Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: the preliminary TOC for a Best Suspense Stories anthology...

Almost eleven years ago now, I mentioned here, in a review of notable mostly suspense-fiction anthologies having had a promising nibble from a small press publisher, an anthology I'd been mulling seemed close to happening, but no...and I might still go ahead, but part of what has been holding me up was whether to go the Poll Route, and give a ballot to various excellent writers in the field of what I call suspense fiction, and knowledgeable readers/fans, and see what they might like among my suggestions, and follow (or not) their own--many so-called Hall of Fame (and similar labels) volumes in various fields have been following that path over the decades. But the proposal has gone, in the way of many spec submissions to publishers, by the wayside or has at least been hanging fire.

Perhaps the most obscure of the volumes I reviewed...

So might still, and so here's some easily revisable preliminary thoughts for such a which might try not to include Too many all but inevitable chestnut stories, but it'd be hard to put together such an anthology and leave out, say, "The Lottery" or "The Most Dangerous Game" or "Leiningen versus the ants" or "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge"...I had a long list of possibilities in one or another file, on one or another computer...

Edward D. Hoch: "The Oblong Room"
Patricia Highsmith: "The Snail-Watcher"
Daphne du Maurier: "The Birds"
Joan Aiken: "Marmalade Wine" and/or Evelyn Waugh: "The Man Who Loved Dickens"
Jorge Luis Borges: "The Other Death"
John Collier: "Evening Primrose"
Bill Pronzini: "Strangers in the Fog"
Joe R. Lansdale: "The Night They Missed the Horror Show"
Joe Gores: "Watch for It"
"Saki": "The Reticence of Lady Anne"
Robert Bloch: "The Final Performance"
Ray Bradbury: "The October Game" 
Barry N. Malzberg: "Agony Column"
Fredric Brown: "Don't Look Behind You"
Cornell Woolrich: "Papa Benjamin" aka "Dark Melody of Madness" (though I should reread it, as I remember it verging on the supernatural without going all the way there, which is what I'm aiming at in this context)
Avram Davidson: (several possibilities I should review!)
Jack Ritchie: (likewise; provisionally:) "For All the Rude People"
Stanley Ellin: "Specialty of the House"
Richard Matheson: "The Distributor"
Kit Reed: "To Be Taken in a Strange Country"
Dennis Etchison: "The Pitch"
Robert Arthur: (several to parse)
Graham Greene: (likewise)
Roald Dahl: "Man from the South"
David Ely: "The Academy"
Joyce Carol Oates: "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"
Brian Garfield: "Checkpoint Charlie"
Algis Budrys: "The Master of the Hounds"
E. A. Poe: "The Cask of Amontillado" (as chestnutty as a story can be...)
...and so many more I should be recalling, and have read since I last updated my list...

Any particular favorites of yours you might suggest?

For more of today's Short Story Wednesday reviews, 

And the TOC of the Pronzini and Malzberg anthology, omitted from the post that this one links to at top:
Great Tales of Mystery and Suspense ed. Bill Pronzini, Martin H. Greenberg & Barry N. Malzberg (A&W/Galahad 0-88365-700-7, 1985 [Jan ’86], $8.98, 601pp, hc) Reprint (Arbor House 1981 as The Arbor House Treasury of Mystery and Suspense) anthology. This edition omits one story, “Crime Wave in Pinhole” by Julie Smith, which makes it an abridgement of the original. This is an instant remainder book.

11 · Introduction · John D. MacDonald · in
17 · The Gold-Bug · Edgar Allan Poe · nv Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper Jun 21-28, 1843
48 · Hunted Down · Charles Dickens · nv New York Ledger Aug 20-Sep 3, 1859; EQMM Jan ’47
67 · The Stolen White Elephant · Mark Twain · nv The Stolen White Elephant, Webster, 1882; EQMM Jul ’43
85 · Ransom · Pearl S. Buck · nv Cosmopolitan Oct ’38; EQMM Jun ’55
108 · The Adventure of the Glass-Domed Clock [Ellery Queen] · Ellery Queen · ss Mystery League Oct ’33
126 · The Arrow of God [Simon Templar] · Leslie Charteris · nv EQMM Sep ’49; The Saint Detective Magazine (UK) Nov ’62; The Saint Detective Magazine Jan ’63
147 · A Passage to Benares [Prof. Henry Poggioli] · T. S. Stribling · nv Adventure Feb 20 ’26
174 · The Case of the Emerald Sky [Dr. Jan Czissar] · Eric Ambler · ss The Sketch Jul 10 ’40; EQMM Mar ’45
183 · The Other Hangman · John Dickson Carr · ss A Century of Detective Stories, ed. Anon., London: Hutchinson, 1935; EQMM Jan ’65
196 · The Couple Next Door [Inspector Sands] · Margaret Millar · ss EQMM Jul ’54
211 · Danger Out of the Past [“Protection”] · Erle Stanley Gardner · ss Manhunt May ’55; EQMM Mar ’61
223 · A Matter of Public Notice · Dorothy Salisbury Davis · nv EQMM Jul ’57
239 · The Cat’s-Paw · Stanley Ellin · ss EQMM Jun ’49
254 · The Road to Damascus [Daniel John Calder; Samuel Behrens] · Michael Gilbert · ss Argosy (UK) Jun ’66; EQMM May ’67
272 · Midnight Blue [Lew Archer] · Ross Macdonald · nv Ed McBain’s Mystery Book #1 ’60; EQMM Jul ’71
299 · I’ll Die Tomorrow · Mickey Spillane · ss Cavalier Mar ’60
310 · For All the Rude People · Jack Ritchie · ss AHMM Jun ’61
323 · Hangover · John D. MacDonald · ss Cosmopolitan Jul ’56
333 · The Santa Claus Club [Francis Quarles] · Julian Symons · ss Suspense (UK) Dec ’60; EQMM Jan ’67
344 · The Wager [Kek Huuygens] · Robert L. Fish · ss Playboy Jul ’73; EQMM Nov ’78
353 · A Fool About Money · Ngaio Marsh · ss EQMM Dec ’74
358 · And Three to Get Ready... · Horace L. Gold · ss Fantastic Sum ’52
368 · “J” [87th Precinct] · Ed McBain · nv, 1961
414 · Burial Monuments Three · Edward D. Hoch · ss AHMM May ’72
425 · The Murder · Joyce Carol Oates · ss Night-Side, 1977
434 · Fatal Woman · Joyce Carol Oates · ss Night-Side, 1977
439 · Agony Column · Barry N. Malzberg · ss EQMM Dec ’71
446 · Last Rendezvous · Jean L. Backus · ss EQMM Sep ’77
453 · The Real Shape of the Coast · John Lutz · ss EQMM Jun ’71
464 · Hercule Poirot in the Year 2010 [Hercule Poirot] · Jon L. Breen · ss EQMM Mar ’75
472 · Merrill-Go-Round [Sharon McCone] · Marcia Muller · ss The Arbor House Treasury of Mystery and Suspense, ed. Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg & Martin H. Greenberg, Arbor House, 1981
484 · A Craving for Originality · Bill Pronzini · ss EQMM Dec 17 ’79
491 · Tranquility Base · Asa Baber · ss, 1979
506 · The Cabin in the Hollow · Joyce Harrington · ss EQMM Oct ’74
519 · Peckerman · Robert S. Phillips · ss The Arbor House Treasury of Mystery and Suspense, ed. Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg & Martin H. Greenberg, Arbor House, 1981
531 · A Simple, Willing Attempt · Elizabeth Morton · ss The Arbor House Treasury of Mystery and Suspense, ed. Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg & Martin H. Greenberg, Arbor House, 1981
535 · Watching Marcia · Mike Resnick · ss The Arbor House Treasury of Mystery and Suspense, ed. Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg & Martin H. Greenberg, Arbor House, 1981
545 · Somebody Cares · Talmage Powell · ss EQMM Dec ’62
555 · Jode’s Last Hunt · Brian Garfield · ss EQMM Jan ’77
572 · Many Mansions · Robert Silverberg · nv Universe 3, ed. Terry Carr, Random House, 1973
596 · My Son the Murderer · Bernard Malamud · ss Esquire Nov ’68

Friday, August 25, 2023

FFB: A WRITER PREPARES by Lawrence Block (LB Productions 2021)

This is a rather belated acknowledgement and review of this fine memoir, by one of the best writers of crime fiction we have had, and one who is (like his colleague and contemporary and mostly sf and fantasy writer Robert Silverberg) overseeing some of his earliest pseudonymous work (for the "men's sweat" magazines and the like) of the late '50s/early '60s, and his erotica novels likewise and from the same era, coming out in new editions and collections. Block is releasing some of his work thus himself, much as he has this volume, under his own ebook imprint, and it's seen prompter reviews such as these, from:
and others, which (unsurprisingly), Block has assembled on a reviews page on his ebooks site. and which give you at least as much insight on the work at hand as I'm likely to do. But among the things I noted as I read it, and even though it's assembled from essentially two previously stalled attempts as early-career/life memoir, and a continuation that takes us to the point that Block is about to go about the business of a professional writing career with him writing consistently work he wants to write and is not unhappy to sign his name to, in the early/mid '60s (the second of the interrupted passages, mostly written in a spurt at a retreat/residency in 1994, ends in mid-sentence, and that disruption is preserved here, as the narrative is picked up on the next page). There is little here, if anything, that suffers from the surface appearance of rough-drafting that might suggest. 

One thing Block seems amused and bemused by, as he reflects, is a consistent bloody-mindedness on his own part, an unwillingness to take the path of least resistance even when that might well've been the safer bet, the arguably more sensible approach. And he tends to both critique himself and to put forth some evidence, not necessarily required to tell the main narrative of his life but for whatever reason useful to include, such as his occasional youthful seeking out the services of prostitutes and his live and let live attitude toward one friend who, as a middle-aged man, conducted a years-long affair with a girl from her earliest puberty to her breaking it off with the man when she was almost at voting age (slightly different Challenges to the Reader than "Ellery Queen" used to specialize in). Meanwhile, the more important developments are limned, such as how he realized his work-study adventures via Antioch College (which specialized almost to a fault in such a program) led to him realizing that he was fitting into the work world, via the Scott Meredith Literary Agency and the early writing assignments he took on in various capacities in and out of that clangorous workhouse (and scam perpetrator), better than anything the imprimatur of finishing his Antioch degree would ever help with...and how also a safe, steady corporate job, however much security it might provide for his new family after marriage and how good he was at what was required by it, just was not going to be the right fit for him in the long term...and, yet also, how often he would let his not always justifiable sense that he needed to See This or That Thing Through lead him down needlessly troublesome pathways, even if only temporarily. I can relate. I suspect too many of us can. 

This is a compelling and informative, informal and instructive, look at how it is and what it means to be its author, and that's what memoirs are certainly fills in a sense, particularly, of how life worked at the Meredith Agency, which Barry Malzberg and others have written about at length or too briefly as well, in a more matter-of-fact manner than many have done (SMLA was entirely too influential to Tell All about, at its height, and it certainly touched on the lives and work of too many of the more interesting writers, editors and others over the past century to not be looked into in detail, as Block makes clear, while not taking on the panoramic task himself, at very least at this time). 

Block needed to be a writer, and we are all better off that he met that need. And this is an eminently readable and insightful account of how that happened, and the times and situations in which it happened in. Not too much more one could ask for, except perhaps for more similar memoirs from some of the other participants, and anything Block chooses to eventually say at similar length, beyond the framing comments provided here about the composition of  this book, about how things have gone since. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

SSW: Delmore Schwartz: "Screeno"; Donald Barthelme: "Great Days", PARTISAN REVIEW, Winter(?) 1977 (V. 44, #4), edited by William Phillips

Can be read here

The continuing reorganization of the house turns up items I haven't looked at for some years, including this issue of Partisan Review, which boasts of two short stories ahead of any other contents, and two stories which turned out to be relatively useful signposts of where their authors were Going at time of composition. 

The Donald Barthelme became the title story of the eventual collection (see cover below) and is one of a series of his later stories which eschewed anything but dialog, often in telling less a narrative than giving a sense of  what might be gleaned from seemingly random (at least at first) snippets of conversation, some single lines alone, others brief segments of conversations, in this case what sounds very much like what one might overhear while walking toward, into and through an art-show opening (one might recall that Barthelme worked in museums as well as a writer). The apparently untethered statements of slightly addled folks or otherwise atypical people one might've passed by to the eventual party, along with apparent statements by police into their radios, eventually give way to variously anodyne, clever and/or snarky statements and exchanges from the denizens of the gallery show and cocktail party within the destination. Barthelme seems to be reaching for a sort of fake-reportage in how he shapes these transcript-like records, and given he or his editor made this one the title story for the collection, someone was particularly happy with this one (or simply liked the title) is certainly readable and potentially less upsetting to the casual reader than some other examples of Barthelme in this mode, such as one (I can't currently recall the title) which seems to be told/transcripted from the POV of a man who is dying of a heart attack or something similar.  Good chance it's in the collection pictured below, and it might be "The Crisis". Barthelme adapted some of the stories from the collection, presumably including the title story, into a play for voices also entitled Great Days.

While the Delmore Schwartz story was composed about the the same time as "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities", 1937, but unlike that clangorous story (first published in the then-young Partisan Review in 1938), "Screeno" was not published until more than a decade after Schwartz's death, in this issue of PR, from a manuscript that had been collected in his papers, and was put forth by his son for reprinting in book form in the first edition of the 1978 collection named for "In Dreams..."; perhaps Schwartz thought of it as too similar in setting and incident, at least, to "IDBR", as it also involves a young man not unlike Schwartz himself going to catch a film in a theater...the film itself, in this case, being less fantastically a reflection of his chaotic life than the lottery run (instead of giving away plates or the like to customers, in a Depression movie house) and the protagonist the winner of a grand "Screeno" (like Bingo) prize, only (to the dismay of the theater's management) another claimant on the grand prize emerging from the audience with a reasonably legitimate claim to an identical grand prize of $425 (in 1937 dollars)...and the various bickering and small or not so small mercies which result. Perhaps also, Schwartz felt "Screeno" too sentimental in comparison to "In Dreams...", though as a "new" story in 1977, it was later used as the title story of an eventual New Directions paperback anthology gathering later-published/collected work, cover below. 

What struck me most about "Screeno" was how much it reminded me also of another story from not long before its composition, not so much in incident as in ambition and tone, William Saroyan's "Seventy Thousand Assyrians", like the Schwartz about a young writer in the Depression none too certain of how things are going to work out for him, encountering some other folks whose current state is that much worse, and with the author's analog within the story not too sure of how he might help in the long run, but grateful for what little he could do immediately, and enraged in a quiet way, for the predicament they all find themselves in. As Cynthia Ozick notes in the introduction to the Screeno collection, Schwartz's training in and passion for philosophy raises its head in the story, along with Schwartz's love of poetry...a T. S. Eliot poem is quoted along with a far older work. (It's notable that not only the hipster but au courant literary hipster cred of Schwartz's one-time student Lou Reed had risen sufficiently for the latter to be invited to write a new foreword to the second edition of the IDRB and Other Stories collection).

It's rather unsurprising that Partisan Review was happy to be the first publication source for both of these, however belatedly with the Schwartz.

For more of today's Short Story Wednesday reviews, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Guest FFB: Barry Malzberg and Charles Ardai on the last published Cornell Woolrich novel, as completed by Lawrence Block: INTO THE NIGHT

 From discussion lists, with permission:

Barry N. Malzberg:

The Woolrich novel which Lee Wright [who edited crime fiction for Random House and Simon & Schuster, as well as editing various anthologies before taking on her long-term publisher's editor gigs--TM] told me had been everywhere and rejected similarly was complete with a missing final chapter. I read the manuscript; it was okay with that gap...the missing chapter I suspect was actually written and dumped _or_ Woolrich thought better of it. Turned on an incestuous relationship with the dark lady revealed. I told Cornell how I thought it could be fixed (be explicit with the terrible final revelation) but he was in no condition to do that. After his death I volunteered to finish the novel, put the plea to Scott Meredith who with astonishing courtesy heard me out but decided that I was at that point utterly unknown. The Estate (Chase Manhattan Bank) recruited Larry Block to finish the novel. I could hardly be resentful; am grateful six decades on not to have been entangled.

As Woolrich's last agent (at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency) in his last terrible year and a half I tried to sell the novel stet to Lee Wright who said to me, "Dear, you're very new and don't know so I will tell you that Cornell has gone down a long, long way and everybody in NYC has seen and rejected this novel."

I should post this on Rara-Avis which cabal (with overlap here) would probably have even more interest but will leave it to our gang who are authorized to post it anywhere.

Charles Ardai, writer, editor, and publisher of the Hard Case Crime line:

Thanks, Barry, for that extra history, of much which I was unaware. The version of the manuscript Larry received for completion decades ago was also missing much of the first chapter (as well as the ending), as well as a handful of pages in the body of the book, so he filled in two big gaps (front and back) and bits and pieces throughout.

The opening that Larry crafted has always struck me as some of his best writing and wholly in keeping with Woolrich's view of life and the rest of the manuscript. Not an easy thing to write the beginning of an otherwise extant novel and have it tie seamlessly in to the rest, not just stylistically but in terms of everything that needs to be planted for reveals later to work properly, etc.

The ending (which was suggested by the last remaining pages Woolrich wrote) never entirely satisfied either Larry or me (or Mike [Francis M.] Nevins, who wrote the book's original afterword), because it imposed an 11th-hour happy resolution on material that was deeply and irreparably unhappy. So when Larry suggested that Hard Case Crime might bring the book out again, for the first time in 35+ years, part of the appeal was the opportunity to give it the proper, bleak Woolrich-ian ending it deserved (while being tinged, however horrifically, with romantic longing). That new ending, while it only alters the book's last few pages, I think goes a decent way to making the entire book a good deal stronger.

While we were in there tinkering, I also took the opportunity to fix up some errors that went uncaught the first time around -- for instance, Woolrich had the femme fatale see a photo of the dead woman's husband in the first chapter but then the plot of the final section hinged entirely on her not knowing what the husband looks like! That needed to be corrected, and a handful of other things needed some tweaks as well. It's not more editing than the book would have received (or should have) if it had sold when Woolrich was alive. And again, I feel it makes the book significantly stronger.

Is it the best he ever wrote? No. But I do feel it deserves to be in print, and at its best I feel it's a potent distillation of his themes and obsessions. 

And, Barry again, in response to a request about Barry's writing about Woolrich:

Thanks for your note. Maxim Jakubowski's Black is the Night (Titan 2022) is a "tribute anthology" published by the Titan division of Penguin/Random House, to which a lot of very good writers contributed pastiche or Woolrich-influenced fictions. It's outstanding and I was relieved to get a 1200 word vignette there after the deadline, Jakubowski being very receptive. There's a short-short story, "biographic pastiche" if you will, "Cornell", in the 4/72 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, there is the openly influenced "The Interceptor" in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine for August 1972 and included Allen J. Hubin's Best Detective Stories of the Year annual (1973 volume), there is a profile in The Engines of the Night. 

My daughter (born 9/16/70) is "Erika Cornell"...

First edition: 1987

Text copyright 2023 by Barry N. Malzberg and Charles Ardai

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

"Cane Fire" by the Peter Moon Band

In the wake of the many contributing factors, most involving official negligence, to the fires which have ravaged Lahaina and much of the rest of Maui over the last weeks, a posting of a song about official negligence and nonchalance about human life when, post-harvest, the sugar cane plantations would have insufficiently-controlled fires to clear the stalks remaining, and to hell with those who lived nearby, vs. the current situation, where the former cane and pineapple plantations have been overrun by guinea grass and other vegetation which has not been adequately controlled, and helped fuel the murderous fires, while various other sorts of befuddled incompetence led in large part to what will presumably be several hundred human lives lost, among the many other damages. 

Aloha nui loa.  TM (resident on Oahu 1979-1984)

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Douglas and Rhoda Mason (and their dog) make the news for unfortunate reasons  (includes audio link as originally broadcast)

Doug and Rhoda Mason, standing outside the home they've lived in for the past 41 years.

A 'forever home' destroyed in Barre leaves one future uncertain [actually, the future of a couple, at very least, my aunt and uncle...and their dog -TM]

Vermont Public | By Peter Hirschfeld Published July 27, 2023 at 5:00 AM EDT

Families across Vermont have been mucking out their basements and tearing out drywall to get their homes suitable for occupancy after the floods. For other people, there is no house to return to.

Doug and Rhoda Mason lost their home in Barre, and all their belongings, in a landslide that nearly killed them on July 11. And the couple, in their 70s, is trying to figure out how they’ll afford new housing on the social security benefits they subsist on.

Doug and Rhoda met each other in the 1970s, when they became co-workers at a Washington County nonprofit that served people with developmental disabilities.  [Continues]

GoFundMe page set up by my cousin Devin, one of their kids:

Devin on Facebook:

It has been a week filled with ups and downs since my last update.
First some positive news:
Because the house was a total loss, FEMA confirmed that my parents are eligible for the highest amount of benefit they can offer. While we were very grateful to hear this news, the reality is that even at its highest, the grant doesn't come close to being able to cover all the costs of the damage done, the things they lost, or to start over.
There has been a lot of talk of government buyouts of impacted properties as of late so we are hoping for the best. There is no chance of rebuilding on the site, so we are in a desperate hunt for a place for them to live in central Vermont. We are one of many families looking for a safe place to live, and with the housing crunch, opportunities are few and far between. Please continue to send all leads on apartments my way. I'm following up on every single one.
Yesterday, we were alerted by the City of Barre that they would help us tear down the house. While this was welcome news, it also created a lot of questions related to funds/benefits my parents would be eligible for, namely, a buyout of the property, if this action was taken. Making things even more tense, we had to make the decision on about a half a day's notice. Emotions ran high throughout the day as we tried to make an extremely difficult decision.
Ultimately, we have decided to take them up on the offer to tear the house down. After many anxiety-ridden calls with various representatives from different departments within the state government, we feel this is the best option. We are hoping against hope that everything works in our favor.
As so many in our community understand, there are many people trying their best to help, but very few solid answers.
Knowing that, we continue to move forward with bringing attention to my parent's story, not only for their benefit, but also so others might be able to avoid what they have gone through. From what to watch for related to a potential landslide, to how to navigate after a disaster, my family and I are doing everything we can to share our experience with others.
For those, like us, who need help - please feel free to connect with me and I am happy to share what is working, what isn't, and how we are navigating this very difficult time.
So what's next?
We continue to fundraise as we navigate the next steps of this journey.
If you want to help, consider sharing the Vermont Public story below alongside our GoFundMe page.
Every bit of support matters.
The picture attached was taken this morning as my parents visited to say goodbye to their home of over 40 years.

Thank you all for your continued generosity and positivity.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

SSW: new stories by Joyce Carol Oates and Jess Walter; rather new ones by Amalialú Posso Figueroa and Anne Carson, and an older essay by William Saroyan: Short Story Wednesday

From Harper's, August 2023: "The Return" by Joyce Carol Oates, and

reprinted from The Massachusetts Review, Spring 2023: "Fidelia Córdoba" by Amalialú Posso Figueroa (as translated by Jeffrey Direman and Shanna Lee)

and, reprinted from The Stinging Fly, Summer 2023: "Happiness" by Anne Carson

from Ploughshares, Summer 2023, "The Dark" by Jess Walter

from Story, June 1962: "Saroyan's Paris" by William Saroyan

Although chosen by not quite random selection, with no foreknowledge of their content, from the current issues of Harper's and Ploughshares, the stories by Joyce Carol Oates, "The Return", and by Jess Walter, "The Dark", are both about surviving one's spouse, and how to keep on. This is somewhat unsurprising in a new story from Oates, as it deals with a woman who has survived both her first and second husbands, the first after a long-term marriage, the second after 13 years, who is visited by the protagonist, a long-term woman friend, after a long period of lack of communication between them. The protagonist is Maude, the twice-widowed friend is Audra, and there's probably nothing accidental about the similarity of their names, even given the mild discomfort that has delayed, though also the guilt and curiosity that are driving Maude's visit to Audra...whom, as it turns out, is in a sense haunted by a sort of specter of her second husband, Thad. The story is largely a long meditation on how those who have died might not leave one, particularly if one continues to live in their formerly shared residence, a converted New Jersey farmhouse...while not quite delusional, Audra is constantly of late aware of a sort of not-quite-supernatural, not-quite tangible revenant of Thad who visits and wonders why the grounds have gone so unattended, why the food in the house is so little to his liking. It's a graceful sort of mix of reminiscence of and memorial to the flawed, often irascible and much-missed Thad (and perhaps Oates's own second husband Charles Gross); Maude isn't sure what to make of it all, even by the time of her departure. 

The Jess Walter story seems considerably less a matter of pulling one's own viscera out and rolling them through the platen, while telling the story of a widower, who's wife of forty years had died two years previously, and who asked only two things of her husband in her last days...that he not introduce any new romantic interests to their adult children at least for a year, and that he Beware of blond women in their 60s. They had had a happy and often playful life together, and he finds that even after the first year is up, he doesn't feel a great desire to seek to play the field again...but by the end of the second year, he tries to explore opening up his romantic life again, at first with a mildly embarrassing online matching-service date, and then with one that goes along a bit better, after some tips and other help from his more tech-savvy son. This story leans a bit more into humor, while also dealing with the small insecurities as well as major heartbreak of surviving one's spouse, and not being too sure of much of anything in the wake of that experience. I've read considerably in Oates's fiction over the decades, and a bit of Walter's, both engaged to some degree with the crime-fiction community (Walter's 2005 Citizen Vince won the Edgar Award for best crime-fiction novel of the year in 2006); and Oates has also written no little in horror and related fiction, much as the guest editor of the Summer 2023 Ploughshares, Tom Perrotta, is best known for three of his novels, which have been successfully adapted for film or television, the dark fantasy The Leftovers and his earlier crime-fiction-adjacent, at least, Election and Little Children. Perrotta, in his editorial to the issue, notes how much the recently late Russell Banks's The Sweet Hereafter (another novel that at very least comes close to crime fiction) influenced aspects of The Leftovers, something Perrotta hadn't realized till rereading the Banks novel after his death. 

The other two short stories in the Harper's issue are reprints from recent issues of other, smaller-circulation magazines, the Irish magazine The Stinging Fly, and a translation of a vignette by Colombian writer Amalia Luisa Posso Figueroa, who signs her given names more often as Amalialú, from The Massachusetts Review, which recently hosted Posso Figueroa and her translators doing a reading of the story; sadly, the vignette seems a bit arch and slight to me, if not in any way painful to read, and not bereft of poignancy...I wonder if I would like it better in the original. Canadian poet and academic Anne Carson's historical fiction  "Happiness" involves a young Irish woman, enslaved after capture by raiding Norsemen, and how she adapts to the less than harmonious household she's turned over to, and finds a sort of release when she's tasked, by the man of the married couple who hold her, with writing poetry for him to recite at gatherings of the men in his settlement. Deft and interesting. 

Perhaps not the most cheerful lot of stories, but William Saroyan's 1962 consideration of his current situation, as a 53yo writer living in Paris, is an amusingly irascible assessment of how little of the Moveable Feast  post-WW1 exiles found remained, and how little of Paris he has a handle on; he is kind enough to provide sketches, as well, which more resemble mobile-sculpture than anything else. "There isn't a more majestic city, and you can have it. There couldn't possibly be a more delightful people, and you can have them, too. The reason is that it isn't working. Nothing is working. [...] The thing that isn't working appears to be the human race." Plus ça change...

For more of today's Short Story Wednesday entries, please see        Patti Abbott's blog