Monday, January 21, 2008

Short Story #1: The Short Story Challenge


While I did vow to read five short story collections in 2008, I also find myself dipping and diving into sundry collections and journals like Tin House. I'm slowly making my way through the "Fantastic Women" issue (volume 9, number 1), and one particularly juicy nugget has grabbed me by the nose hair thus far.

The story is simply titled, "Abroad," and it's written by Judy Budnitz. I read this story a week or so ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since, wondering exactly how I should post, how much I should say, and how to summarize such a wonderfully bizarre and affecting story. So here we go...

It's about a woman and her husband traveling abroad (betcha couldn't guess, eh?). The couple gets off their train at the wrong stop and discovers that another train won't be along for three days, so they must somehow entertain themselves in a strange country until they find their way to the proper destination. They visit a church made from bones, a cemetery, they bounce through the streets from restaurants to shops, the locals pointing them to McDonald's all the way.

In the beginning, both husband and wife refer to the locals as "they," "those people," but over the course of the story something shifts. The wife stays separate from the locals distanced by custom, culture and practice. However, her husband begins to embrace the lifestyle, the language, and eventually everything melts into a confusing blur as the wife can no longer speak to her husband or understand the native tongue he's so adept at speaking. All she can do is watch as he parties with the locals, brings them round to the hotel room, asks them to stay, and they eventually take over the wife's surroundings completely putting their clothing in the wife's suitcase, making beds on the floor, and infiltrating the couple's life completely.

Budnitz's story is surreal and poignant. A whirl of language and confusion and loss. I actually sort of felt the urge to cry at the end of the story as the wife--while quite shallow and unwilling to stretch herself culturally--is unable to reach her husband both literally and figuratively. The symbolic growing apart of this couple was just heartbreaking to me perhaps because it was compressed so deftly into three days and those days into 12 pages.

"Abroad" really is a testament to the power in a writer's pen as she so artistically expresses the distance and misunderstandings that can crop up between loved ones if someone doesn't make an over effort to communicate--"build a bridge" for lack of a better expression. I only hope I can express complicated emotions and relationships in such clever ways one day in my own writing. In the meantime, "Abroad" is a wonderful work to ponder.

7 comments:

  1. This one sounds really good. And you're so much more literary than me...reading stories in journals...

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  2. What a great review! I just finished St. Lucy's school for girls raised by wolves and it has restored my faith in short stories...

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  3. God I wish I could read as much as you. I'm jealous. I feel like I never have the time...I guess it's kind of your "job" huh?

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  4. Eva, reading from journals is partially a selfish endeavor (trying to get to know some publications so I can try to publish) and partially to fulfill my craving for "out of the mainstream" writers. Those who don't get the attention they deserve, etc. It's fun!

    Will have to check that one out, Courtney. I've heard of it, but I don't know much about it (including the author's name). So off to Amazon I go!

    Funky, yep, it is. And I try my damndest to eek out little bits of reading time during the day. Like right now, at work, in the Writing Center. So yeah, it works out well with my job. Much moreso than most folks.

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  5. I have this but haven't really cracked it open yet. Shame!
    Hmm, maybe I need to set a goal for myself to read a couple of literary journals this year. I am positive I'm missing out on some great writing. Your post reminds me that I need to check this out soon.

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  6. Iliana, lit journals are so much fun! I don't read nearly enough of them (takes me a couple of months to read one usually...reading in fits and starts). I always find some great nuggets, and it's nice because most incorporate a mixture of prose, poetry, and essays. I looove me some essays.

    Right on, LK! What have you read of hers? Any collections?

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