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Another Life by Paul La Farge

July 3, 2012

New Yorker fiction.

Casual sex may, or may not, be great for the participants, but it’s tricky for the short story writer to make both interesting and plausible? Readers won’t empathise with characters who put out too easily, so get them high and drunk first. Keep it casual by not naming them – just the husband, the wife, pretty bartender and total sleazeball. Let learning April P’s name, albeit from her till receipt, be an early clue to her centrality.  Add depth by telling us that the husband is not trying to pick anyone up as he goes down to the hotel bar alone. And allow the bartender to speculate erroneously that he and his wife are swingers.

Female motivation is also tricky. The sort of married middle-aged paediatrician, daughter of a Boston neuroscientist, who is so conventional that she frets about family burial plots, rarely goes off with a lonely barfly on first meeting.  But that’s subplot. So leave it unexplained.

You need to do better with the main pair. Make them readers, he of Rousseau and she Emily Dickinson – well-read older man gets off with lonely poetry reading girl. Rousseau is hopeless as a chat up book, but that’s another feint.  The man can show his erudition and the woman her ignorance, until the twist, when the cocaine too much for his heart, she leaves him, possibly for dead, and settles down to write – a short story?

Here it is – July 2nd 2012

Jim Thornton

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 6, 2012 9:08 am

    Short stories are of course a dying art and the difficulty is trying to blend the believable with the bizarre. For really good short stories you require the acid humour and acute observation of such gems as Saki and Somerset-Maugham but their observation comes probably from their sexual direction! Currently i write from a small caucasian outpost in the wilds of the western highlands of Ethiopia, from which some good short stories might emerge merely by hiding identity.

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