Monday, August 10, 2009

Here’s one story: Children are the Only Ones who Blush

Self-proclaimed short story month, post number 10.

I got my first couple of short stories from One Story today. They didn’t include the latest one in the series, called “Rocky Point, Mexico.” It was the one prior to that: Joe Meno’s “Children are the Only Ones who Blush.” I can’t offer a link to the story because One Story sends you a paper version. I’m new to the One Story universe, so bear with me.

The story comes printed in a crisp, stapled booklet, 16 pages long and pressed between thin, cardboard-yellow covers. (The color changes from one edition to the next, and the length also varies, of course.) The font is quite comfortable, and there is some pleasure to be derived from reading this nugget of fiction cover to cover in a few minutes, giving your eyes a rest from the computer screen.

Now, the story was quite enjoyable. A nineteen-year-old kid called Jack has an obnoxiously smart and intense twin sister (Jane), who accuses him of being gay and not having come to terms with it. Jack feels revulsion for bodily fluids, which has kept him girlfriendless and has had him fail gym class over and over again. The bottom line: Jack hasn’t graduated from high school, but he doesn’t care. Everyone else around him does care, so the story kicks off with Jack’s parents’ attempt at a solution: Jack and Jane go to couples’ therapy. This is actually quite funny. Because Jack’s parents are psychiatrists, the only available therapist was a psychiatrist gone dentist who treats them at his dentist’s office. You kind of forget this detail, until later on the psychodontist (to borrow the term from Pynchon’s V.) comes up with this: “I couldn’t agree more. It is subnormal. And also, he hasn’t been flossing. He’s becoming a prime candidate for gum disease” (p. 13).

I can’t say what else happens, but there is much that is good. There are plenty of good dialogues, and some tension built around Jack’s alleged homosexuality. Jack becomes friends with a perpetually yellow-clad girl called Jill Thirby who has issues way beyond her wardrobe. He reaches a particular arrangement with his gym teacher. If I’d change something in the story, though, it would be Jane: I really enjoyed her remarks at first, so irreverent and electric, but they lost freshness as the story wound on. They became repetitive, banging on the same words and the same themes. This might be true to character, but I would’ve loved to see her saying things that kept my interest.

And that’s the story. One Story doesn’t end there, however. Then you turn to the interview, which is short and informative—and a great idea. Meno’s interview is here. You can find out stuff like what he drew upon to write the story, how long he took writing it (at least eight months, with plenty of revisions). There are some interesting observations on fiction itself. Meno’s words on the short story form, in this self-proclaimed short story month, are worth quoting in full: “The biggest advantage and disadvantage in working with short stories has to do with the size of the audience reading them: it seems that the short story is going the way of poetry, or jazz music, enjoyed by a highly informed, smaller audience. I think in some ways it's incredibly liberating and allows for much more experimentation. The era of being able to live off the money you make writing a short story is all but over, which means any story you write is more an expression of your art than it is a way to pay the bills.” This problem brought about by a restricted and more “literary” audience is one I’ve glanced at a couple times this month, most recently in this comment.

Finally, Meno closes with this: “writing is all about one thing: trial and error.” I’d like to say his story was one of the trials that went quite well.

Oh, One Story has published 123 short stories over the years. If anyone has any favorites among back issues, stories one should feel compelled to order and read, feel free to say so.

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