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

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Disaster stories - in Best American Short Stories 2014

What would a Best American Short Stores collection be w/out a story by Joyce Carol Oates? Her inclusion in the 2014 edition, Mastiff, is typical of her style, form, and obsessions: inevitably, inexorably, a JCO story will include menace and violence, as does this one; the highly skillful JCO sets this up immediately, as a 40ish woman and a 50+ man hike in the mountains near Berkeley and at near the trailhead come across a young man walking a mastiff that barks and lunges at them, frightening the woman. Do we suspect they will cross paths again? JCO has our attention and then builds a sensitive and thoughtful account of the personalities of the two hikers - kind of hoping to begin a relationship, but also, as it becomes clear, they're quite different and really not that into each other - but the woman in particular thinks, well, maybe she should settle. The man ultimately shows his bravery and perhaps, in his act of chivalry, has won the woman's attention - but it's not clear this is a good thing, for either of them. The mix of banality and terror is a JCO trademark - good story (I think I posted on it when it ran in the NYer) In the continued odd juxtaposition throughout this anthology of stories on similar themes (odd because they're arranged alphabetically not thematically), an adjacent story, Next to Nothing, by Stephen O'Connor, is also about a disastrous event, and I have to say his account of a vanload of people swept off a bridge during a rising flood is about as harrowing as it can get. But the story is only peripherally about the disaster - it's really about two very strange sisters - both sociologists, each w 3 kids and a somewhat estranged husband (the husbands loathe each other) who have absolutely neither affect nor empathy - to the point where it's almost pathological - neither can understand, for ex., how people can watch celluloid illuminated by a projecting light, and imagine that they're watching real people and actually laugh and cry about what they're watching. More seriously, they are cold and doctrinaire w/ their children - leading in the end to a Sophie's Choice, in the floodwaters, whom do you save? The decision, with these 2, is obvious.

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