This month I am participating in the A to Z blog challenge. http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/
The challenge involves 26 posts in April, all somehow connected to the alphabet. My theme for the month is short stories. The Story Factory needs market research, of course, so I will be reading a short story for each letter of the alphabet and trying to learn some new techniques for my story writing. My lacks seem to be characterization and emotional experience, so I am mainly looking for stories that will teach me those things. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments if you know of an amazing story. Another component of the challenge is the blog road trip, where we visit each other’s blogs, leave comments, etc. While I would like to visit a couple of blogs every day, it is more realistic to do Road Trips on Sundays. (Of course, my ongoing, 52 bad story challenge is still on, as well as the 2021 creative hours in 2021.)
Enlightenment by William Pei Shih
Originally published in the Virginia Quarterly Review
Read in the Best American Short Stories of 2020; edited by Curtis Sittenfeld.
This story concerns a professor. My first thoughts were that, usually, I’m not too fond of the present tense for stories, but since this one is in third person POV, it did not grate on my nerves like most present tense. (Is it my age that makes me dislike the present tense, or that so many people do it so badly?) William Pei Shih gets it right in this story. Abel begins as a student who never fits into his surroundings, whether at Havard or anywhere else. He is not comfortable with the other students, who are predominately male and white. It’s not clear what Abel’s ethnicity or race is, but he is Abel Jones, so the assumption is…well, I am not sure. White? Black? Maybe a second reading would help. But as the story gets going, he is an almost retired professor in New York City and finds a young man he grows fond of. I am a former child protective services worker, and know what? If that behavior were in one of my cases, I would label it as grooming, as predators are wont to do with their young prey. But this young man knew what he wanted, and not only was it not “that kind” of relationship, but maybe a recommendation to go to Havard?
Despite the weird predatory behaviors, the writer does draw me in to care about Abel, to feel bad that he is lonely. This appears in his behavior towards a young woman in his youth and his behavior towards the young man later. His favorite Jane Austen books, his preference for Handel over Bach, and his use of his doctorate in history to teach poetry all give sly signs of loneliness and, more importantly, his disconnection with his very self. To be 68 and still not know who you are is quite an issue. He knows what he does, as he is a creature of strict routine. Rise early and read. Write in the afternoons (a book about the Methodist John Wesley.) In the evenings, Johnny Walker Black with one ice cube. These details paint the character so clearly to me. But it’s not an overabundance of details- not so much prose that I want to skip over and get to the story. Shih weaves it into the action so skillfully, with a glance in a store window while walking and a peek at a restaurant menu.
There is a lot to learn about characterization in this story. Of course, the title Enlightenment refers to the character’s self-realizations of who he has been and still is throughout his lifetime.
The Blog Road Trip…
Today I popped over to visit
Http://iainkellywriting.com where Ian is introducing readers to his world featured in his novels, “The State Trilogy.”
http://fallonbrown.com where Fallon is writing a story everyday using a story trope corresponding with the A to Z challenge.
http://miadogadventures.wordpress.com Well, as the human owned by a border collie, I can’t resist a good dog blog. And they are all good dogs.
Http://annehiga.com Fantasy Fiction. Keeping this link in case I need a story with an X or Q later on in the challenge, right?