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    One great short story to read today:
    Kelly Link’s “Stone Animals.”

    Emily Temple

    May 26, 2023, 10:00am

    According to the powers that be (er, apparently according to Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network), May is Short Story Month. To celebrate, the Literary Hub staff will be recommending a single short story, free to read online, every (work) day of the month. Why not read along with us? Today, we recommend:

    “Stone Animals” by Kelly Link

    When I taught creative writing to undergrads, I liked to torture them with this story, because of how cheekily it sidesteps the sort of rigid interpretation of which they are so fond. When I taught creative writing to undergrads, I liked to reward them with this story, because of how much fun it is to read, how it haunts and delights in equal measure. Every time I read it myself, I find something different in it; this year, having moved out of the city and into a house with a lawn and a baby (though only one rabbit), I found it particularly unsettling.

    Lincoln Michel described this story as “an American dream turned dark and strange: Kafka in Cheever’s clothing,” which is just right (you can read the rest of his introduction at the link below). It is possibly my favorite of Link’s work but that might not be true; at any rate, you could do no wrong reading “Magic for Beginners” or “The Faery Handbag” or “The Specialist’s Hat,” all of which are also available online, or by buying her books, of course.

    The story begins:

    Henry asked a question. He was joking.

    “As a matter of fact,” the real estate agent snapped, “it is.”

    It was not a question she had expected to be asked. She gave Henry a goofy, appeasing smile and yanked at the hem of the skirt of her pink linen suit, which seemed as if it might, at any moment, go rolling up her knees like a window shade. She was younger than Henry, and sold houses that she couldn’t afford to buy.

    “It’s reflected in the asking price, of course,” she said. “Like you said.”

    Henry stared at her. She blushed.

    “I’ve never seen anything,” she said. “But there are stories. Not stories that I know. I just know there are stories. If you believe that sort of thing.”

    Read it here.

    Read Marilynne Robinson’s 1988 review of Raymond Carver’s final collection.

    Dan Sheehan

    May 25, 2023, 1:31pm

    Raymond Carver, one of the most beloved and influential short story writers in the history of American fiction, was born eighty-five years ago today.

    Below is a New York Times review of Carver’s final story collection, Where I’m Calling From, written by future Pulitzer Prize (and Orange Prize, and NBCC Prize, and Library of Congress Prize…) winner Marilynne Robinson, and published just three months before Carver’s death on August 2, 1988.


    Where I'm Calling From

    “I loved you so much once. I did. More than anything in the whole wide world. Imagine that. What a laugh that is now.”


    “I take this volume to invite a new look at Mr. Carver’s career, a conviction encouraged in me by the fact that I would like to offer one. To be blunt, I propose to abduct Raymond Carver from the camp of the minimalists … In fact, Mr. Carver stands squarely in the line of descent of American realism. His weaknesses are for sentimentality and sensationalism. His great gift is for writing stories that create meaning through their form … He should be famous for the conceptual beauty of his best stories, and disburdened of his worst, which could then pass into relative neglect … Mr. Carver uses his narrow world to generate suggestive configurations that could not occur in a wider one. His impulse to simplify is like an attempt to create a hush, not to hear less but to hear better. Nothing recurs so powerfully in these stories as the imagination of another life, always so like the narrator’s or the protagonist’s own that the imagination of it is an experience of the self, that fuddled wraith … Raymond Carver is not an easy writer to read. His narratives are often coarse. Sometimes he seems intent on proving that insensitive people have feelings, too … But there is lump as well as leaven in Mr. Carver, and the lumpishness is more irksome because it feels intentional. The characters sometimes seem set up, or condescended to. It is this condition from which they are rescued in the course of the story. Mr. Carver is rather like the poet William Carlos Williams, who declared there were ‘no ideas but in things,’ and who turned banality’s pockets out and found all their contents beautiful. The process of Mr. Carver’s fiction is to transform our perception. Perhaps what he does cannot be done in another way. And, viewed from sufficient distance, an interesting problem can take its place among the beautiful things.”

    –Marilynne Robinson, The New York Times, May 15, 1988

    Edward Carey gives us a preview of the illustrations in his next novel, Edith Holler.

    Edward Carey

    May 25, 2023, 11:00am

    My ninth book, Edith Holler, is set in a theatre in the city of Norwich in the east of England, just after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Edith is a child of twelve who has been ill much of her childhood and has sworn by her over-protective but untrustworthy actor-manager father, that she must never leave the theatre. She is allowed to walk among the audience when they come in, but not to talk to them, and so people of Norwich come to the theatre just to see the strange child. Remaining in the building, she sees the world from the stage, she watches long dead kings come to life on stage, she visits impossible landscapes because they are the setting for certain plays and she witnesses ghosts because it is perfectly acceptable to have ghosts on stage in plays. She has a strong imagination and she reads a great deal, during her illnesses unable to get out of bed, she reads about the history of Norwich from books and from ancient manuscripts and slowly she begins to discover that the city has a terrible secret. No one in the theatre will believe her when she speaks of it, and she must be dumb when the audience is in the building, and so she writes a play. The father agrees to put on the play and rehearsals begin, the play seems to come to life, not only on the stage but all about the theatre. It even attracts a certain woman, who is the direct descendent of the evil doer that Edith has written about.

    The novel is full of ghosts and beetles and people of the theatre, it was written during the pandemic when I was living in Austin, Texas, and like everyone else could not travel. I missed Norwich, the city of my childhood, and the idea of theatre during those bleak days seemed utterly impossible—especially in England under the Conservative government, which seems to take pride is destroying the arts in the UK. And so I wrote this book, which is sort of a version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I always illustrate my books and each time I want to do something slightly different to the last. This novel is illustrated mostly with characters, backdrops, side tabs etc. from Victorian toy theatres. I designed my own miniature theatre to match this novel and it would probably be physically possible to construct a whole card theatre from the illustrations throughout novel (but I’ll have it up on my website soon to download). By using this toy or card theatre device, I wanted to highlight the act of children playing, of the pretense of theatre and to show on the stage how you can have wonderful, extraordinary things that are not acceptable in real life.

    This is the proscenium arch of the Holler Theatre, Norwich, Norfolk. Just as it is described in the novel.


    Here is Edith Holler herself as a character from a toy theatre, a rather drab child. She dresses only in grey and has rather grey skin and looks a little like a ghost. To encourage this, she often smears ash on her face.


    Here is the stage floor (to be attached to the proscenium arch), where all the actions takes place. Directly beneath the main trap (in the actual theatre) is the traproom, where the plummeting actors land.


    Here is one of the backdrops to Edith’s play, it is of medieval Norwich. Please note the castle and the cathedral.


    Here is Margaret Utting, direct descendant of a personage from Norwich folklore. She is pictured here not as a real life woman but as a paper doll.


    Another backdrop from Edith’s play. Norwich has many undercrofts beneath street level, ancient cellars.


    This is Mr. Jet. When I worked in the theatre in London we were instructed that if there was ever a fire we were not to shout ‘fire’ but to calmly say ‘Mr. Jet is in the house’. In this novel Mr. Jet is a real character.


    UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak loves a horsey “bonkbuster.”

    Janet Manley

    May 25, 2023, 9:27am

    TIL … that the Rutshire chronicles is not euphemism for government incompetence but a blockbuster romance series by UK author Jilly Cooper OBE, and long a favorite of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

    Writes Politico:

    U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed Thursday that he’s an avid reader of Jilly Cooper, the English author whose raunchy tales of romance and infidelity among horse riders and show jumpers have been best-sellers.

    The books follow Rupert Campbell-Black, a horse-mad stud who finds himself entwined with various sweat-flecked beauties, including his wife Taggie and a Zimbabweyan widow with a “big, uppity” bottom in Mount! 


    On a craft level, the writing is wonderful, wrote reviewer Marianne Levy several years ago:

    Her descriptions of sex are glorious; sometimes emotional, sometimes carefree, always unabashedly sensual, and most of all, funny – the penis that soars like Concorde then enters like the QE2, or the swallowed ejaculate nicknamed “Penis Grigio.”

    I bet the good people of Britain are glad their leader reads for pleasure.

    One great short story to read today: Percival Everett’s “The Appropriation of Cultures.”

    Jonny Diamond

    May 25, 2023, 9:25am

    According to the powers that be (er, apparently according to Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network), May is Short Story Month. To celebrate, the Literary Hub staff will be recommending a single short story, free to read online, every (work) day of the month. Why not read along with us? Today, we recommend:

    “The Appropriation of Cultures” by Percival Everett

    “The Appropriation of Cultures,” Percival Everett’s brilliant 2004 short story (from the collection Damned If I Do) is the ideal introduction to his broader work as one of America’s great novelists: it is funny, it is intense, it barely pauses to take a breath, and (perhaps most importantly), as the story progresses it almost imperceptibly begins to employ a satiric hyperbole that is as provocative as it is satisfying.

    The protagonist, Daniel Barkley, is a young, independently wealthy Black man living in South Carolina who decides to buy a pick-up truck he doesn’t really need, for reasons he can’t quite understand. The truck in question comes with a big ol’ Confederate flag decal. When asked by the clearly uncomfortable seller if Daniel would like him to remove it, Daniel declines, to the confusion of nearly everyone in town.

    Everett isn’t particularly subtle about what he’s doing in this story (the title is a pretty good indication), but the sly playfulness with which he explores the power (and fragility) of America’s most toxic symbols is pitch perfect. In many ways, the registry Everett hits in “The Appropriation of Cultures” will hit full volume in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2021 novel The Trees (which you should also definitely read).

    The story begins:

    Daniel Barkley had money left to him by his mother. He had a house which had been left to him by his mother. He had a degree in American Studies from Brown University which he had in some way earned but had not yet earned anything for him. He played a nineteen-forty Martin guitar with a Barkus-Berry pickup and drove a nineteen-seventy-six Jensen Interceptor which he had purchased after his mother’s sister had died and left him her money, she having had no children of her own. Daniel Barkley didn’t work and didn’t pretend to need to, spending most of his time reading. Some nights he went to a joint near the campus of the University of South Carolina and played jazz with some old guys who all worked very hard during the day, but didn’t hold Daniel’s condition against him.

    Read it here.