Wednesday, December 20, 2023

SSW: stories by Joyce Carol Oates, A. M. Homes, Richard Matheson, John Varley, Ambrose Bierce, Al Franken (among others) from THIS IS MY BEST edited by Kathy Kiernan and Retha Powers (QPB 2004) and FLIGHT OR FRIGHT edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent (Cemetery Dance 2018)

A pair of anthologies from the "turned up in my resettling the flooding/roof collapse survivors" setthe vast majority of my library, and as one bedroom used mostly for storage becomes Alice's office.  I suspecthe Stephen King and his associate, (Mr.) Bev Vincent might've here produced the least widely-sold volume credited to King, among those not produced exclusively by a small press (even as there was a Cemetery Dance edition of this anthology which apparently preceded its corporate publishers' versions) nor suppressed by author's inclination (the "Richard Bachman" novel Rage)...even with original short fiction included from King and his son, "Joe Hill".  While the Kiernan and Powers bug-crusher, also offered by Chronicle Books in an eventual "illustrated edition" I've not seen (inasmuch as the Quality Paperback Club original includes comics and near-comics work by Gary Trudeau, Mark Alan Stamaty and Scott Adams [a man whose work would be less likely to be included in the years since 2004, and who has not yet stopped digging his own hole], it, too, is Illustrated to at leasthat extent. I wonder if the Chronicle edition includes the original Esquire magazine illustrations for this Nth reprint of Gay Talese's "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" [which famously involves writer Harlan Ellison being harassed by Sinatra and his flunkies, and notruckling to the latter's bored distaste]). As in previous We Ask Writers For Their Favorite Among Their Own Work volumes (such as two I've offered here previously)This Is My Best is aware of its predecessors in such compilations, and specifically harkens back to Whit Burnett's 1942 original by thatitle (though they seem unaware of Burnett's 1970 sequel volume).

The Oates story was offered by her as a relatively pure example of the kind of tale she's accused, not quite correctly, of  repeatedly writing, those that detail horrible crimes against young women. As she notes, despite the unflinching detail she brings to her accounts of such abuse, she is in nearly all those stories more interested in the aftermath in the lives of the survivors, whether the protagonists or their families and other loved ones. But in the case of  "The Girl with the Blackened Eye", Oates grants thathis story keeps its focus almost entirely on the events of the protagonist's ordeal, which involves the ordeals of others...intense thus even by Oates's standards. But I'd still put forth the default, early choice of her short fiction, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" as an even more intense example of her continuing concern ("Girl" apparently takes as its springboard an actual abduction which a relative of Oates survived; that Oates herself survived a childhood attempt at gang-assault by similarly young boys would tend to help make consideration of such matters of in one's fiction at least likely).

The A. M. Homes story, "The Former First Lady and the Football Hero", is an account of Nancy and Ronald Reagan (Sr.)'s lives as he slips ever more deeply into senile dementia, and she does what she can to cope with his crisis and with her own in trying her besto keep it from the public. Homes notes in her introduction that in being so intrusive as to write such a story about people actually suffering thus that she had to make it more than a mere lampoon of their travail...and she does so, resulting in a black comedy of sorts that reasonably speculates and demonstrates how such things go (though the notion thathe addled former president would manage to get past his detail of Secret Service agents seems less likely than it is portrayed). Small details are filled in with empathy, someone who saw both parents succumb to varying sorts of dementia in their last years, it reads as a moving account.

Along with the Adams strip (makes its point, and its point is a bit more genuinely populist than his latter-day tRumpeting) and the Trudeau strips and the excerpt from Stamaty's heavily illustrated beginning-reader book, among the humorous bits which rely on trans-text is the fake NYT book review attributed to Jeanne Kirkpatrick (and the "outraged" "responses" from Al Franken, Jeanne Kirkpatrick and the paper's editors), all taken from Franken's most famous text, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations. I'd say Franken's done better (and, in at least one other famous attempt at pranking, worse), but for what they are, they're fine.

Among the stories I've not previously read in Flight or Fright, the most famous is almost certainly Richard Matheson's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"...I have seen the two Twilight Zone-branded adaptations decades back, and the story is better, but at first (and a bit repetitiously) it seems as if it might not be, while Matheson sketches in the details of his protagonist's lack of joy in his life; the ending was changed for both adaptations, making them slightly less realistic (it's quite possible to read the short story as non-fantasy as it's usually understood) and thus more rewarding to a less-experienced audience. Nonetheless, not nearly Matheson's best work, I'd suggest, and perhaps unsurprising it first appeared in an anthology edited by Matheson's agent rather than in any of the magazines he might've contributed to at the time.

While I did read John Varley's "Air Raid" not too long after it was published (in the first issue of what's now called Asimov's Science Fiction, in 1977), in 1978 when I was trying to read all the Varley fiction I could find. I liked it but didn't love it, which has put me at odds with a number of fellow admirers of Varley's work...I preferred Varley's other story in that first Asimov's issue, for example. It was expanded to novel length after a grueling process of adapting it for filming over more than a decade, the film and the novel both titled Millennium, and neither did as much for Varley as the amount of time and effort they wasted. "Air Raid" has excellent detail and scene-setting, and quite aside from being more consistently grim than the majority of Varley's early work (not too sure that put me off, as I was certainly reading a fair amount of Pohl, Kornbluth, Malzberg, Kafka, et al. at the time, and still very much a reader of horror fiction), it also deals in a future for humanity that is capable of time and long-distance space travel but cannot handle genetic drift in various forms at all...which struck me as unlikely at the time, though Varley manages deftly enough to avoid dealing with that, and much of the story is ingenious. So, definitely read "Air Raid" before any of his early novels, but perhaps after the other stories in his first three collections, at least. (Revisiting "The Persistence of Vision" as an adult left me with a larger sense of discomfort than I felt when reading it as a 13yo, as it was first published, but even that one might remain a better story in every way.)

Ambrose Bierce's "The Flying-Machine" (first collected in his Fantastic Fables, 1899) remains as very good and pointed a joke-anecdote today as it was in 1891.

This Is My Best: Acclaimed QPB Authors Share Their Favorite Work 
QPB edition published 2004 and can be read athe link; a Chronicle Books trade edition (with slightly amended subtitle) followed for non-QPB members in 2005edited by Kathy Kiernan and Retha Powersthe contributors provide headnotes to their entries.

ix * Introduction  * Retha Powers and Kathy Kiernan * in
1 * Dilbert, October 8, 2001 *  Scott Adams * cs Andrews McMeel Syndication
3 * "Jimmy Hoffa's Odyssey" * Ai * pm Agni #28, 1989
7 * From Before We Were Freethe chapter "Freedom Cry" * Julia Alvarez * novel excerpt, Knopf 2002
21 * "Confessions of a Lonely Atheist" * Natalie Angier * es The New York Times Magazine 14 January 2001
34 * From Timbuktu *  Paul Auster * novel excerpt, Henry Holt 1999
42 * "Filthy with Things" * T. Coraghessan Boyle * The New Yorker 15 February 1993
From Sweet Summer / Bebe Moore Campbell
"What to Do" / Hayden Carruth
From Caramelo / Sandra Cisneros
"Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter" / Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
"A Short Story" / Emma Donoghue
"Her Island" / Rita Dove
From "Tiger-Frame Glasses" / Carolyn Ferrell
"Dumped!" / Helen Fisher
From Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot / Al Franken
"Surprise" / Martin Gardner
"A Hidden Killer in Cajun Country" / Laurie Garret
From Migrations of the Heart / Marita Golden
The Former First Lady and the Football Hero, A. M.  Homes (ss)  Zoetrope: All-Story Fall 2002
From Fanatics and Fools / Arianna Huffington
From Taste for Death / P.D. James
"Who's Irish?" / Gish Jen
From Cherry / Mary Karr
From The Poisonwood Bible / Barbara Kingsolver
From China Men / Maxine Hong Kingston
"A Gaggle of Saints" / Neil LaBute
From Under My Skin / Doris Lessing
From The Fortress of Solitude / Jonathan Lethem
"My Father with Cigarette Twelve Years Before the Nazis Could Break His Heart" / Philip Levine
"The Mappist" / Barry Lopez
From "The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios" / Yann Martel
From Property / Valerie Martin
From Salesman in Beijing / Arthur Miller
"From Mao to America: a Writer's Remarkable Journey" / Anchee Min
From Farewell the Trumpets / Jan Morris
From The Wind Up Bird Chronicle / Haruki Murakami
"The Wedding at the Courthouse" / Kathleen Norris
From Intimate Apparel / Lynn Nottage
The Girl with the Blackened Eye * Joyce Carol Oates (ss) Witness v14 #2, 2000
"Impossible to Tell" / Robert Pinsky
From The Botany of Desire / Michael Pollan
"America: The Multi-National Society" / Ishmael Reed
"The Queen of Mold" / Ruth Reichl
From Anthropology: "normal," "pieces," "Madrid," "trick," "dust," "beauty," and "lesbian" / Dan Rhodes
From Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates / Tom Robbins
"Sand" / Richard Rodriguez
"Getting Away from It All" / Witold Rybczynski
"Repeat after Me" / David Sedaris
"Flakes of Fire, Handfuls of Light" / Huston Smith
From Who Needs Donuts? / Mark Alan Stamaty
"Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" / Gay Talese
Doonesbury: "The Golden Hour" / Garry Trudeau
From The Laws of Our Fathers / Scott Turow
From Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant / Anne Tyler
"Your Lover Just Called" / John Updike
"Son in the Afternoon" / John A. Williams

No comments:

Post a Comment

A persistent spammer has led to comment moderation, alas. Some people are stubborn. I'm one.