Anatomy of a Commercial Interruption
A filmmaker goes to court to fight the television commercial break.
A filmmaker goes to court to fight the television commercial break.
A mother defends her family lineage against disruption from envious cousins in this 2008 story by National Book Critics Circle award-winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
"His cousins, during the funeral, took his ivory tusk, claiming that the trappings of titles went to brothers and not to sons. It was when they emptied his barn of yams and led away the adult goats in his pen that she confronted them, shouting, and when they brushed her aside she waited until evening, then walked around the clan singing about their wickedness, the abominations they were heaping on the land by cheating a widow, until the elders asked them to leave her alone. She complained to the Women’s Council, and twenty women went at night to Okafo’s and Okoye’s homes, brandishing pestles, warning them to leave Nwamgba alone. But Nwamgba knew that those grasping cousins would never really stop. She dreamed of killing them. "
Modern family structures are explored when an ex-stepdaughter asks for emergency babysitting help.
"Without Aaron, there would be no Caleb. Lovey had to remind herself of this sad fact. Her ex-stepson-in-law caused a lot of trouble, but, because of him, here before her was a boy for her to love, who loved her. Caleb would grow up and perhaps grow away from her—there was no shared blood, and someday he would understand that. Someday he might untie the knots of those prefixes that labelled Lovey, ex- and step-. He would turn into a teen-ager and disappear, like his father, into the night."
A child's difficult obsession with a toy cement mixer.
It was a simple toyno batteries. It had a colored rope, with a yellow handle, and you held the handle and walked pulling the cement mixer behind you—rather like a wagon, although it was nowhere near the size of a wagon. For Christmas, I'm positive it was. It was when I was the age where you can, as they say, 'hear voices' without worrying that something is wrong with you. I 'heard voices' all the time as a small child. I was either five or six, I believe. (I’m not very good with numbers.)
An estranged husband recaps his odd marriage to a German woman.
"Back then, though, we weren’t sleeping together. That didn’t happen till later. In order to pretend to be my fiancée, and then my bride, Johanna had to spend time with me, getting to know me. She’s from Bavaria, Johanna is. She had herself a theory that Bavaria is the Texas of Germany. People in Bavaria are more conservative than your normal European leftist. They’re Catholic, if not exactly God-fearing. Plus, they like to wear leather jackets and such. Johanna wanted to know everything about Texas, and I was just the man to teach her. I took her to SXSW, which wasn’t the cattle call it is today. And oh my Lord if Johanna didn’t look good in a pair of bluejeans and cowboy boots."
A clash of culture, sex, and need between an English wife and her Greek husband.
"On this day Mary goes home excited and restless and sits in front of her looking glass and examines herself. She often does this. She is plump, pretty, with ruddy cheeks, black curls, and a lot of well-placed dimples, and Dmitri calls her his little blackberry. But she has gray eyes, and he says that if it weren’t for those cool English eyes he could believe she has Greek blood. His black eyes easily smolder, or burn, or reproach. Mary leans her forearms among the little bottles of scent, the lipsticks, the eye paint, and tries out expressions. She puts a long unsmiling unblinking stare on her face and frightens herself with it."
Women are swayed by the moon's pull in a world dominated by consumerism.
"It was a depressing sight. We went out in the crowds, our arms laden with parcels, coming and going from the big department stores that were open day and night, and while we were scanning the neon signs that climbed higher and higher up the skyscrapers and notified us constantly of new products that had been launched, we’d suddenly see it advancing, pale amid those dazzling lights, slow and sick, and we could not get it out of our heads that every new thing, each product that we had just bought, could similarly wear out, deteriorate, fade away, and we would lose our enthusiasm for running around buying things and working like crazy—a loss that was not without consequences for industry and commerce."
Two sisters struggle to adjust to changing family circumstances.
"When we got outside, the first thing we did was loosen and let trail the scarves our mother had wrapped around our necks. (The fact was, though we may not have put the two things together, the deeper she got into her pregnancy the more she slipped back into behaving like an ordinary mother, at least when it was a matter of scarves we didn’t need or regular meals. There was not so much championing of wild ways as there had been in the fall.) Caro asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I didn’t know. This was a formality on her part but the honest truth on mine. We let the dog lead us, anyway, and Blitzee’s idea was to go and look at the gravel pit. The wind was whipping the water up into little waves, and very soon we got cold, so we wound our scarves back around our necks."
In this 2005 story from MacArthur winner Karen Russell, two brothers search for the ghost of their drowned sister.
"Olivia disappeared on a new-moon night. It was exactly two years, or twenty-four new moons, ago. Wallow says that means that tonight is Olivia’s unbirthday, the anniversary of her death. It’s weird: our grief is cyclical, synched with the lunar cycles. It accordions out as the moon slivers away. On new-moon nights, it rises with the tide."
A woman encounters a strange pair of missionaries.
"'Are you suffering some anguish?' the man asked abruptly. When I heard this, I realized that he was probably a member of some sort of cult. Proselytizers from these groups often pick days when the weather is bad, and they often bring children with them—which never fails to throw me. Still, there was something about these two that felt different from those I had encountered before. In fact, there was something that set them apart from anyone else who had ever come to my door."
Leo Gursky, author and former locksmith, reflects on mortality and the past.
"When they were ten, he asked her to marry him. When they were eleven, he kissed her for the first time. When they were thirteen, they got into a fight and for three terrible weeks they didn’t talk. When they were fifteen, she showed him the scar on her left breast. Their love was a secret they told no one. He promised her he would never love another girl as long as he lived. 'What if I die?' she asked. 'Even then,' he said. For her sixteenth birthday, he gave her a Polish-English dictionary and together they studied the words. 'What’s this?' he’d ask, tracing his index finger around her ankle, and she’d look it up. 'And this?' he’d ask, kissing her elbow. ''Elbow'! What kind of word is that?' And then he’d lick it, making her giggle. When they were seventeen, they made love for the first time, on a bed of straw in a shed. Laterwhen things had happened that they never could have imaginedshe wrote him a letter that said, 'When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything?'"
The turf wars at New York City’s hip hop station, Hot 97.
Changes forced by cancer put a Dominican-American man at odds with his family.
"The fever lasted two days, but it took a week before he was close to better, before he was spending more time on the couch than in bed. I was convinced that as soon as he was mobile he was going to head right back to Yarn Barn, or try to join the Marines or something. My mother feared the same. Told him every chance she got that it wasn’t going to happen. She was the tiniest person, but she posted up on him like she was Gigantor. I won’t allow it. Her eyes were shining behind her black Madres de Plaza de Mayo glasses. I won’t. Me, your mother, will not allow it."
A middle-class father, seeking to impress his daughter, purchases an unusual status symbol.
"After dinner, strolled grounds with Emmett, who is surgeon, does something two days a week with brain inserts, small electronic devices? Or possibly biotronic? They are very small. Hundreds can fit on head of pin? Or dime? Did not totally follow. He asked about my work, I told. He said, Well, huh, amazing the strange, arcane things our culture requires some of us to do, degrading things, things that offer no tangible benefit to anyone, how do they expect people to continue to even hold their heads up?"
The opening of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom; the complexities and relationships of a wholly American couple.
"For all queries, Patty Berglund was a resource, a sunny carrier of sociocultural pollen, an affable bee. She was one of the few stay-at-home moms in Ramsey Hill and was famously averse to speaking well of herself or ill of anybody else. She said that she expected to be 'beheaded' someday by one of the windows whose sash chains she’d replaced. Her children were 'probably' dying of trichinosis from pork she’d undercooked. She wondered if her 'addiction' to paint-stripper fumes might be related to her “never” reading books anymore. She confided that she’d been 'forbidden' to fertilize Walter’s flowers after what had happened 'last time.'"
On the grifter who made a living forging the signatures of American heroes.
A man in a struggling relationship travels in Europe to find a cure for a serious medical condition.
"It was meant to be a romantic medical-tourist getaway, a young invalid and his lady friend sampling the experimental medicine of the Rhine. But they’d fought in France, and he’d come to Düsseldorf ahead of her. Now he waited not so hopefully, not so patiently—dragging himself between the hostel, the train station, and the Internet café, checking vainly for messages from Hayley—while seeking treatment at the clinic up on the hill."
A man's partner disappears, leaving only a movie recommendation as a clue.
"The phrase 'vanishing life style' catches Jack's attention. He wonders if vanishing is a motif in the movie, a theme echoed in the love story between Costner and Bening, prompting the odd question: What if I were to vanish?"