Dang Good Stories #1

One of my goals this year is to read more short stories. Between my own writing, slush reading, and all of the awesome books in the world, I read woefully few last year. So I’m going to write about my favorites here, probably 3-4 every couple weeks, both because short fiction needs more recognition and because its a nice way of remembering what I’ve read. (Hence the optimistic #1 up there.) In particular I’m trying to read older stories, since new stories often get a burst of discussion anyway.

Also, my second goal was to put something on this blog whose domain I’ve claimed. Two birds, one stone, you get it.

Her Husband’s Hands” by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed October 2011)

I read this story because of a recommendation on someone’s Twitter feed (no idea whose, sorry) so I went in blind. Before reading it, I was only familiar with Adam-Troy Castro as the author of the middle-grade series Gustav Gloom so I was expecting something a bit lighter. Humorous, even.

This is not that story.

This story punches you right in the sternum. It begins with Rebecca’s husband–what’s left of him, that is–coming home from the war. And you think this is the horrifying part, right? The disembodied hands?

Wrong again. The horrifying part is what happens after, when Rebecca and her husband have to deal with the psychological effects of the war, how the lives they imagined are now in ruins. There’s one particular scene set in a support group meeting for veterans and their spouses that is possibly the scariest thing I’ve read in a short story in a long time, even though all the characters do is talk. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say it will stick with me a long time.

“On Discovering a Ghost in the Five Star” by Peter M. Ball (Daily Science Fiction June 3rd, 2016)

The thing Daily Science Fiction does best is find stories that pack a hell of a punch in a tiny amount of space, and I love that approach. Publishing 365 stories a year does mean that the amount of attention each story gets is reduced though. This is one of the ones that deserves more discussion. I’m not usually a big fan of ghost stories–I find them overdone, and often reliant on tropes that are no longer frightening–but I’m still thinking about this one a week later.

In short, this piece is about a ghost in a laundromat, and how her death and reappearance reverberate through the community. To say more is hard because of the length, but it’s well worth your time.

I read this because of a tweet by Cassandra Khaw that called it “a powerful piece on anger, and being afraid to understand” and while I see that, I thought it spoke most powerfully about the lengths people will go to to ignore, to hide, the problems in their community. I found the ending a bit pessimistic (perhaps because of the current uproar over the Brock Turner rape case and how its made me think about women’s agency and justice) but powerful.

“Cafe Macondo” by Megan Arkenberg (Daily Science Fiction October 21st, 2014)

I’ve been on a bit of a DSF kick lately. A couple of years ago I would have said that flash fiction was my least favorite length, but these days I’m really digging how I can fit a bit of reading into my day and how through sites like DSF I can sample many different writers.

“Cafe Macondo” starts off goofy, with a customer at a grocery store trying to buy coffee from an alternate dimension, and then twists the premise to make it just a tad bittersweet. It’s a much lighter tale that the previous two but it makes a lot out of what could have been a one-note joke. It left me rooting for the protagonist, although she doesn’t even have a name.

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