“Blue” – David Brooks (Australia), from The Book of Sei. I found it in Sudden Fiction International, 1989, Robert Shapard and James Thomas, ed. I found it while sitting on the bench outside the supermarket, waiting for the bus to take me (and my Cheerios and clementines and Milky Way bars) home, and was quite embarrassed at the flood of tears it released – kind of fitting, given the subject. It’s short, a little over 1000 words. I want to read it for the next Writing Group with Sally, but I’ve tried reading it out loud several times over the past month and I get to “how terribly, terribly thirsty we had been” just a couple of sentences from the end, and the waterworks start. It’s glorious. This reminds me I want to look for his book – he is a poet, and this was one of his first fiction pieces. He runs an academic journal now I think, I looked for him a while back.
“The Puppies” by Dean Paschal, from By the Light of the Jukebox. I found it in New Sudden Fiction, 2007, Robert Shapard and James Thomas, ed. and again, I found it while waiting for the bus outside the grocery store. I’ve got to stop reading these books there. They’re convenient because the stories are short, easily finished or restarted if the bus should come. But this public sobbing has got to stop. I keep hearing, “We’re gonna be dogs!” in a very particular tone of voice and it’s so adorable and then gets so sad. There’s a little prequel about his mom and the litter of puppies that, ahem, gave birth to this story. I think it’s more powerful to read that as an afterword or as a supplement.
“Incarnations of Burned Children” by David Foster Wallace, from Oblivion: Stories. I found it in New Sudden Fiction, 2007, Robert Shapard and James Thomas, ed. Thanks to whatever Force kept me from reading this at the supermarket bus stop. This is very possibly the most horrific story I’ve ever read. And very possibly the best. It’s stayed with me for weeks now. I’m trying to figure out why, how he did this, but it’s so hard to read again – no, I don’t want to, I have to, I must, no, please, maybe it will have changed…- it almost feels like sacrelige to study it, like dissecting the Bible, should any originals ever be found. It moves from character to character – mother, father, child – and each has a unique take on what’s going on, and his/her own special horror to disclose. How something so dreadful could be so beautiful confuses me. I haven’t read anything by him since his suicide, and as I read this, I thought, gee, no wonder, he really had no choice with stuff like this in his head, I mean, this is stuff no one could live with. But of course that’s simplistic and glib, I know very well how capital-D depression works, it has nothing to do with what you’re writing. But he did have access to some amazing material. Think: what is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a person? To hurt his child by accident. What is the worst possible hurt? Fire, scalding, burns. Where is the worst possible place to be hurt? Yeah. Add in a moment of “ahh, it’s all over” halfway through, then a moment of “is this going to be magical realism?” a moment later, and absolute cold horror in the next couple of sentences, and then it’s just waiting to see what happens at the same time the kid learns to dissociate. Pretty remarkable. I wonder how long it took him to write this, what he went through to get it on paper.