Sunday, August 8, 2010

Glimmer Train Stories Summer 2009

Here are my thoughts on the stories from the Summer 2009 issue of Glimmer Train Stories. I thought I was bringing the most current issue with me on my trip, but it turns out I grabbed an older unread issue instead. For 2010, these are stories 245 - 253.

245. Save by Carmiel Banasky Save attempts a strong colloquial voice (somewhat Southern, perhaps Delta-ish?) that just didn't quite work for me. I had a hard time entering the story. I can usually follow stories that bounce between past and present with no warning, but I had a hard time keeping the sequence of events here straight. I'm not sure why. The author has a story to tell that should be interesting, about a family, and a family business, coming apart at the seams. It just didn't work for me personally.

246. Korean Wedding by Hubert Ahn When a short story can make two different points, and make them both equally well, that should be lauded. This story manages to be about unrequited love and about the way close groups of friends drift apart once the situation in which they bonded no longer exists. The main character is attending a wedding of an old college friend, along with the rest of his crowd of Korean college (and possibly high school) friends. He is the only one who has not made some kind of career for himself since graduation. He holds it against himself, just as he holds not winning the girl against himself. Present and past do a dance here, as in the preceding story, but the dance flows better in Ahn's story. There's a great line in this story that sort of describes me: "My personality is dynamite around girls I'm not attracted to; put me in a room full of ugly women, and I turn into Oscar Wilde."

247. Melting at Both Ends by Cynthia Gregory The story takes place over the course of one long phone call between the narrator and her friend. Each of them has different ways of coping with life changes. The narrator lights candles and prayers to various gods; the friend goes on retreat to a health spa. Neither one seems to be finding their way to happiness, and I think that's sort of the story's point: as long as we look to someone/thing to fix our unhappiness, we're going to be disappointed. Or we're going to become sycophantic, but I don't see either of these characters heading in that direction. There's a smooth fluid feel to the story, although it's another one that dances between past and present ... and in fact between two different characters' pasts. Seems to be a theme of this issue.

248. Pronouncing the Apostrophe by Johnny Townsend The "dancing between past and present" theme seems to take a break in this story. There are still, of course, references to things in the character's past, but no actual flashbacks. Most of the past is delineated in dialogue or in the lines surrounding dialogue. I have to say, with all apologies to Mr. Townsend, while I liked the idea of the story I so thoroughly disliked the main character that I almost stopped reading it. It's a tribute to the author's style that I didn't give up on it, though. The main character is obsessive-compulsive to a fault, but doesn't see that perhaps that is why his relationships (romantic and otherwise) don't seem to pan out. He reminded me a bit too much of a friend of mine, which made the story a little tough to read.

249. Morth by Marc Basch The author's note at the beginning of the story says this is one of a group of interconnected stories related to the suspicious death of the title character. There are times when reading a story that is part of a cycle "out of order" is a detriment -- think of all those genre short stories that take place between novels in your favorite fantasy or SF series, that reveal key information you haven't encountered in the books themselves yet. This was not one of those times, however. Basch's story feels very complete, very done-in-one. As with almost every other story in this issue, there is a feeling that we're witnessing a Memory Play of sorts. The main character, Guy, starts out as a fifteen-year-old getting a job at a local pharmacy, where he meets the slightly-older title character. The story details their odd connection, and of course there's a girl involved, but eventually Guy moves on. He only finds out about Morth's death in the closing pages; in fact I would not have expected to hear about the death at all if I hadn't read the author's note before the story. I liked the development of the characters, and Guy's obvious confusion as Morth and others assume he understands what they're talking about.

250. Which Leaves Me by Lindsey Crittenden This might be the shortest story in the issue, and the most autobiographical. In fact, in retrospect I'm not sure it's actually a short story. It might be a creative non-fiction essay. Either way, it's a short compelling story about life for Crittenden in the aftermath of the deaths (over a span of years) of her brother, her mother, and her father, leaving her to parent her teenage nephew. I think in part it's also about allowing parts of our real life to inspire our writing.

251. Proximity by Diana Spechler This may be the lone story in the issue that relies less on what happened in characters' pasts and more on what happens in their present. The main character has an eating disorder and is involved in group therapy. One of the group fails to show up for two meetings in a row, which leads to acting up on the part of the others in their personal lives, especially the title character who is juggling several emotional issues at once. I suppose it's a tribute to the author that there were several points where I found myself wanting to slap the main character and tell her to wake up to the reality of her situation, and yet I still felt satisfied with the end of the story.

252. Marijuana, Lipton Tea, and Jazz by Scott Schrader I'm not sure I like any of the characters in Schrader's story. Each of the three -- narrator, narrator's wife, narrator's troubled daughter from his first marriage -- are largely disconnected from the world and from each other. Even the connections narrator and wife do have -- for instance, their interrupted Sunday night ritual of the title -- seem forced, a method by which they convince themselves the relationship is working when really it's just rote. I couldn't find any hook to make me care how the daughter's visit interrupting their ritual affects them, although the end of the story implies that it does. Another story that might work better for others than it worked for me.

253. The Scream by Mary Morrissy The framing device of this story is the anguish felt by a terminally-ill woman who has tried to leave her bed and has collapsed at the top of the stairs, while her daughter watches television in the kitchen down below. In the interminable time between collapse and rescue, the woman's mind flits back to various moments in the past, particularly settling on the relationship between her late husband and their daughter. To me, the implication is heavy that there was an unsavory aspect to that relationship, but I could also have been reading too much into it. Perhaps the relationship was innocent, and it is the ailing woman who wants to see more in that relationship than was actually there. The story works, but it's not a feel-good story that I'll be running back to. If I run across it in an anthology, though, I'd read it again just to see if my interpretation holds up.

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