by Rio Liang
Bartleby Snopes is an online literary magazine that publishes two fiction pieces every week. At the end of each month, readers can vote for their favorite short story. Vote for your May favorite at http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/stories.htm.
An ability to comfort not being in her nature, accountant Carol counts down the minutes till she can leave the hospital where her ailing mother is receiving inpatient care. We learn that Carol has an affinity for the “stoicism” of numbers; the narrator tells us that for her, “Numbers could be ignored or slighted, from them no word of complaint. From them no cries cutting the flesh of warm sleep.” Though interesting and initially promising, the story reads as ultimately inchoate. A sudden twist by story’s end in Carol’s feelings for her mother (a moment of self-realization?) doesn’t quite come off convincingly. Nonetheless the story features some gem-like moments of appealing couplings of words and phrases (“the warm predictability of numbers”; “the crisp edges and sharp resilience of statistics”).
Detective Keith Miller pays the Fosters a visit to break the news to them that, six months having gone by without any leads, the police will be suspending their search for their missing twelve-year-old child. The Fosters’ reaction astounds him: The parents aren’t quite as aggrieved as he’d expected, but instead relieved and joyed by the news. They explain to the perplexed detective that their son Jeffrey was in actuality a beast of a child they had tolerated for all these years. In the end, the Fosters explain how it’s a fair deal: They don’t want Jeffrey, and the police don’t want to look for him. They reason that their son had always wanted to run away from his parents, and they had always wanted to be free of their insufferable son. Funny account of their son’s monstrous habits. No flash here. A straightforward, in-and-out read.
A heart-to-heart between a father and son, rendered distant from each other by a tragic incident years ago, leads to an unexpected apology from the father. An interesting premise, though replete with some awkward phrasings and a hazy detail here and there (Why exactly did the father prevent the son from helping his sister, who presumably knew the Heimlich? Out of pure bravado?). I also felt that the short span of the story was not enough space to give proper backstory to the father and son’s history of distance, and the father’s cantankerous nature, which we learn only by insufficient hearsay. Still, good effort.
While on his route, paperboy Greg meets Emma, six years his senior and married to a traveling salesman, and develops a crush on her. The romantic tension inevitably leads to Greg boldly kissing Emma one hot summer day, but his feelings are not reciprocated. We see him months later, in college, pondering moths, drawn to streetlamps, deceiving stand-ins for flames, with glass preventing them from attaining what they desire. Morose ending, bittersweet story.
A Kafka homage. Short short in which the narrator’s sister brings her cockroach boyfriend to meet the family for Thanksgiving dinner. The pair break up eventually, the cockroach ditched for a goat and then eventually–once the sister’s optometrist finally provides her with a proper eyeglass prescription–human beings again. A quick laugh. Some funny moments throughout, i.e. the cockroach awkwardly wearing an argyle sweater and his explanation of his major (French colonialism in the Middle East); the sister’s garbageterian line.
A hoot of a story, slickly told in an interview format. A day trader relays his formula for predicting the amount of violence one would inflict in order to claim authorship of the movie Leprechaun 5. It’s an absurd equation, of course, that takes into account “musical taste and libation choice.” As a person gets older and his idealism decreases, alcohol consumption and desperation increase, leading to a higher probability of one’s tendency toward violence to get a shot at writing drivel like the aforementioned horror film. I loved the charming and somewhat manic flourishes in narrative and the bent towards wordplay, i.e. “Bob still doesn’t want to sell out (i.e. buy anything sold or processed, sell anything bought or processed, or process anything bought or sold).” Also, the randomness of details that accumulate throughout the story–movie quotes, music lyrics, trivia about Tycho Brahe and Dolph Lundgren–all make for an appealing melange.
A grotesque about every parent’s secret fear: parenting being miscontrued as abuse. A trip to the library proves nightmarish for Patrick, father of two. Unable to rein in his three-year-old during a temper tantrum, a flummoxed Patrick becomes an unexpecting spectacle when a bystander records the debacle on his cell phone and releases a doctored video on the Internet, which then goes viral. From this incident snowballs a chain of events that leads to Patrick’s ruination: His reputation nosedives, and his wife leaves him, taking their children with her. (I loved the line, “He could sense momentum building and the inertia of millions of invisible people crushing him quietly, anonymously, with mispelled missives and messages in caps”). When finally he retrieves the original footage of the library scene and is ready to rebut all his critics, no one is interested. “The virus,” he notes, “had invaded, replicated, annihilated, and left.” My favorite from the May selections. There was a point in the penultimate paragraph when I feared the story was about to veer towards predictability or mundanity, but the last paragraph, in which Patrick wishes for everything to reboot, saves the day with a poignant and unexpected final image.
Graphic designer and new mother Julie wants to be rid of her child. We witness her answering to the antipodal tugs of wanting to abandon her baby and of her motherly duties. She is, as the title gives away, suffering from postpartum depression. It’s an interesting story, though one does wish that the ending (an observation of a role reversal, an elderly person being wheeled by her middle-aged son) could have yielded something different, graver or substantive. An amplification of the penultimate scene of parents at the park might have sufficed (I liked in particular the idea of parents playacting: “Parents seem like actors on a set. She imagines a director instructing them on how to move like parents and how to be at peace with their role. Some of them smile and nod like a puppeteer’s strings are attached to their heads.”).