Careless Whisper

So, I’ve decided to give Short Story Month another go. The idea is to read a short story every day, and then write a blog entry about it; or at least include a discussion of said story in that day’s blog entry. I really do love short stories, and I am not completely certain why I have so many mental blocks, both about writing and reading them. Go figure. I think the thing about reading of them comes from having edited so many anthologies; although having edited over two hundred (at least) novels hasn’t affected my ability to read them. Hmmm, interesting.

Today is the final day of my three day weekend, and I have a lot to get done today–and this week. Saturday I am on a panel at Comic Con here in New Orleans, which is exciting; and our friend Michael is having a gallery show opening later that evening. So, my Saturday is pretty much spoken for this week, but due to long days at the office the next two days I only have to work a half-day this Thursday so I can do all the errands–grocery, etc–that day before going into the office.

Last night I started reading George Pelecanos’ The Way Home and really got into it more; he’s quite a good writer, and I am curious to see how the rest of the book plays out. We also finally got the Showtime app on our Apple TV to work again (I had to delete and download it again) so we could get going on Ray Donovan again, which is also an interesting show. I am quite enjoying it but am not hooked, if that makes any sense? Paul is going into the office today, and I have to go to the grocery store–direct result of sleeping in Saturday morning, damn it; obviously I would have rather slept in this morning–but at least it looks like the incessant rain has finally let up.

The first short story of this month is an Edgar Award winner from 2013; Karin Slaughter’s “The Unremarkable Heart,” which I have revisited for this occasion. It was originally published in MWA’s anthology Vengeance (I wrote a story for this, but I don’t remember which one; obviously I have not checked off ‘getting a story into an MWA anthology’ off my bucket list–I failed again this year but didn’t think it was going to get accepted this time around, didn’t have much hope as it felt rather forced), and went on to win the Edgar. I was at the ceremony, and obtained a copy of Vengeance specifically so I could rest this story. I did read the entire book on my flight home–airport and so forth–but Karin’s story was quite remarkable; it reminded me very much of Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier: it was that good.

June Connor knew that she was going to die today.

The thought seemed like the sort of pathetic declaration that a ninth-grader would use to begin a short-story assignment–one that would have immediately elicited a groan and a failing grade from June–but it was true. Today was the die she was going to die.

The doctors, who had been so wrong about so many things, were right about this at least: She would know when it was time. This morning when June woke, she was conscious not just of the pain, the smell of her spent body, the odor of sweat and various fluids that had saturated the bed during the night, but of the fact that it was time to go. The knowledge came to her as an accepted truth. The sun would rise. The Earth would turn. She would die today.

June had at first been startled by the revelation, then had lain in the bed considering the implications. No more pain. No more sickness. No more headaches, seizures, fatigue, confusion, anger.

No more Richard.

That opening is like a punch in the mouth. Grim and unrelenting, Slaughter sets up her unsuspecting reader like a master: here we have a woman who, at long last, after a debilitating illness, is finally going to die and she knows it. As she reflects, in her deathbed, about finally being finished with the messy business of dying, she adds one more thing that she is finished with: Richard.

As the story unfolds–I won’t spoil it, the unfolding is part of the mastery of the story-telling–the sense of horror continues to grow as June reflects back on the horror of her own life, the tragedies she has seen and lived through, how she somehow managed to survive things that would break lesser people. It continues to insidiously unfold, as Slaughter keeps playing out her cards carefully, taking each trick from her mark like a punch to the solar-plexus, each new revelation an even bigger, more horrific shock than the last…until she gets to the very end, and the reader faces the biggest horror of them all. I remember reading this story on the plane and when I reached the final sentence of the story, I gasped and dropped the book.

I’ve not read anything else by Karin Slaughter; I know she is enormously popular and successful, and I have copies of several of her books which are in the TBR pile. But I am a fan, simply based on the brilliance and utter horror of this short story. The Edgar was well deserved; this story has resonated with me in the years since I read it and I’ve never once forgotten how horrific and smart and well-written it is.

If you’re a fan of short stories, you really need to read this one.

And now, back to the spice mines, and here is your Monday morning hunk: