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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Yorker takes a turn for the better - with another story by a promising author: Kristin Valez Quade

The New Yorker continues on a roll - and I have to say the magazine certainly seems to have changed its short fiction policy with a 180-degree turn - introducing new and very talented writers, mixed in with some of the best work (sometimes) by established writers - and focusing on the short story form - whereas a year or two ago it seemed that the NYer was essentially a shill for publishers, running excerpts from forthcoming novels by the most recognizable name authors. In any event, another strong story this week from a writer new to me and I suspect to most readers: Kristin Valdez Quade, with a story called Ordinary Sins, that shows a ton of promise and accomplishment: story is about a 20-something woman, pregnant w/ twins, father completely out of the picture, who is working as an aide in a church rectory of all places - so the tensions and ambiguities are right there for the taking, and Quade does a great job sketching in the very few characters: the protagonist, a sourpuss of a woman who works w/ her in the rectory office, the old and sentimental priest and a self-righteous upstart priest whom no one seems to like. The elderly priest breaks a bit w/ convention and is very sympathetic to the young woman - hate the sin, but love the sinner - he remarks, but she's actually a little repulsed by him and shamed before him. The characters are subtly drawn with nuanced and surprising relations to one another. I don't mean this as an insult to the short-story form, but I see in her work the potential for a fine novel - her careful and loving place, her interest in the development of character and subtle shifting of power relationships as the characters learn more about one another. The only flaw in the story, to me, is as Quade seems to lose control a little toward the end - building toward a pretty powerful scene of degradation but not really doing much w/ that scene and encounter once she's established it; story ends, as so many do, with an image (albeit a pretty powerful one, recalling the Pieta, in an ironic juxtaposition) that leaves the story "open" rather than closed - a fine way to end stories, as long as it doesn't become a device or a fail-safe. Where Joyce has gone, only a few can follow.

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