One great short story to read today: Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “Black-Eyed Women.”
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:
“Black-Eyed Women” by Viet Thanh Nguyen
There are so many ghosts in literature; many of them are in this story, in which a ghostwriter is visited by an actual ghost (ha), and realizes her own ghostliness, and the ghostliness of those around her. It’s a story about life and death, and how they so and must exist together, not just intertwined as is often said, but sometimes indistinguishable from one another. Every time I read this story, I find myself sinking down into it as into the ocean; and if that’s not enough, it occasionally knocks on my door at night, just to make sure I haven’t forgotten it.
As Akhil Sharma put it in his introduction to the story (read it too at the link below), “There is a fantastic too-muchness to the story, a sense that surely all these things cannot be held in one story. But the very fact that Viet’s stories succeed reminds us that there is a too-muchness to life also; that stories need to get bigger instead of trying to make life smaller.”
The story begins:
Fame would strike someone, usually the kind that healthy-minded people would not wish upon themselves, such as being kidnapped and kept prisoner for years, suffering humiliation in a sex scandal, or surviving something typically fatal. These survivors needed someone to help write their memoirs, and their agents might eventually come across me. “At least your name’s not on anything,” my mother once said. When I mentioned that I would not mind being thanked in the acknowledgments, she said, “Let me tell you a story.” It would be the first time I heard this story, but not the last. “In our homeland,” she went on, “there was a reporter who said the government tortured the people in prison. So the government does to him exactly what he said they did to others. They send him away and no one ever sees him again. That’s what happens to writers who put their names on things.”