Short Story Challenge: Marching On

I picked up Denis Johnson’s The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, his posthumous collection of stories. I enjoyed the eponymous story very much, although the title has little to do with the story, so it will never be titular. (I like saying titular. But titular and eponymous are very different in meaning, which I now know, thanks to following copy-editors on Twitter). Johnson was one of our best, and I discovered him late. I avoided Jesus’s Son because I assumed it was religious, and read Tree of Smoke, which was interesting, but overlong. His short stories have always been satisfying, and this one is no exception. He says so much with so little. The character lives a soulless life, rich and entitled. The opening scene is unforgettable and I won’t ruin it. Read the book. To give you an idea of the man telling it, he gets a call from an ex-wife who has terminal cancer and is giving her final regards, and he can’t remember if it’s wife one or wife two. This seems ridiculous, but in Denis Johnson’s hands, it’s chilling and perfect.

Do you get annoying when a title is misleading? I threw the DVD across the room when I watched Head Hunters, based on the Jo Nesbø novel. No one gets their head cut off. It’s a gimmicky thriller where a rich tech bro ex-special ops guy tries to kill a jewel thief and tracks him–seriously–by putting nanotech in his hair. So, get it? He’s hunting him… by his head! Oh, wait. The jewel thief’s cover is that of an executive recruiter. A headhunter… get it? And this dingleberry has the gall to say he doesn’t read thrillers or crime novels because he’s “above genre.” I don’t normally call out writers like this, but he threw the first shot at the entire genre, and he sleeps on a bed of money, so he can shrug off my pitiful tirade. It won’t hurt his sales. Headhunters is the biggest movie hit in Norway, which makes me not want to visit.

Another fun read was “The Cage” by Tania James in the Winter 2017 issue of Tin House. It’s short and sweet, about overprotective, harried parents of today versus those who raised in the ’70s. It made me laugh.

In Shotgun Honey, Albert Tucher delivers–like he always does–with a Diana story called “The Caffeine Cure.” Al’s got a great voice and tells a great crime story, check out his novella The Place of Refuge for a longer read.

Denis Johnson continues to amaze me. Largesse is wonderful. You can read one of the best stories, “Strangler Bob,” set in a county jail, here.

“King of the Animals” by Josh Russell in the latest One Story magazine is the most chilling tale depicting the Juggernaut of authoritarianism behind our latest leader and the nightmares it has brought to life.

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by Phenderson Djèlí Clark
at Fireside Fiction is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long while, mixing history and fantasy to ask the revolutionary general how he could have treated people so badly while fighting for freedom.

3 thoughts on “Short Story Challenge: Marching On

  1. I have the Denis Johnson book but haven’t read it yet. His stuff is hit and miss for me. Jesus’s Son wasn’t the life changer it was for all the bright-eyed MFA boys who roll through my life year after year in this freakin’ town, but I love Train Dreams. I’m slogging through the new collection of Thomas McGuane stories, Cloudbursts, out Tuesday, which is mostly recollected stories from his OTHER three collections, with a few new ones. When he’s on, McGuane is great. But this tome is a cinder block.

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