Short story review from The Best American Short Stories 2006: “The Casual Car Pool” by Katherine Bell

“The Casual Car Pool”
by Katherine Bell
from The Best American Short Stories 2006

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When a parachute jumper snags his chute on the ropes of the Bay Bridge that leads to San Francisco, readers get a look inside the lives of three strangers in a car pool. The driver, Ian, has picked up his passengers in Oakland and they are stalled just near the end of the Yerba Buena tunnel. A woman named Hannah sits in the front seat and Julia, fifteen, sits in the back. In the beginning, they follow ridesharing’s unspoken rules. No conversation except maybe the traffic and weather.

Ian, Hannah and Julia may not say much, but their actions and their thoughts tell their back stories. Ian is married, but just that morning backed out of their driveway and thought, “If I wanted to, I could leave today and never go back.” Hannah holds in her lap a thick manilla envelope with sperm donor candidates. Annoyed that morning at her lover, Kate, she grabbed it before showing it to her. Julia has skipped school and is headed to meet a Mormon runaway named Isaac, where they will panhandle for money that she will hand over to him at the end of the day.

Meanwhile the jumper hangs and realized that “somehow, by jumping, he had stopped the morning.”

I’ve always liked how short stories reveal just a segment of people’s lives. Here, I like the details the author decided to include. By including only a few details, Bell shows how her characters act in that moment and with only a hint of what will happen after the story ends. Bell’s story touches on relationships and parenthood, privilege and need and the impact strangers can have on your thoughts.

About the Author (taken from the back of this 2006 edition and from Ploughshares):

“Katherine Bell grew up in Cardiff, Wales, and New Jersey. “The Casual Car Pool” was her second story published in Ploughshares. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she currently works as online managing editor at Cook’s Illustrated, teaches writing at Harvard Extension School and Lesley University, and blogs for the Huffington Post. She is also working on her first novel and a book about quilting.

I highly recommend these collections of Best American Short Stories. I’ve never been disappointed by the stories I’ve read.

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Celebrating eight years of blogging

This month I’m celebrating eight years of blogging on WordPress. I want to thank everyone who has visited, liked and commented on my blog. As I’ve said many times before, these gestures are like gold to bloggers. I occasionally wonder why on earth I’m doing this. I originally started my blog to keep track of what I read and what I thought of a book. But now it’s mostly to catch up with readers and the blogging community. And I’m talking about people from all over the world. That’s so fun!

Sometimes life gets busy and hard and it’s challenging to put out posts and visit other blogs, but I know we’re all in the same boat. In fact, it’s a boat full of great friends and I feel lucky to know you all.

Today I’m sharing my most popular posts by number of views and number of comments. If someone can tell me how to find the most liked posts on their WordPress blog, please leave a comment. I have a feeling that’s not an option for the free sites.


Top Ten Most Viewed Posts

I’m a little embarrassed by this list because I feel like high schoolers are reading these short stories, looking them up on the internet and landing on my blog. Who knows if my opinions are good ones or if I even “got” the stories right.


Top Ten Most Commented on Posts

One thing is for sure, my author friend Jill Weatherholt deserves all the attention she receives because she gets around to other people’s blogs more than anyone I know. And she always leaves an enthusiastic comment. Hurray, too for these and all indie authors because they belong in the spotlight.

How long have you been blogging? Leave a comment and let’s add up the years!

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Book Review: The Early Stories of Truman Capote

The Early Stories of Truman Capote
Foreword by Hilton Als

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I enjoyed reading this excellent collection of fourteen stories by Truman Capote. Written when he was in his teens and early twenties, these stories show Capote’s impressive ability to create scenes and original characters and evoke compassion at the earliest stage of his writing.

The collection was published in 2015 after a discovery in the archives of the New York Public Library. An equally excellent Foreward by Hilton Als of The New Yorker points out how Capote was already experimenting with different styles and methods. Some of the stories depict the Deep South where Capote was born, and others take place in New York, where he also lived as a boy. In them, he addresses many everyday issues, including family, relationships, small-town dynamics and the more sophisticated urban life in New York. And in his wide range of characters, both young and old, he portrays the more complex elements of poverty, race and fate, as well as selfish and vindictive human behavior. In his Foreward, Al writes about a universal yearning in these stories and I see that clearly.

I haven’t read everything Truman Capote wrote (see my links at the bottom of this post), but I have read the big ones (In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and a couple other short stories. I have always been struck by his descriptive style, which has the unique ability to lift me out of the actual world and right into a lyrical yet raw place. I think this skill is already coming through in these early stories.

There’s a great quote by David Ebershoff of Random House in the book’s Afterward. If you’ve ever watched one of Capote’s talk show appearances (here, here and here) or read about and seen images of his Black and White Ball in 1966 (read about that here), you might have an idea of what Capote was like. But if you put aside his gossipy side, discount his drunken appearances, and you really listen to him when he talks about the writing craft, you’ll see that he was indeed deeply serious about writing. I think this collection gives you a good picture of that intensity before he was sidetracked. Ebershoff writes:

“These early stories offer a counterpoint to that final image: a young writer laboring over his typewriter to maximize his gifts. A Truman Capote not slurring on a television talk show but driven to nail the right word on the page.”

I highly recommend this book. It’s a quick read, but the stories stay with you and give you a good look at an emerging writer who became a legend.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
In Cold Blood
“La Côte Basque”
“House of Flowers”

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On YouTube today: Short Story Share

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick note to tell you I’m over on YouTube today, showing you all the places where I find great short stories and a couple books to help you write them!

Hope to see you there 🙂

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Book Club Mom’s October 2020 recap

I had a great October, but it was very busy at work and at home. Despite the busy times, I managed to squeeze in some good books, a movie and some short fiction, as well as keep up with author updates and two new indie author profiles. And I made the leap to Instagram, so far a lot of fun! Click here if you want to connect with me there.

I’ve started using the new block editor, so bear with me as I find my way around.

These are the last of some flowers I grew from seeds over the summer. I forget the name, but aren’t they pretty?

Here’s a rundown of what happened on Book Club Mom this month.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – 5 stars

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand – 3.5 stars

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely – 4.5 stars

Looker by Laura Sims – 4 stars

From left: Carrie Rubin, Jill Weatherholt and Giselle Roeder

Carrie Rubin

Jill Weatherholt

Giselle Roeder

From left: Jonathan Pongratz and Bill Moseley

Jonathan Pongratz

Bill Moseley

Rebecca (1940)

The Best American Short Stories 2004 – “Intervention” by Jill McCorkle

How was your month? I hope you are staying healthy and finding fun things to do.

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Early praise for Encounters: Relationships in Conflict by Fred H. Rohn

While we work on a few things and before our official launch, take a look at this early praise for Encounters: Relationships in Conflict. Thank you Tracy Ewens, smart romance author, for this lovely review!

“This collection is charming, and yet the author does not shy away from the social mores of the past. From The Depression to world wars, these are stories of people connecting both good and uncomfortable. I loved the author’s voice and the elegance of his writing. I was there at the cocktail reception and the old man’s apartment. Quaint isn’t enough for these stories. They are like tiny windows, complete with all the silent and not so silent goings on. A wonderful read.” Tracy Ewens, author of Tap, Smooth, Brew and eight more “Smart Romance. Happy Endings”

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Short Stories from The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

I have always loved short fiction and was excited to see a book built around short stories. In The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, A.J. recommends the following stories to his daughter.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I have only read one of them! And I’m guessing it’s one that many of us read in high school English class:  “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. Take a look at the list. How many have you read? Which are your favorites?


Source: Wikipedia

“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl (1953)


Source: Wikipedia

“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)


Source: Wikipedia

“The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte (1868)


Source: richardbausch.com

“What Feels Like the World” by Richard Bausch (1985)


Source: Georgia Encyclopedia

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor (1953)


Source: Wikipedia

“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County” by Mark Twain (1865)


Source: amazon.com

“The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw (1939)


Source: Wikipedia

“A Conversation with My Father” by Grace Paley (1972)


Source: Wikipedia

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger (1948)


Source: Wikipedia

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)


Source: Goodreads

“Ironhead” by Aimee Bender (2005)


Source: Wikipedia

“What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” by Raymond Carver (1980)


Source: Wikipedia

“The Bookseller” by Roald Dahl (1986)


Click here for a review of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

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Five-Star Short Fiction

I think short fiction is one of the greatest types of literature. The compressed stories, intense situations, surprising ironic twists and abrupt finishes are some of the things I love about short stories. They always leave me thinking! Here’s a list of my favorites. What are yours?


a rose for emily pic

 

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

 

 


Best American Short Stories 1993

 

“An Angel on the Porch” by Thomas Wolfe

 


Babylon Revisited

 

“Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

 


Best American Short Stories 1994

 

“Cold Snap” by Thom Jones


Scribner Anthology big

 

“Death by Landscape” by Margaret Atwood


Scribner Anthology big

 

“Gryphon” by Charles Baxter


in the gloaming

 

“In the Gloaming” by Alice Elliott Dark


Best American Short Stories 1993

 

“Red Moccasins” by Susan Power


Scribner Anthology big

 

“Same Place, Same Things” by Tim Gautreaux


the chrysanthemums pic

 

“The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck


The Horse Dealer's Daughter new

 

“The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” by D. H. Lawrence


The Most Dangerous Game

 

“The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell


The Necklace pic


“The Necklace”
by Guy de Maupassant


The Oblong Box

 

“The Oblong Box” by Edgar Allan Poe


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty new

 

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber


The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

 

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”
by Ernest Hemingway


the joy luck club pic

 

“Two Kinds” from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

 

 


I also enjoyed these collected stories by two of the greatest short fiction writers:

Dear Life cover

 

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

 

 


 

BIGWildernessTips

 

 

Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood

 

 


What’s your favorite genre?  Leave a comment and let’s get talking!

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Wilderness Tips by Margaret Atwood

BIGWildernessTips

Wilderness Tips
by
Margaret Atwood

Rating:

Wilderness Tips is a collection of ten short stories by Margaret Atwood and was first published in 1989. I enjoyed reading this somewhat unusual group of stories which are tied together loosely with some common themes.

She writes about summer camps, mental breakdowns, marriage and relationships, death, women’s careers and women’s rights, newspapers and social issues.

Some of the stories have surprise endings, some include graphic medical details, and all of them are reflective about times past.

Here’s a brief description of each story:

  • “True Trash” takes place at Camp Adanaqui and is a coming-of-age story about a group of boys who spy on the older teenage waitresses at the camp. Ronette is the center of the boys’ attention and Donny defends her honor in his own seemingly powerless adolescent way.
  • “Hairball” is a strange story of Kat, an angry young woman who faces mental breakdown and exacts revenge on her married lover. Atwood uses the shock of graphic medical details to make a powerful point about mental illness.
  • In “Isis in Darkness,” Richard is with Mary Jo, a stable librarian, but he obsesses over Selena, a mysterious poet he’s met at a coffee shop. It’s a story about marriage and regrets and of being alone.
  • In “The Bog Man,” Connor is an archaeology professor, dedicated to uncovering the history of an ancient, perfectly preserved human sacrifice. He’s having an affair with one of his students, Julie, and he brings her to Scotland to “help” with his research. It’s here where Julie learns to assert her own power, much to Connor’s dismay.
  • “Death by Landscape” is a great story about the friendship between two girls at Camp Manitou, and an irreversible tragedy. Lois spends a lifetime trying to cope with her loss and at the end of the story, Atwood reveals the mystery behind a collection of landscape paintings.
  • In “Uncles,” Mae is a young girl who has no father, but she’s greatly admired by her three uncles. This story starts out flat and bland, but don’t let that trick you. Mae becomes a successful journalist, but she faces jealousy and resentment and the ending is dark and bitter.
  • “The Age of Lead” is a story about the Franklin Expedition of 1845, a British voyage through the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. Jane is fascinated by the modern discovery of a frozen man, John Torrington, who died during the expedition. She compares the frozen man to her close childhood friend, Vincent, whose death has left her empty.
  • “Weight” describes the deep loyalty between female friends. Molly has been beaten to death by her husband and her best friend does what she can to raise money and awareness for battered women, using whatever means she has left.
  • “Wilderness Tips” is one of my favorites from this collection. It’s a terrific look at the dynamics between three sisters, their brother Roland and George, a Hungarian refugee, who made fast money in Canada. He’s married one of the sisters, but there’s deception going on.
  • “Hack Wednesday” takes place in the late 1980s and is a look at the changing times, social issues, and growing older. Marcia is a newspaper columnist, but she’s being squeezed out. Her husband, Eric, fights for all the causes, but his career is slowing down. It’s a story about trudging through middle age.

I liked all these stories, but my favorites were “True Trash,” “Death by Landscape,” “Uncles” and “Wilderness Tips.”   While not always upbeat, all of the endings are either surprising, satisfying, or though-provoking, the things I enjoy most from great fiction!

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What’s up next? Wilderness Tips, by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood

Since I love reading short fiction, I thought I would stay in Canada and go right from Alice Munro to some of Margaret Atwood’s short stories. I’ve read a couple of her books (The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid’s Tale) and thought they were excellent. I got Wilderness Tips from the library and have it on my Kindle for two weeks. It’s a collection of ten stories, including one I’ve already read – “Death by Landscape” – but I think this version might be slightly different.  I read in the front of the book that this story and some others were previously published “in slightly different form.”

This morning I read the first story, “True Trash” and thought it was great so I already know I’ve made a good choice.

There are many different covers for Wilderness Tips and that surprises me, but I haven’t researched it to know why.  Probably just a marketing thing.

My cover on the Kindle looks like this:

amazon.com
amazon.com

But I think I like this cover better:

brokeandbookish.com
brokeandbookish.com

Check back soon for my review. Thanks for visiting!