Fiction Pick of the Week: "What Will Make It Last"
Unspoken issues grip a couple's dinner along the Mississippi River.
Unspoken issues grip a couple's dinner along the Mississippi River.
An undercover alien observes various human behaviors.
Marriage, infidelity, distance, and communications.
As a mother and son share cocktails on the porch, past problems are discussed and imagined.
"She was aware of the resonance of her son's voice. She guessed the neighbors were used to it by now, and would assume Bradley was having another mental fit. They didn't know how hard these family deaths had hit her son, and how tough it was to keep him from getting aroused, or agitated, a word his therapist used a lot. She knew too, that her son, like his father, was persistent and could fixate on things."
A woman travels in a band on the way to their next show.
"With raised eyebrows, Jay crouched down, turned his hand up, and motioned wide. From the flat top, we could see oil rigs in the distance. A pair of buzzards looped in a slow figure eight. I wondered what kind of body lay out there on that red expanse, just out of my eye line, drying out under the sun into those bleached desert bones people put on fireplaces. They disgusted me, sure, but something about them called for touch, to feel those natural cracks in skulls, how similar we are to porcelain on the inside. Once we lose our connective tissue, we can show softer to those that put their hands on us."
A story of rooms, philosophies, and missing words.
"We move [ ], tapping? Perhaps. Certainly an eight garbage bags’ worth spontaneous factor with a pair undetermined. I lose weight. Karen is one way to do it. Take a page. We are garden sprinklers on a hot middle and cross the middle. Formlessly in all directions, and… one two three four. Now paint on blank canvas. Section four with section one and [ ]omes. And you have a new page. Its effect is immediate, though [ ] the thing."
A conversation between two truckers on a wintry Alaskan highway.
"Even at twenty-five miles an hour the snowfall looks like a TV left on through dawn. French is on the radio, letting the checkpoint know how fucked the storm is. There’s nothing we can do but watch the path of the road to not end up in a ditch, or worse, the pipeline. Of course, the checkpoint’s still timing us, that’s the rules and breaking the haul road’s speed limit is the kind of thing that’ll get you shit-canned. French hangs the mic on the dash. 'Hey, G.P.,' he says, picking up where he left off, “how’s a Green Peace turd like yourself do with the ladies?'"
Talking to a woman in an airport, a man shares his life stories and true colors.
"'He was into sports as a kid: baseball, basketball, you name it. He was good. I mean really good. He made all the high school teams. But you should have seen him when he didn’t get his way. He’d yell and scream and act like such a crybaby.' He shook his head. 'He was a real mama’s boy. Never saw him with any girl. I don’t know if he’s straightened out or what. He lives in California now.'"
An unsettling dialogue between a woman and her jilted lover.
"Her face is turning pale, her freckles darkening. Don’t feel bad now. Dismiss that urge to hold her, to comfort her, to make her feel safe. She is the girl you love, but not. She is the girl who will break your heart. Who broke your heart already, and will do it again."
Parents, children, and complications convene at a vacation home; an excerpt from Fierro's debut novel, out this week.
"Michael pulled her into his lap, and she stayed, even though it made her feel small, and these were surely not people who appreciated PDAs. Tiffany had learned quickly that the urban sophisticates admired subtlety over all else. Anything loud, lewd, or lascivious should be filtered through irony or irreverence."
Two stories about a woman turned goat's attempts to communicate with others.
"She’s a few feet up and can’t see much further than she could from the ground. The goats aren’t anywhere in sight. She tries to wait, but it’s so warm and she’s so tired from her sandwich-making attempt. A few blinks, a nod, a couple upward jerks of the head and she’s asleep. The next morning she crawls down, eats breakfast, does her goat-business and crawls back up. Late afternoon the goats amble toward her. They don’t look at her. They stand around like they always do, not talking, but looking at one another and then the ground."
A narrator shares a philosophical discussion with the late orator.
"Cicero and I mounted a johnboat banked in the mud along this near finger of Mark Twain Lake. Neither of us wanted to do the shoving off. Our feet would have to get wet."
Two teenage girls and a complicated, involved robbery; an excerpt from Landis' forthcoming novel.
"Tina stops. Rainey stops behind her. She imagines Tina stepping closer to the stoop and the man twisting her wrist so that the gun falls to the sidewalk and explodes, shooting someone in the ankle. But she wants that softly gliding cape, which she will wear to school, inciting fabulous waves of jealousy."
A driver and passenger engage in uneasy political and social discourse.
"Darshan could all too easily picture Malik at prayer while on the job. He saw every detail--head bowed, eyed shut, both hands clutching the wheel as a laundry list of requests was whispered towards heaven: a new carburetor for the engine, a new dress for the wife, new sneakers for the children. Each and every petty need enunciated like a brave but modest child, the requests a thing of beauty in their humility, a delicate song of worship and desire that would only come to an end when Malik veered slightly into the opposing lane and plowed directly into the headlights of an oncoming sixteen-wheeler."
A diagram of gossip concerning an affair.
"He called it love, said Ellen. He said he was in love, that's the word he used when he finally admitted it. I mean you expect the I-made-a-mistake speech, said Connie, the she-came-on-to-me speech, the it-was-meaningless speech. You expect him to say that it was just the one time, knowing that it was more, but you can ignore that. You expect him to say it was protected sex and that you don't have to go to the clinic to get some sort of test for chlamydia, said Ellen. But you will, anyway, said Sonya, and make him do it too just to rub his nose in it. But no, said Grace. He tells you that he's a new person, in love for the first time ever. What do you do with that? She told Sonya that as soon as he'd said it, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, she'd felt the room swaying."
Sex and communication in experimental fragments.
"We are in your white bed full of light drinking white wine and it is dark. I balance the base of the glass on the side of my naked hip and look at the marble spa tub in the bathroom. There is a flushed gleam bouncing off the mirror, fainting exhaling ebbing back into the room and I ghost the smoke a reprise a remorse of sighing and feeling nothing but beam."
A new year, a test of faith for a man and his married lover.
"He was astonished, having never suspected that her husband could be brutal. He was a man of the world, of the better class, a clubman, a lover of horses, a theatergoer and an expert swordsman; he was known, talked about, appreciated everywhere, having very courteous manners, a very mediocre intellect, an absence of education and of the real culture needed in order to think like all well-bred people, and finally a respect for conventionalities."
A narrator's strange daily life is fused with strange appearances from the natural world.
"Freezing, I sprang from bed and assembled, in darkness relieved only by a bluish gleam cast by the iceberg, sweaters, flannel pajama bottoms, my heaviest wool socks, and a down-filled coat suitable for an assault on Everest. For the iceberg that crowded my bedroom was no symbol of the world’s entropy or of a man’s estrangement from his kind, nor was it any longer a figment of the dreaming mind. (We don’t suffer cold in dreams, nor do we sneeze as I did twice while fumbling at my clothes.) Dressed, I drew aside the rime-stiffened curtain and gazed out on a flotilla of icebergs gliding solemnly down the flooded street. (To acknowledge, as you no doubt have, that I spawned one berg, a pack of them is easily granted.)"
Executives discuss a reality TV pilot gone awry.
"'I don’t know what happened in there. Like I said, maybe if we hadn’t told him she was in on it, whatever it was would’ve gone down differently. But a few minutes later the girl comes running out of the house with blood on her, screaming like hell. Cortez caught her and took her inside, waited with her while Benny called 911—'"
Desire and dental surgery in Northern India.
His father leaned back on his hands and tilted his face to the sun. Daniel bent over his cushion. In the habit of telling The Number his thoughts, he had already begun to narrate for her his feelings about the woman."
Tension between two co-workers turns into a complicated game of lies and intentions.
"I picked up the phone and told Stan I’d like to drop by for a moment. He hesitated, and it hit me that B. could still be there, and I struggled to banish images of Stan pointing at the phone and mouthing my name while B. twisted his hair-encircled mouth and gritted his brown teeth. Stan asked me to give him ten minutes to wrap up something, and I agreed."
Actions, thoughts, and observations of animals in a great garden; a microcosm of humanity.
"Everywhere in the garden, there is a similar confusion and frustration. The monkey sits on the ground with its hands hanging loosely around the base of a tree. It wants to whip a stick at the back of the horse’s legs. Its body seems so perfectly tuned to skitter up the tree, and it wants only for something to chase it there. The pig roots aimlessly at nothing; the frog despises the fly; the fly falls in love with the donkey and the giraffe stands awkwardly in a clearing, as if awaiting instructions."
A lonely woman's attraction to a waitress leads her to quiet social experiments.
"Odette had fallen in love with a waitress who was too good to be true. Odette thought the woman looked familiar and asked if they'd met somewhere. The waitress said, 'I've never even met myself. I don't know who you are, for sure.' Odette tried again the next weekend, made sure she was seated at an appropriate table. Still nothing."
An American woman in Chile takes a scenic trip with a local photographer.
"Carlos had told her there were beautiful things to see on the way. That this was one reason he’d like to take her into the outer heart of his native country. The other reasons were still in her inbox — he had fun that night, dancing and drinking and talking. He thought she was smart. He thought she should consider staying in Santiago for a while, making sure to add that he didn't want anything serious, just a friend. She could not say what she wanted. She did not want to go home and face the next step in her life yet, not even knowing what it was. She didn't want to be a cliché, falling in love with someone in another country, either. Of the two options, the love one to her seemed better. Ultimately, she’d let life take her where it wanted for a while. To read and run in the morning as she always had, but to give some months up to contemplating her place."
In a fictionalized Haiti, a man explains the inner workings of the political landscape and his own shady rise to the role of Prime Minister.
"Yet…deciding to recount the entire tale, the whole historical record, as in order for events to work out as Richard wanted them to, then yes, he’d have to make good on his promise that everything would be made clear, revealed in one fashion or another—it’s probably best if I explain: Jean was once a senator in the Haitian senate, the second-youngest senator in Haiti’s history in fact, and as a senator, he was wildly inept. You can’t really find him totally at fault however, because Jean’s parents bought him his seat when he was fresh from school. I can’t fathom why, but my guess is that they knew he had no head for business and that there was nothing else he’d really be good for, so they had hoped that a career in politics would both keep him busy and allow them to control a portion of the country without too much effort. But well, Jean, Jean bloody fucked all that, what with his reckless politicking and all."