Reading Recommendation: “If You Cannot Go To Sleep,” Emily Mitchell

Today I read:

The numbers move sluggishly through her head in single file, like people in a line at the post office or at the bank or at the discount supermarket where you can only pay with cash so the line is always long and she is always frustrated by the time she reaches the counter, and so, to compensate, she always tries to be extra- friendly to the cashier, to be sure to instruct him or her to have a nice day after she gets her change back, because it seems worse, somehow, to be a cashier in a discount supermarket than it would be to do the same job at a place that sold expensive gourmet foods, although when she thinks about this now, so late at night that she doesn’t even want to look at the clock to find out the time, she thinks, Why would it make a difference whether you ran a cash register at a place where people buy brie and figs and Ethiopian fair-trade coffee, instead of at a place where people buy Pampers and Wonder Bread?

— Emily Mitchell, “If You Cannot Go To Sleep

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Sunday Six

Six sentences for Sunday, June 28:

She practices breathing the way the nurse at the hospital showed her, breathing in deep through her nose and holding the breath until her lungs flex with the urge to exhale, then breathing slowly until the air is thin between her lips. She hears the instructions in the nurse’s raspy voice, pictures her warm brown hands orchestrating the movement of Eleanor’s lungs.

She repeats this exercise until all she’s aware of is the movement of breath within her body, her chest rising and falling, the ghost of air across the inside of her lower lip—

—The touch of another’s mouth to hers, so light it’s hardly a touch at all. Her eyes closed, careful breathing so as not to let on she’s awake. And a woman’s whisper saying to her, “I’m sorry, please come back to me—

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Reading Recommendation: “Madeleine,” Amal El-Mohtar

In honor of yesterday’s Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality, today’s reading recommendation comes from Lightspeed‘s Queers Destroy Science Fiction! special issue:

Now: she is home, and leaning her head against her living room window at twilight, and something in the thrill of that blue and the cold of the glass against her scalp sends her tumbling —

— into her body at fourteen, looking into the blue deepening above the tree line near her home as if it were another country, longing for it, aware of the picture she makes as a young girl leaning her wondering head against a window while hungry for the future, for the distance, for the person she will grow to be — and starts to reach within her self, her future/present self, for a phrase that only her future/present self knows, to untangle herself from her past head. She has just about settled on Kristeva — abjection is above all ambiguity — when she feels, strangely, a tug on her field of vision, something at its periphery demanding attention. She looks away from the sky, looks down, at the street she grew up on, the street she knows like the inside of her mouth.

She sees a girl of about her own age, brown-skinned and dark-haired, grinning at her and waving.

She has never seen her before in her life.

— Amal El-Mohtar, “Madeleine

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I’ve been dipping in and out of Kelly Link’s most recent short story collection Get in Trouble of late. I’m really enjoying it, but I’ve also found it quite challenging in subtle, surprising ways. I may have something to say about it eventually, but in the meantime, here’s an excerpt from from the New York Times review:

When fiction enters a nonrealistic, fantastic zone, but is clearly not quick-read fantasy, many readers will begin mining the work for satire. I struggled with Link’s stories when I tried to read them like this. Although there is some similarity in tone between Kelly Link and George Saunders, her stories do not respond to this kind of reading as his do. Saunders, operating in a more obviously Baudrillardian hyperreal, is always happy to exaggerate our media-frenzied, overfictionalized world, even throwing in the odd sentimental ending or deliberate duff note from time to time because he knows that we know how to read it. We enter Saunders’s worlds, exaggerated and grotesque, so that we can see ours better. Link seems less interested in all this. She also wants us to look back at ourselves, but she wants us to see people rather than institutions and structures. Like other writers in the tradition of the modern American short story, she wants us to look closely at the small stuff of life.

I have a lot of reactions to this, but I’m not particularly interested in unpacking any of them at the moment. Maybe–hopefully–I’ll come back to this review at some future moment, but for now I just have to say: yes, the small stuff, that’s where it’s at. Fiction that’s about people–what a novel idea.

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Sunday Six

Six sentences for Sunday, June 21:

It began in the middle of her back.

Sometimes by the end of the day, every inch of her seemed to itch: her shoulders, her scalp, the little nascent hairs on the backs of her arms. She itched from fatigue—from the desire to be done with the day—and usually her problem could be remedied with blunt fingernails or, at worst, a back scratcher.

The itch she felt on this particular evening was like that ordinary sort of itch, but more so. It seemed to emanate from deep under her skin and to pervade every surface, every crevice. Even her eyelashes itched.

Happy midsummer!

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Sunday Six

Six five sentences for Sunday, June 14:

Sometimes she feels sure there is a room beyond the light. If she stares hard into that excruciating light, she can almost see the details—almost a room hospital white and agonizingly clean, almost someone standing there, almost, almost, but not quite.

She wakes herself up, but for a moment she is still looking, still straining to see. The apartment is dark, quiet except for the bloodrush noise inside her ears. The cat appears at the door to her bedroom and watches her from a distance.

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Sunday Six

Six sentences for Sunday, June 7:

“Albie,” I say, “who do you think writes encyclopedias?”

“Why does it matter who writes them?” I can tell he’s getting impatient with me.

“Do you think it’s one person who knows everything about everything in the world, or is it lots of people who only know a lot about one little, particular thing?” Albie doesn’t answer, slumping lower in his chair. “I wish I knew everything about everything, I think that would be better than just knowing a lot about one thing, don’t you?”

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