Way to be, Story366! Today is an interesting day in that Karen is headed east right now, visiting her mom in Ohio. That means it’s me and the boys for the next four. Check back often to see how that’s going. Should be fun.
In other news, the long lists for the National Book Award came out today, and in the fiction category, there is a list of ten novels. My friend Amber Sparks was the first person I saw speak up about this on FB, noting that short stories are vital, there were a lot of great books released this year, the novel is so etc., etc., etc. I couldn’t agree more, because if you couldn’t tell, I kinda like short stories. Taking Amber’s lead, I put together a list of the story collections released in 2016 that I’ve covered so far on this blog, plus a bunch that are in my queue, plus a few that I either blurbed (making them ineligible for this project, as I’ve read them already) or published myself at Moon City Press. I regret this already—it’s going to take a long time to tag all of these names and books—but here’s the list:
Amie Barrodale You Are Having a Good Time
Rick Bass For a Little While
Zack Bean Man on Fire
Lucia Berlin A Manual for Cleaning Women
Katie Chase Man and Wife
Dinah Cox Remarkable
Helen Ellis American Housewife
Amina Gautier The Loss of All Lost Things
Amy Gustine You Should Pity Us Instead
Benjamin Hale The Fat Artist
Katherine Heiny Single, Carefree, Mellow
Robert Hellenga The Truth About Death
Becky Hagenston Scavengers
Allegra Hyde Of This New World
John Jodzio Knockout
Carmen Lau The Girl Wakes
Tara Laskowski Bystanders
Robert Lopez Good People
Sara Majka Cities I’ve Never Lived In
Maryse Meijer Heartbreaker
Luke Mogelson These Heroic, Happy Dead
Anna Noyes Goodnight, Beautiful Women
Jodi Paloni They Could Live with Themselves
Susan Perabo Why They Run the Way They Do
Rebecca Schiff The Bed Moved
Amber Sparks The Unfinished World
Plus a bunch I have in my queue:
Kirstin Allio Clothed, Female Figure
Matt Bell A Tree or a Person or a Wall
Brian Booker Are You Here What I’m Here For?
Polly Buckingham The Expense of a View
Jeff Fearnside Making Love When Levitating Three Feet in the Air
Mark Haddon The Pier
Britt Haraway Early Men
Dustin M. Hoffman One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist
Greg Jackson Prodigals
Helen Oyeyemi What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours
Patrick Ryan The Dream Life of Astronauts
Steven Schwartz Madagascar
Christine Sneed The Virginity of Famous Men
Callan Wink Dog Run Moon
A few books I blurbed:
Last but not least, one from Moon City Press:
So, there you go. A ton of short story collections published in 2016—and this is just the ones I know about—and none of them made the long list for the NBA. Good thing I’m here, Story366.
Today I’m knocking off one of those books from my queue, Alexander Weinstein’s Children of the New World, fresh off the presses from Picador. As I have a night of son-tending to do and I have to get this written, I had to wrench myself from the book, as I read five stories already, a couple more than I usually read before settling on one to write about. I could have written about any of them, but I’m going to write about the title story, as I like doing that, and I like this one a whole lot.
“Children of the New World” is about this couple, Mary and the unnamed protagonist/narrator, who are getting on in years in the real world—she’s ten years past menopause—but decide to be pilgrims, volunteering to sojourn out into the New World, which in this story means some sort of virtual environment where any experience, memory, or even feeling can be downloaded and made a part of their lives, via a kind of three-dimension, real-feeling solid hologram. Almost immediately, they choose to become pregnant in the New World, having one, then two kids, June and Oscar. They have a loving and fun-filled life with their kids, taking them on vacations, sledding on fresh snow, just playing with them, smelling them, enjoying the little moments. If they think of these kids as some computer files, virtuosities that aren’t real, they never let on: June and Oscar are their kids like my kids are my kids.
Along with all the joys of being parents, Mary and our narrator, like any parents, also need a break sometimes, occasions on which they hire New World babysitters, or simply put their computers to sleep. And like in the real world, sometimes New World adults venture down roads to more adult pleasures, and sometimes, those pleasures bring about nasty viruses to their computer. This is what happens to this adventurous couple when they experiment with some New World sex sites, sites that don’t necessarily feature sex as we know it, but virtual experiences where you stand in the middle of a room and have air blow on you, or rooms where you lie on a table and experiences the feeling of a thousand fingertips tickling you, both of which produce climaxes. Weinstein has a lot of fun with these details, making up some pretty creative shit that’s way more interesting than anything I ever saw in that Michael Douglas movie, Disclosure.
In any case, what sucks about having a virus on their computer is that’s where June and Oscar are, or where they’re stored or live or whatever. It’s not that June or Oscar get all wanky, but the kind of perverted ads that come with viruses start showing up in our heroes’ house. It starts with a pixelated man in their bathroom, offering to please Mary in 69 different ways. Then a well hung guy offers to grow the narrator’s dick three inches. It gets worse from there. A call to customer support suggests the unthinkable: Rebooting the system, which will get rid of those nasty, uninvited viruses, but at the same time, erase June and Oscar.
You’ll have to read the story to see what happens, what this couple chooses, but I see this story as a metaphor, for all of us who have computers, all of us who do things we’re not supposed to on those computers, all of us who lose things because we did. Aren’t our files—our stories, our pictures, our emails—like our children? Doesn’t it kill us to work so hard creating something, be it an idea, a memory, or a labor of love, and find out it’s irretrievable? Well, yes and no. I’ve lost entire short stories, entire picture albums, and I’m guessing that it’s nothing like losing a child. But that’s why it’s a metaphor because it’s like losing something so vital. I’m on board with you, Alexander Weinstein. And I’m also glad I have a Mac, where that shit just doesn’t happen.
All of the stories I read in Children of the New World have some sort of sci-fi conceit like in its title story. “Rocket Night” is a “Lottery”-type story about a community that shoots the least desirable kid in the school off in to space, one day every fall. “The Cartographers” is half-Gibson and half-Saunders, about a hapless tech exec who sells downloadable memories, getting high, in a way, on his own supply. Etcetera. I love this brand-new collection from Alexander Weinstein and I’m so glad he’s coming to Springfield to read at Missouri State this January. I know my students are going to love him as much as I do. Go get this book now.