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Fiction: 2010s

Fiction of the Day

Nothing to Declare

By Richard Ford

All the senior partners were having a laugh about a movie they’d seen. Forty-Five Years. Something, something about the movie taking forty-five years to sit through. The woman McGuinness thought he recognized was in it with them at the far end of the long table. Leaning in, as if hearing everything for the second time. “Miss Nail!” they were calling her. “What do you say, Miss Nail? Tell us.” Laughing. He didn’t know what it was about.

From an Unfinished Novel

By William Styron & James L.W. West III

In the fall of 1985, the writer William Styron fell into a deep depression. The author of celebrated novels such as The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) and Sophie’s Choice (1979), he ceased writing that autumn and entered a period of intense brooding and near-suicidal despair. He was admitted to the neurological unit of Yale–New Haven Hospital on December 14 and stayed there for almost seven weeks. Rest and treatment allowed him to regain his equilibrium; he returned to his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, in early February, and by that summer was writing again.

Why Visit America

By Matthew Baker



The Origins of This Great Nation

There wasn’t anything special about us. We were just an average town. Porch swings, wading pools, split rail fences, pump jacks bobbing for oil on the horizon. Meetings at town hall were well attended, sure, but we weren’t some hotbed of insurgents. We didn’t subscribe to any one brand of politics. We couldn’t even be plotted onto your basic left/right binary. Our town had everything: pro-lifers who supported gay marriage, pro-choicers who opposed gay marriage, climate change deniers who owned solar panels, universal health care campaigners who preferred private insurance, creationists with degrees in biology and geology, loyal conservatives, staunch liberals, moderates, radicals, and ornery retirees whose only real issue was guns. And yet that winter we found ourselves united by a common sentiment. We were fed up with our country.

Women and Men Made of Them

By Olivia Clare

Mary Ann lived near me in Baton Rouge, then she was in Memphis. She’d told me they could never return. Return to this life, she meant. Her husband, Knox, I’d hated, and he’d been called, of all things, a kind man. People called him good, gentlemanly, liked to say it just that way. Her mother had. But he took Mary Ann from me, and I don’t let myself near swindlers.

She did not die with me. She died with Knox, and such a fast thing tells me this is how a life can run, gone to a Memphis firmament.

We’d first met in the Goodwood Library at the crowded bank of computers, Mary Ann in a cold metal wheelchair she paid seventy-five dollars a week to rent. I was there most Saturdays to be in the air conditioning and to use the internet, both of which were expensive at my apartment. I have a twenty-first-century disease, Mary Ann told me.

“Called what?” I said. And she didn’t know—not that she didn’t, but she wouldn’t tell. She often ached all over, couldn’t use her legs for hours. She got terrible nosebleeds that kept her up at night. I sensed her half-wakefulness, her nostalgia for the world she knew outside of dreams, though perhaps she waited to return to them. Dreams that ran through her in waves, through her defenseless bones. At the end of the first day at the library, we went to the coffee shop next door. The entrance was narrow, and I made a deep bend while holding on to her chair, pushing and summoning the will from my knees. Inside, we ordered raspberry iced tea and lavish sandwiches, but she wouldn’t eat. I watched her cry with her palms flat against her eyes and worried she’d cry so much her face would come off in her hands. 

Howl Palace

By Leigh Newman

Last week, I finally had to put Howl Palace up for sale. Years of poor financial planning had led to this decision, and I tried to take some comfort in my agent’s belief in a buyer who might show up with an all-cash offer. My agent is a highly organized, sensible woman who grew up in Alaska—I checked—but when she advertised the listing, she failed to mention her description on the internet. “Attractively priced tear-down with plane dock and amazing lake views,” she wrote under the photo. “Investment potential.”

Last Rites

By Anuk Arudpragasam

It was a little past four in the afternoon, the light softer now and more diffuse, the intensity of the day’s heat beginning to wane, and standing by himself in a corner of the garden Krishan was observing the people gathered in Rani’s house for the funeral, somewhat unnerved, after his long and meditative journey, by how quickly he’d found himself in this place so different from his point of origin, this setting that, despite conforming to all his abstract expectations, had nevertheless managed to catch him off guard. The sense of calm, peaceful self-containment he’d felt on the train had remained with him on the bus during the quiet, two-hour ride from the Kilinochchi station, and it had persisted too on his walk from the bus stop, as he made his way slowly and leisurely along the network of paths that ran through the noticeably deserted village. The properties on either side of the lanes were marked off by low fences of dried palm fronds thatched together with wire and rope, most of them fronted by small, well-cultivated gardens, each with its own little vegetable plot and an assortment of trees—drumstick, banana, coconut, curry leaf, as well as others he couldn’t identify. The houses themselves were simple and unadorned, the larger concrete ones containing two or three rooms, the smaller ones consisting of mud walls and thatched roofs and no more than a single all-purpose hall. He’d taken his time noting and regarding everything he passed, as if he’d come for no other reason than to discover what effect the surroundings had on the trajectory of his thoughts, and it was only as he turned into the lane where Rani’s house was located, as he heard the low, irregular beat of funeral drums rising up from the end of the lane, that he began to realize his journey was over, that he’d finally arrived at his destination. He wondered suddenly how he should comport himself, what he should say to Rani’s daughter when they met, how he could give her his grandmother’s money without drawing attention to himself, questions he’d had the whole day to consider but had avoided thinking about till then. Approaching the house he saw first the band of drummers standing just behind the palm-leaf fence, four men aloof from everyone else in the garden, looking at one another intently as they rapped the small, flat, beautifully constructed drums that hung from their necks—members, he knew, even if nobody talked about it, of one of the most oppressed castes in the northeast.

Karolina

By Laura van den Berg

I first saw Karolina outside the Sumesa on the corner of Avenidas Oaxaca and Álvaro Obregón. She was smoking a stubby cigarette, a sled-like backpack hitched to her shoulders. I stopped short, felt my heart lurch. Could it be? Karolina was my brother’s ex-wife; they’d divorced five years ago, in Seattle, and I’d not seen her since. Right before their divorce, she had gone missing for fifteen days, an event still marked by dread and shame. The second time I saw her was by the bus stop on Avenida Michoacán. The third sighting was in Parque México, late at night. I had decided to walk back from a work dinner in Roma Sur to the hotel because I was having trouble sleeping and a long walk before bed—tracing the park’s serpentine paths, imagining the alertness being drained from my body one step at a time—seemed like a preemptive strike against insomnia. The dog run was empty except for a young man throwing a tennis ball for a German shepherd. The owner was wearing sunglasses, despite the hour. I was just past the run, in the thick green center of the park, when I came upon Karolina asleep on a bench, squeezing her giant backpack like a lover. 

Foxes

By Kimberly King Parsons

What’s worth happening happens in deep woods. Or so my daughter tells me. 

Her plotlines: In the deep woods someone is chasing, someone else is getting hacked. Hatchets are lifted, brought downdowndown. Men stutter blood onto snow. A cast of animals—some local, some outlandish—show up to feast on the bits. “The bitty bits,” she’ll say, “the tasty remainderings.” Good luck diverting her. Good luck correcting or getting a word in once she gets going. It’s gruesome, but this type of storytelling, I’ve been assured, is perfectly normal among children her age.