence. Thus my review of the novel, even though I enjoyed and respected it, focuses more on its fundamental structural weakness than its strengths: By starting with Anjum's story, Roy has deceived several lazy critics into thinking that she is the main character. Wrong: The main character is Tilottama. The book written accordingly, through shifting points of view and montage, would have been amazing. But by framing it within the excess detail of Anjum's character development and backstory--rather than allowing those to be revealed, Cubist-style, in glimpses, as was the case with Tilo and her classmates--the overall pace of the resulting work is dragged out.
  • I was neither hoping for nor expecting a novel from George Saunders, and I am glad that his contribution to that saggy genre was so experimental in nature. Here's the thing with experimental writing (speaking as a sometime practitioner): Sometimes experiments don't work. But the narration built some momentum, the writing of the Lincoln father-son relationship was sufficiently touching, to get me to overlook some early bumps and become invested in seeing the book through to the end.
  • When I like Jim Shepard's short stories, it is because they defy my expectations. He is frequently included in The Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize, and through those means keeps ending up, to my surprise, included in my Meta-Anthologies. So when I saw a collection on the library shelf, I figured I ought to give it a shot, and I am glad I did. Shepard, at least in the stories of this collection has a knack for the catastrophic: its prefigurations, causes, manifestations, and consequences. "HMS Terror" alone makes it worth seeking out.
  • I recommend Statovci's novel (written in Finnish, by an author of Kosovo Albanian origin, and translated into English this year) to any first-generation immigrant queer boys with abusive Balkan dads. The rest of you may find the cruel, emotionally manipulative cat who walks on two legs to be the most reassuringly familiar part of the novel.
  • If my SFWA membership were still in good standing, VanDerMeer's overdetermined apocalypse is the novel that I would nominate for the Nebula.

Politics

Where to begin? The reassuring thing about the Trump presidency is that, when one points out the horrors, they are not dismissed as the ravings of a paranoid radical. However, locally, I have been shying away from any sort of organizing for the better part of the year, for reasons I have already detailed. The good news since then is that some of the more competent and committed socialists in Maine have begun to take the upper hand and initiative from the egomaniacs and slackers. But, because of the national weaknesses of the party, and the geographical distribution within the state of the people I can stand (i.e., they're mostly not near me), I am not inspired enough to throw in my lot with them once more. I made a slight step forward in how I think about political organizing, but no forward motion on attempting to put such understanding into practice.

On this uninspiring note, forward to 2018! What can we look forward to? Who knows?!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Meta-Anthology 2017

As I have explained in previous years, I make no pretense to this representing the best short stories of this year. First of all, because they are not of this year, having all first appeared in 2016. But also, since I could not possibly keep up with all short fiction publications of interest, I have culled them from four key anthologies, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Best American series, in its Short Story, Mystery Story, and Science Fiction and Fantasy instances, and the Pushcart Prize. Despite the names of those anthologies, it represents not the best of the best, but a selection of what was deemed "best" by others that I found nonetheless to be worth reading. All together, here are nineteen stories, any one of which should have gone viral. Can we hope perhaps that it is never too late?

Chad B. Anderson, "Maidencane," from The Best American Short Stories 2017. First published in Nimrod.

This was a risky story, containing practically everything novice writers are told not to do by well-meaning, aesthetically conservative elders--second person, unreliable narrator, frank depictions of bisexuality. It angers me, in a way that is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with the short fiction ecosystem at the moment, that it first appeared in a journal that "pays" with contributor's copies.

Dale Bailey, "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. First appeared in Nightmare Magazine, December 2016.

Self-consciously referential, but nonetheless manages to elevate itself above its concept with more than a few insightful passages.

Dan Bevacqua, "The Human Variable," from The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. First published in The Literary Review.

The two New Englands meet somewhere in California; climate change impacts and pot cultivation. Several of my favorite things find their way into a single story, and it works.

Tom Bissell, "Creative Types," from The Pushcart Prize XLII. First appeared in The Paris Review.

Two clichés--the underachieving, barely accomplished, man-child writer, and the married couple "looking to spice things up" in the bedroom--get combined in some unexpectedly charming and--dare I say?--even sweet ways.

Lydia Conklin, "Counselor of My Heart," from The Pushcart Prize XLII. First published in The Southern Review.

I am a sucker for anything that gets digs in against Harvard. Because let's face it, lesbian slacker only realizes she loves her uptight girlfriend after killing the girlfriend's dog is a paint-by-numbers epiphany story. Acute socio-psychological observations--especially against Harvard kids--are needed to lend the composition some flecks of impressionist color.

Brendan DuBois, "The Man from Away," from The Best American Mystery Stories. First appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.

Up in the north woods portions of New England--Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont--there's a genre of joke that boils down to, underestimated backwoodsman outsmarts the supposedly clever fellas from away. This is a slightly darker than usual telling of that joke, in which a Masshole gets what's coming to him. Still worth a laugh.

Brian Evenson, "Smear," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. First appeared in Conjunctions.

There is more metaphysical terror in seven pages of Evenson's fiction than in a 700 page volume of existential phenomenology.

Lauren Groff, "The Midnight Zone," from The Best American Short Stories 2017. First published in The New Yorker, May 23, 2016.

Is there a greater fear for a parent than having something bad happen to a child? It could be, being rendered helpless in the presence of one's children.

N. K. Jemisin, "The City Born Great," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. First appeared on Tor.com, September 28, 2016.

"We got this. Don't sleep on the city that never sleeps, son, and don't fucking bring your squamous eldritch bullshit here." Even if I can't assent to the implicit optimism of the narrator and the narrative--when it comes to New York City, I suspect the Enemy is long since past the gate, its tentacles in every Starbucks-Pinkberry-AppleStore-CondoRehab--I gloried in the rebellious b-boy survivor tenor of its wordplay.

Kyle McCarthy, "Ancient Rome," from The Best American Short Stories 2017. First published in American Short Fiction.

As someone who serves indirectly as a servant to the ultra-rich, it is interesting, and uncannily recognizable, to read a story told by a more direct sort of servant. Also interesting, and uncannily recognizable, to read a story written in the voice of a female narrator who displays a kind of intellectual arrogance that, in earlier generations, was usually coded as male.

Marc Jude Poirier, "Mentor," from The Pushcart Prize XLII. First appeared in Crazyhorse.

My stomach turned in recognition. Too many of us have stories like these; mine involves crabs.

Steven Popkes, "The Sweet Warm Earth," from The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. First appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Somehow, even though I subscribe to F&SF, this story made no impression upon me when it first appeared, to the extent that I do not even recall having read it. Perhaps I had been rendered cranky and impatient by whatever pieces it shared its issue with. A key conceit of the story can be interpreted with either a fantastic or a naturalistic spin, which accounts I suppose for the peculiar combination of the journal of its first appearance and the anthology in which it was included. Yet more important to how this story works as a story is a distinctive narratorial voice and good characterization.

Eric Puchner, "Last Day on Earth," from The Best American Short Stories 2017. First published in Granta.

Contra Tolstoy, all happy families are peculiar, but each unhappy family has some grim similarity to the others. This story is an example of the latter; telling a story about the former would be more adventurous, but risks degeneration into schmaltz.

Sujata Shekar, "The Dreams of Kings," from The Pushcart Prize XLII. First appeared in Epoch.

An appropriately grotesque story of violence and commuting.

Jim Shepard, "Telemachus," from The Best American Short Stories 2017 and The Pushcart Prize XLII. First published in Zoetrope.

Jim Shepard's geeky obsessions do not overlap at all with mine, which makes the fact that he managed to squeeze some great sentences and brilliant paragraphs out of them all the more notable to me.

William Soldan, "All Things Come Around," from The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. First appeared in Thuglit.

I drive my three-year-old to and from his daycare nearly every day, and even though on most parts of most of our drives the greatest hazard would be a wayward deer, still my heart feels like it takes a few steps up in my chest from its customary position to ride just below my throat. This story gave me the heart-directly-in-throat sensation of a child in danger and kept it there nearly from start to finish.

Peter Straub, "The Process Is a Process All Its Own," from The Best American Mystery Stories 2017. First appeared in Conjunctions.

If words like "happiness," "fulfillment," or "satisfaction" smell to you like the emissions of someone with a corpse in their mouth, then you may have more in common with a serial killer than you would like to believe.

Catherynne Valente, "The Future Is Blue," from The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. First appeared in Drowned Worlds.

Bless Valente for having the chutzpah to call her readers Fuckwits. All available evidence suggests that we deserve it. (Bonus points for working in a shout-out to Becky's Diner.)

Keith Woodruff, "Elegy," from The Pushcart Prize XLII. First appeared in Wigleaf.

Flash fiction tied together by its dedication.