19 SEPTEMBER 2017 | KAREN KAO
Narrative Magazine is one of my fiction fixes. Every Sunday I get an email with the poem, story and/or essay of the week. Here is their mission statement:
Narrative is dedicated to advancing literature in the digital age by supporting the finest writing talent and encouraging reading, as the gateway to understanding, across generations, in schools, and around the globe. Our digital library of new literature by celebrated authors and by the best new and emerging writers is available for free.
Yes, you read that right. The weekly emails are free as is access to most of the Narrative Magazine archive. This review covers the Story of the Week as published in April and May 2017.
cello by andrew porter
She’s a cellist, a professor of music, a one-time prodigy now suffering from a degenerative disease. He’s trying to manage her alcohol intake and her mood swings. She wants to talk about the future and he changes the subject.
It was the last line of the story that saved the story for me.
I wondered if she might see me, if she might come to the door, just this once, and let me in.
tell me by kate small
This story felt like the bookend to match Cello. In “Tell Me”, death has already come. The disease was cancer and the beloved sister dead these 20 years. This story bursts with gorgeous images like this one of a childhood bedroom.
Here’s what I remember most: a pair of your shoes, steel-blue leather, low heels with a nicked toe, tucked beneath the midpoint of your bed, and a pair of your stockings, the knees baggy, tossed gently over the wooden frame. Those nights, it was the shoes, the roundness of the toes, that rocked me to sleep.
I really like the story structure. Stand-alone sections, some no longer than a few paragraphs, that tell a story in their own right. In one such section, the hospital releases the sister for a single day. What does she want? To sit at her kitchen table and eat a ripe tomato. Wonderful.
the hanging by lauren markham
California Gold Rush. A dead-end life. Then hope arrives in the shape of a handsome stranger.
Sadly, this story was disappointing. In part due to the cameo appearance of a blue-cheongsamed girl selling “no baby eat” medicine in Shanghai Alley.
wants by grace paley
There used to be a page on the Boston Review website that described the kind of work they wanted. Junot Diaz, fiction editor, asked for:
Sentences that are so sharp they cut the eye.
Paley (1922-2007) delivers that and more. “Wants” also tells a story about a failed marriage but that’s where the resemblance ends. In Paley’s tale, it’s the wife who must bear all the blame because she never wanted anything. This is her, describing her ex-husband.
He had had a habit throughout the twenty-seven years of making a narrow remark which, like a plumber’s snake, could work its way through the ear down the throat, halfway to my heart. He would then disappear, leaving me choking with equipment.
convector by alicia oltuski
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this story. The razor-sharp imagery. The hysterical listicles. The very premise of the story.
A pandemic of teenage pregnancies has broken out. Sex is only one of the many causes to blame. Root vegetables, ammonia and the high school ceramics kiln could all be guilty. Meanwhile, parents encourage their daughters to like the STEM princess best of all.
This is Lorraine and her mother talking about the dangers out there.
“I know I don’t need to worry about you. I just want to review, one more time,” and then she goes over the precautions one should take vis-à-vis high-gloss liquids, mixable oils, naturally occurring lanthanides, boys, and the aurora borealis. “It’s a fecund world out there, but there are ways to stay safe and focused. You know you can ask me anything,” she says.
Lorraine asks, “What’s fecund?”
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