BY STEPHANIE KASHETA
The Distance of the Moon by Italo Calvino.
This is one of my favorite stories of all time and it happens to be a part of Calvino’s larger work of linked stories Cosmicomics. The stories are built around a scientific fact involving the history of the universe. The Distance of the Moon is built around the fact that the earth and moon used to be much closer to each other in the nascent universe. As the earth and moon slowly drift apart, so does the love object of the central character. The prose is intensely beautiful and perfectly encapsulates both the longing of the central characters and the ways in which the moon affects us on earth, but remains unaffected. Characters jump from moon to earth, moon milk is harvested, crabs and squid dangle off the lunar surface and a love triangle forms and collapses.
The Thing in the Forest by A.S. Byatt
Byatt’s story is set during WWII and then flashes forward forty years to present day. It centers around an experience that two girls, Penny and Primrose, experience in the forest behind the country house where they’ve been sent to live before foster care. It explores the way in which an experience can define a person’s life and the way our recollection of it shape shifts with our relationship to time. The girls encounter what they believe to be the “Loathly Worm” of English lore, a girl who follows them never returns and Penny and Primrose dedicate their adult lives to child-related professions. The worm functions as so many things within this story: the pain of a country’s collective repression of war, the tenuousness of memory, adaptations to violence, a genuine monster, the unknown, purloined history/mythology. The list goes on. A breathtaking read that manages to be both deeply psychological and border on the fabulist.
Lovers of Their Time by William Trevor
A melancholic portrayal of a grandiose love affair tempered by the reality of what divorce would mean to Norman, the main character. A salesgirl and clerk consummate an illicit affair in the palatial setting of a hotel’s public bath which perfectly matches the highfalutin dreams they have for the future, which, it should go without saying, don’t pan out. Trevor’s controlled, beautiful prose, juxtaposed to the chaos he inflicts on his character’s emotions makes him an absolute master of the short story form.
The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie
This story details the intersection of a Spokane Indian who hasn’t been to his reservation in twelve years and a hitch-hiking Lummi fighter. A sexual encounter between the two restores the lost world of salmon runs for a brief moment and next, reaffirms Indian culture’s unbearable losses to history, time and indifference. Compelling and completely devastating, the story details the collision between the struggle for an Indian identity and cosmogony both on an off the reservation. Alexie is one of the best short story writers of our time.
A Hunger Artist by Franz Kafka
The perfect story for a millennial to read today, A Hunger Artist hinges on themes such as alienation and the role of the artist in face of the public’s increasing indifference toward the lost world of “hunger artists.” In the story, the hunger artist achieves a measure of fame, but still feels marginalized by society. The person leading his show claims that the hunger artist’s melancholia stems from hunger, but the artist himself feels his depression stems from not being able to fast more. He joins a circus and is placed on the outskirts of the animal cages, people flock by, and his art goes unacknowledged. He dies and is replaced by a panther. It’s a definite must read for any artist/ aspiring writer. The story forces us to question what the purpose of art is and whether or not suffering is inherent to every art form.
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