Short Stories of the Month: February 2014

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For the month of February, The Short Story Station introduced flash fiction — a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity(Wikipedia).  There was a poll of various flash fiction stories voted upon by followers of the blog and the 2 stories that garnered most votes became the featured stories for the month. The stories that won the poll were those by Margaret Atwood and by David Foster Wallace.

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HAPPY ENDINGS

by Margaret Atwood

I have Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin and Surfacing on my to-be-read shelf for quite sometime now but haven’t gone ahead to reading them. It’s a good thing that I was able to sample her writing in this short story before I delve into her full-length works.

Happy Endings reads like those Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read as a child. I enjoyed jumping from one page to another, trying to know what happens next if I choose a particular act or the other. Often, I would read through all the options and exhaust all possible choices and would find out that certain choices sometimes leads to different scenarios but would still have the same endings.

I think this is what Margaret Atwood wants to point out in this story: that you may choose different paths but will still eventually have the same ending. Unlike  Choose Your Own Adventure, however, where the chapters are really adventures for a grade school kid like me (scary creatures, dark cellars, animal transformations, etc.), in Happy Endings, the characters are adults (John and Mary) and the story begins when John and Mary meet. From Point A to Point Z. What happens through Points B to Y? Choose your own adventure. You will still end up in Point Z.

It was interesting to read through all the possibilities (six in all) contemplated by Atwood and I even had a good laugh at a couple of scenarios. Some were morbid and sad:

Yes, but Fred has a bad heart. The rest of the story is about how kind and understanding they
both are until Fred dies. Then Madge devotes herself to charity work until the end of A. If you
like, it can be “Madge,” “cancer,” “guilty and confused,” and “bird watching.”

In the end, this short fiction sounds like a tutorial on how to write a story but it is also a rough tutorial on how to live our lives. Sure, we get born in this world and we eventually die but what happens in between is still up to us and to the choices we will make. Choose your own adventure. Will we want to have a happy ending?

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My rating: 3/5 stars.

Also posted in The Short Story Station.

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INCARNATIONS OF BURNED CHILDREN

by David Foster Wallace

I had a hard time trying to finish this short story. Not because it was badly written or uninteresting. No, not at all. In fact, Incarnations of Burned Children was the exact opposite of a badly written story, and there lies my difficulty because the story was told in such a vivid and poignant way, I could not continue reading without having to take intermittent deep breaths in between sentences.

Incarnations of Burned Children is my first David Foster Wallace read and I should have known better by reading the title alone that I should have not read this on a Friday afternoon when I was on a high and looking forward to the weekend. The story begins with a father repairing a tenant’s door when he hears his child’s screams and his wife’s high voice in between. Any parent would do what that father did upon hearing that scream: instantly leave whatever he is doing and discover the cause of the commotion. Throughout the whole long and meandering paragraph that  makes up this story, I was carried by the Father’s stream of consciousness, listening to his thoughts and everything that goes on inside his head when he learned about the reason for the scream.

It was really jarring to read the disturbing imagery of the story. My heart constricted and was torn into pieces. This was a story that could not be taken lightly, not when the one reading is a mom of a very active toddler now nearing the terrible twos, as they say. Although told in the Father’s voice, I could easily identify with what this dad went through and the choices he had to make. In my head, I was screaming:”Bring the baby to the hospital! Call an ambulance! Don’t touch the baby! Wait for the medics!”

Despite the emotional jolt, it was interesting to read a man’s POV on instances like this. What goes on inside a man’s head when faced with such a painful situation? I, for one, certainly want to know.

“If you’ve never wept and want to, have a child.”

After all that happened, I want to read a happy ending. I want life and healing and restoration. I want wholeness. My heart just cannot take anymore sadness and pain. Please, spare the child.

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My Rating: 4/5 stars.

Also posted in The Short Story Station.


Short Stories of the Month is a regular feature at The Short Story Station. Stop by, join us, and read a story!

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