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In Peter Orner’s three Paris Review stories—“Story of a Teacher’s Wife,” “The Vac-Haul,” and “Foley’s Pond”—three outrageously morbid things happen: a boy’s younger sister drowns in a pond of toxic sludge; a man is murdered with a bike spoke (“His stomach was so ripped apart the police had to collect him up in a bucket”); and a woman walks into a classroom and starts shooting and taking hostages. They’re bite-size stories, under fifteen-hundred words, and the violence rushes in like a flash flood, though it doesn’t cleanse anything. Rather, it leaves you with an aftertaste like when you eat yogurt off an unpolished silver spoon. I devoured them.
I think what propelled me through these three upsetting stories is that the violence doesn’t actually happen to the people in the stories’ centers. “Foley’s Pond,” for instance, is narrated by a classmate of Nate Zamost, the boy who’s two-year-old sister is fished out of the pond; in “Story of a Teacher’s Wife,” the narrator hears about the man who was killed by a bike spoke from a friend at a boarding school in South Africa. The remove is greatest in “The Vac-Haul”: the narrator only hears about the shooter on the radio, while he bides time with his job for the sewer company. Read More