Read Clarice Lispector’s short story “Report on the Thing”

In advance of New Directions’ forthcoming Clarice Lispector collection The Complete Stories, Vice has published “Report on the Thing” in a new English translation by Katrina Dodson (who translated the entire volume of 86 stories. First few paragraphs:

This thing is the most difficult for a person to understand. Keep trying. Don’t get discouraged. It will seem obvious. But it is extremely difficult to know about it. For it involves time.

We divide time when in reality it is not divisible. It is always immutable. But we need to divide it. And to that end a monstrous thing was created: the clock.

I am not going to speak of clocks. But of one particular clock. I’m showing my cards: I’ll say up front what I have to say and without literature. This report is the anti-literature of the thing.

The clock of which I speak is electronic and has an alarm. The brand is Sveglia, which means “awake.” Awake to what, my God? To time. To the hour. To the instant. This clock is not mine. But I took possession of its infernal tranquil soul.

It is not a wristwatch: Therefore it is freestanding. It is less than an inch tall and stands upon the surface of the table. I would like its actual name to be Sveglia. But the owner of the clock wants its name to be Horácio. No matter. Because the main thing is that it is time.

Read the rest of “Report on the Thing.”

“A Telephone Call” — Dorothy Parker

“A Telephone Call”

by

Dorothy Parker


Please, God, let him telephone me now. Dear God, let him call me now. I won’t ask anything else of You, truly I won’t. It isn’t very much to ask. It would be so little to You, God, such a little, little thing. Only let him telephone now. Please, God. Please, please, please.

If I didn’t think about it, maybe the telephone might ring. Sometimes it does that. If I could think of something else. If I could think of something else. Knobby if I counted five hundred by fives, it might ring by that time. I’ll count slowly. I won’t cheat. And if it rings when I get to three hundred, I won’t stop; I won’t answer it until I get to five hundred. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five, fifty…. Oh, please ring. Please.

This is the last time I’ll look at the clock. I will not look at it again. It’s ten minutes past seven. He said he would telephone at five o’clock. “I’ll call you at five, darling.” I think that’s where he said “darling.” I’m almost sure he said it there. I know he called me “darling” twice, and the other time was when he said good-by. “Good-by, darling.” He was busy, and he can’t say much in the office, but he called me “darling” twice. He couldn’t have minded my calling him up. I know you shouldn’t keep telephoning them–I know they don’t like that. When you do that they know you are thinking about them and wanting them, and that makes them hate you. But I hadn’t talked to him in three days-not in three days. And all I did was ask him how he was; it was just the way anybody might have called him up. He couldn’t have minded that. He couldn’t have thought I was bothering him. “No, of course you’re not,” he said. And he said he’d telephone me. He didn’t have to say that. I didn’t ask him to, truly I didn’t. I’m sure I didn’t. I don’t think he would say he’d telephone me, and then just never do it. Please don’t let him do that, God. Please don’t.
Read More

Read Herman Melville’s story “The Fiddler”

“The Fiddler”

by

Herman Melville


So my poem is damned, and immortal fame is not for me! I am nobody forever and ever. Intolerable fate!

Snatching my hat, I dashed down the criticism, and rushed out into Broadway, where enthusiastic throngs were crowding to a circus in a side-street near by, very recently started, and famous for a capital clown.

Presently my old friend Standard rather boisterously accosted me.

“Well met, Helmstone, my boy! Ah! what’s the matter? Haven’t been committing murder? Ain’t flying justice? You look wild!”

“You have seen it then?” said I, of course referring to the criticism.

“Oh yes; I was there at the morning performance. Great clown, I assure you. But here comes Hautboy. Hautboy—Helmstone.”

Without having time or inclination to resent so mortifying a mistake, I was instantly soothed as I gazed on the face of the new acquaintance so unceremoniously introduced. His person was short and full, with a juvenile, animated cast to it. His complexion rurally ruddy; his eye sincere, cheery, and gray. His hair alone betrayed that he was not an overgrown boy. From his hair I set him down as forty or more.

“Come, Standard,” he gleefully cried to my friend, “are you not going to the circus? The clown is inimitable, they say. Come; Mr. Helmstone, too—come both; and circus over, we’ll take a nice stew and punch at Taylor’s.”

The sterling content, good humor, and extraordinary ruddy, sincere expression of this most singular new acquaintance acted upon me like magic. It seemed mere loyalty to human nature to accept an invitation from so unmistakably kind and honest a heart.

During the circus performance I kept my eye more on Hautboy than on the celebrated clown. Hautboy was the sight for me. Such genuine enjoyment as his struck me to the soul with a sense of the reality of the thing called happiness. The jokes of the clown he seemed to roll under his tongue as ripe magnum bonums. Now the foot, now the hand, was employed to attest his grateful applause. At any hit more than ordinary, he turned upon Standard and me to see if his rare pleasure was shared. In a man of forty I saw a boy of twelve; and this too without the slightest abatement of my respect. Because all was so honest and natural, every expression and attitude so graceful with genuine good-nature, that the marvelous juvenility of Hautboy assumed a sort of divine and immortal air, like that of some forever youthful god of Greece. Read More

“A Mistaken Identity” — Lord Dunsany

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Read “Mr. Spaceship,” an early Philip K. Dick story

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“Mr. Spaceship”

by

Philip K. Dick


Kramer leaned back. “You can see the situation. How can we deal with a factor like this? The perfect variable.”

“Perfect? Prediction should still be possible. A living thing still acts from necessity, the same as inanimate material. But the cause-effect chain is more subtle; there are more factors to be considered. The difference is quantitative, I think. The reaction of the living organism parallels natural causation, but with greater complexity.”

Gross and Kramer looked up at the board plates, suspended on the wall, still dripping, the images hardening into place. Kramer traced a line with his pencil.

“See that? It’s a pseudopodium. They’re alive, and so far, a weapon we can’t beat. No mechanical system can compete with that, simple or intricate. We’ll have to scrap the Johnson Control and find something else.”

“Meanwhile the war continues as it is. Stalemate. Checkmate. They can’t get to us, and we can’t get through their living minefield.”

Kramer nodded. “It’s a perfect defense, for them. But there still might be one answer.”

“What’s that?”

“Wait a minute.” Kramer turned to his rocket expert, sitting with the charts and files. “The heavy cruiser that returned this week. It didn’t actually touch, did it? It came close but there was no contact.”

“Correct.” The expert nodded. “The mine was twenty miles off. The cruiser was in space-drive, moving directly toward Proxima, line-straight, using the Johnson Control, of course. It had deflected a quarter of an hour earlier for reasons unknown. Later it resumed its  course. That was when they got it.”

“It shifted,” Kramer said. “But not enough. The mine was coming along after it, trailing it. It’s the same old story, but I wonder about the contact.” Read More

Read “Crow Mountain,” a new short story by Can Xue

“Crow Mountain” is a new short story by Can Xue in the July issue of Asymptote. Translation by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping. The first few paragraphs:

I’d been waiting for a long time for Qinglian, who lived on the fifth floor, to take me to a place called “Crow Mountain.” It was a vacant five-story building on the brink of collapse. It used to be the municipal office. I had passed by it only once—the year I was four. I remembered Mama pointing at the large, tightly closed windows and saying to me, “This is ‘Crow Mountain’!” All kinds of questions occurred to me right away. “What do you mean, it’s a mountain?” I asked. “It’s obviously a building. Where are the crows? Are these windows shut so tightly because they’re afraid the crows inside will fly away?” Dad was standing beside me. I wanted to ask still more questions, but he cut me off: “Come on, let’s go!”

Later we moved to another part of the city. It was Qinglian who told me more about that building. Qinglian was only fourteen but already a beauty, and I envied her. She always frowned as she said to me, “Juhua, Juhua, how can you be so ugly? I’m embarrassed to be seen with you.” I knew she was kidding, so I didn’t get mad. We had been talking about “Crow Mountain” for a long time. Everything I knew about it came from Qinglian. Though I could still vaguely remember that large building outside the city, I hadn’t been back a single time. The city was too big. But Qinglian went every year because her uncle was a gatekeeper there.

“They’re always saying it’s going to collapse, but actually it isn’t. It’ll be fine for decades. It’s so much fun inside!” she said.

Is there any value that has value? (Donald Barthelme)

I asked the Cardinal questions, we had a conversation.

“I am thinking of a happy island more beautiful than can be imagined,” I said.

“I am thinking of a golden mountain which does not exist,” he said.

“Upon what does the world rest?” I asked.

“Upon an elephant,” he said.

“Upon what does the elephant rest?”

“Upon a tortoise.”

“Upon what does the tortoise rest?”

“Upon a red lawnmower.”

I wrote in my book, playful.

“Is there any value that has value?” I asked.

“If there is any value that has value, then it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case, for all that happens and is the case is accidental.” He was not serious. I wrote in my book, knows the drill.

From Donald Barthelme’s story “See the Moon?”

“The Hungry Stones” — Rabindranath Tagore

“The Hungry Stones”

by

Rabindranath Tagore


My kinsman and myself were returning to Calcutta from our Puja trip when we met the man in a train. From his dress and bearing we took him at first for an up-country Mahomedan, but we were puzzled as we heard him talk. He discoursed upon all subjects so confidently that you might think the Disposer of All Things consulted him at all times in all that He did. Hitherto we had been perfectly happy, as we did not know that secret and unheard-of forces were at work, that the Russians had advanced close to us, that the English had deep and secret policies, that confusion among the native chiefs had come to a head. But our newly-acquired friend said with a sly smile: “There happen more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are reported in your newspapers.” As we had never stirred out of our homes before, the demeanour of the man struck us dumb with wonder. Be the topic ever so trivial, he would quote science, or comment on the Vedas, or repeat quatrains from some Persian poet; and as we had no pretence to a knowledge of science or the Vedas or Persian, our admiration for him went on increasing, and my kinsman, a theosophist, was firmly convinced that our fellow-passenger must have been supernaturally inspired by some strange “magnetism” or “occult power,” by an “astral body” or something of that kind. He listened to the tritest saying that fell from the lips of our extraordinary companion with devotional rapture, and secretly took down notes of his conversation. I fancy that the extraordinary man saw this, and was a little pleased with it.

When the train reached the junction, we assembled in the waiting room for the connection. It was then 10 P.M., and as the train, we heard, was likely to be very late, owing to something wrong in the lines, I spread my bed on the table and was about to lie down for a comfortable doze, when the extraordinary person deliberately set about spinning the following yarn. Of course, I could get no sleep that night.

When, owing to a disagreement about some questions of administrative policy, I threw up my post at Junagarh, and entered the service of the Nizam of Hydria, they appointed me at once, as a strong young man, collector of cotton duties at Barich.

Barich is a lovely place. The Susta “chatters over stony ways and babbles on the pebbles,” tripping, like a skilful dancing girl, in through the woods below the lonely hills. A flight of 150 steps rises from the river, and above that flight, on the river’s brim and at the foot of the hills, there stands a solitary marble palace. Around it there is no habitation of man—the village and the cotton mart of Barich being far off. Read More

New Evan Lavender-Smith short story, “For This Relief, Much Thanks”

At The Offing, read “For This Relief, Much Thanks,” a new story by Evan Lavender-Smith. First two paragraphs:

Worried, even certain, will die on upcoming Peru trip — card-carrying hypochondriac — so jotting down some instructions for you. Here goes.

First thing, ms. on ugly brown reclining chair in study, containing, near end, these very instructions — card-carrying metafictionist — requires thorough proofreading before sending out. Aim high initially, as I am of opinion this one may deserve proper publication by proper house, proper distribution to brick-and-mortars, etc., unlike first two. Hopeful royalties, if any, suffice to cover boy’s dental care in upcoming years. Good boy, as you know, deserving of straight teeth. Maybe royalties enough to cover Little League uniforms/dues, though doubtful. Sorry couldn’t afford term life with smoking, unemployment, etc. Baseball equipment stuff way cheaper on Amazon. Try to find ways to make it work. Boy already knows how to be broke. Dentist is one next to Pro’s Ranch, only Spanish spoken there so have him keep moving ahead on his Duolingo app.

Read the rest of Evan Lavender-Smith’s story “For This Relief, Much Thanks.”

“The Egg,” a short story by Sherwood Anderson

“The Egg”

by

Sherwood Anderson


My father was, I am sure, intended by nature to be a cheerful, kindly man. Until he was thirty-four years old he worked as a farmhand for a man named Thomas Butterworth whose place lay near the town of Bidwell, Ohio. He had then a horse of his own and on Saturday evenings drove into town to spend a few hours in social intercourse with other farmhands. In town he drank several glasses of beer and stood about in Ben Head’s saloon–crowded on Saturday evenings with visiting farmhands. Songs were sung and glasses thumped on the bar. At ten o’clock father drove home along a lonely country road, made his horse comfortable for the night and himself went to bed, quite happy in his position in life. He had at that time no notion of trying to rise in the world.

It was in the spring of his thirty-fifth year that father married my mother, then a country schoolteacher, and in the following spring I came wriggling and crying into the world. Something happened to the two people. They became ambitious. The American passion for getting up in the world took possession of them.

It may have been that mother was responsible. Being a schoolteacher she had no doubt read books and magazines. She had, I presume, read of how Garfield, Lincoln, and other Americans rose from poverty to fame and greatness and as I lay beside her–in the days of her lying-in–she may have dreamed that I would someday rule men and cities. At any rate she induced father to give up his place as a farmhand, sell his horse and embark on an independent enterprise of his own. She was a tall silent woman with a long nose and troubled grey eyes. For herself she wanted nothing. For father and myself she was incurably ambitious.

The first venture into which the two people went turned out badly. They rented ten acres of poor stony land on Griggs’s Road, eight miles from Bidwell, and launched into chicken raising. I grew into boyhood on the place and got my first impressions of life there. From the beginning they were impressions of disaster and if, in my turn, I am a gloomy man inclined to see the darker side of life, I attribute it to the fact that what should have been for me the happy joyous days of childhood were spent on a chicken farm. Read More

Watch a 1977 PBS adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s story “The Displaced Person” (featuring a young Samuel L. Jackson)