Thank you, Washington Post Magazine, for going against all conventional wisdom and publishing short stories a couple of times a year. Sunday’s issue featured stories by Ron Rash, Yiyun Li, and Julia Glass. I especially recommend Rash’s and Glass’s stories:
Ron Rash’s “26 Days” is about a married couple anxiously waiting for their daughter to return home from her overseas deployment, and this topical story is never far from class issues. It’s taut, well-observed, and the author shows his generous heart.
“I walk out of Cromer Hall and into a November day warmer and sunnier than you usually get in these mountains. The clock tower bell rings. In my mind I move the heavy metal hands ahead to 8:30 p.m. Kerrie has already finished supper and is getting ready to go to sleep. Over at the ATM, students pull out bank cards like winning lottery tickets. I wonder if there’s a single student here because of the Army college fund. The nice cars and SUVs, like the tuition, argue it unlikely. Probably not one of them ever thinks that, while they’re sitting in a classroom or watching a basketball game, kids their own age are getting blown up by IEDs. I think again about how we wouldn’t be in Iraq if there was still a draft. You can bet it’d be a lot different if everyone’s kids could end up over there. Just a bunch of stupid hillbillies fighting a stupid war, that’s what some jerk on TV said, making a joke of it. There are times I want to grab a student by the collar and tell them how good they got it. Other times I tell myself I’ve given Kerrie more than my parents gave me. But I also think how if I’d had more ambition years back and gotten a welding certificate or a two-year degree at Tech, maybe Kerrie wouldn’t be in Iraq.”
Julia Glass’s “Attainable Felicity” takes place in a whaling museum in New Bedford, Connecticut, during the annual read-a-thon of Moby-Dick (so how could I not love this story?). A mother and her son struggle—quietly—with the pain of loss and survival. It’s a sneaky story, with a wallop of an ending.
“A man in a plaid shirt with a shaggy, ashen beard is reading about one more high-seas encounter between the Pequod and another ship. He looks as if he’s taking a break from splitting wood. He reads well enough until he gets to the dialogue between the sailors, which he performs in ludicrous accents. His misplaced conceit is embarrassing.
“Lucinda chides herself for being so judgmental. She doesn’t go for confession too much anymore; if she did, she’d already be composing her recitation for Father Jess. She’d have to confess, as well, her inability to feel thoroughly proud of Jonathan and the life he’s made. He and Cyril are professors at Berkeley: Jonathan in gender studies, Cyril in American literature. (Jonathan’s “Sexual Identity in Firstborn Children” and Cyril’s “The Fine Hammered Steel of Woe: Ecclesiastes and Melville’s Ambivalent Soul” sit on her bedside table, beneath other books she is far more likely to read.) They were married the previous summer. At 50, Jonathan is almost 10 years older than Cyril. When Lucinda found herself giving advice about the wedding, what disoriented her was not that her son would be marrying a man but that, after so many years alone, he would be settling down in any conventional sense.”