Monday, October 15, 2007

Weird Stories

There's a class where I teach, English 785, Reading For Writers; it's a kind of amorphous craft seminar for MFA and PhD students. I'm on the roster for it next semester, and the course packets are due in a few weeks, and I'm trying to compile my materials--the title of my section will be called Weird Stories.

Though I've never considered myself a devotee of "experimental" fiction, I do like literary fiction that strays outside the bounds of representational reality. I don't just mean plot excursions, but adventures in narrative structure, voice, and the logical underpinnings of the story--all the building blocks of fiction which we take for granted,.

There are some obvious places to start--I'll likely throw in a bit of Poe and Irving; some Garcia Marquez, Babel, Nabokov. But I'd like to find stuff that doesn't get taught very often. I'm definitely going to include China Miéville's "Reports of Certain Events in London," a story-in-fragments about the migratory streets of London--it's reminiscient of Arthur C. Clarke's Tales From The White Hart, my favorite book as a kid (and perhaps I should throw in one of those stories, too). In the same vein, I should probably include some Ray Bradbury or Stanislaw Lem, and (lord help me) Stephen King.

Lydia Davis will have to make an appearance, as an innovator in narrative structure, along with David Foster Wallace; we'll also certainly read Stephen Dixon's hilarious "Love Has Its Own Action," which works like no other story I've read, and maybe his "14 Stories," as well. John Barth, of course, though I appreciate more than love his work.

I like ghost stories and supernatural tales (Rhian doesn't, I don't think), so I might be forced to include some Joyce Carol Oates, though perhaps the grad students have had enough of her (or perhaps they've never read her, most of them having been too young in the eighties, her heyday). Alice Munro's "Carried Away" will be included--it's kind of a ghost story, but more of just a story where something impossible happens, without comment. There's an A. S. Byatt story, "The July Ghost," that I remember liking, but I wonder if I'd like it today.

Kelly Link will be included, too--I don't even know where to begin to categorize her work.

Anyway, the pile of books is growing and I am feeling exhausted just looking at it. Any suggestions?

35 comments:

BLAKE BUTLER said...

good group. can't go wrong with dixon. which dfw are you aiming at?

perhaps additions: brian evenson, amy hempel, barry hannah, donald barthelme, matthew derby, padgett powell...

there's so much.

jrlennon said...

DEFINITELY Barthleme. He's the sole reason I hope I never bump into James Wood at a party--not that that has any chance of happening--because the dude has dissed the Man from Texas.

Amy Hempel and Barry Hannah, yes! I forgot to re-check Airships and Bats Out Of Hell. Rhian was a student of Padgett Powell's...you should ask her about the unfinished collaborative horror novel. Evenson...I'd forgotten...Mormon renegade, right? And Matthew Derby alone I have not read.

Not sure which Wallace. I'm thinking about the one with the guy climbing the building.

Trevor said...

I always loved using Stanley Elkin's "A Poetics for Bullies." Definitely a weird and compelling story. How does he pull off that voice? And that ending.

ed said...

Dean Paschal's "By The Light of the Jukebox."

Thomasso Landolfi's "Gogol's Wife"

Matthew Cheney said...

Dawn Raffel -- I first encountered her in Ben Marcus's Anchor Book of New American Short Stories with a story called "Up the Old Goat Road", and then read her collection In the Year of Long Division. Amazing, bizarre stuff.

aos said...

Any George Saunders, Lucius Shepard (maybe from The Ends of the Earth)and Eric McCormack's Inspecting the Vaults. If you were doing novels I would use one of Jerome Charyn's for a true genre mix.

Dusty said...

I'll second the Saunders suggestion, because while I think he's so prevalent to make his stuff not weird by heavy readers' standards, the undergraduates I teach find him delightfully weird (specifically with "Sea Oak").

Also, there are a few A.M. Homes stories ("Georgica" and "Whiz Kids" namely) that my students are simply baffled by and which I find kind of beautiful in a complicated way.

Brian Evenson, too. "Two Brothers" specifically. Really anything from that Marcus anthology would be fruitful.

ed said...

Eons ago, Cutbank was going to publish Evenson's "Two Brothers" but the ahem the committee didn't like it. They know who they are.

Wells Tower's story "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" from Paris Review some year ago, reprinted in the Anchor book of short stories.

rmellis said...

Where did you get the idea I was a student of Padgett Powell's?? I've never laid eyes on the guy. I might have one of his books, though.

Oh, you're thinking of Pinckney Benedict.

We should have named our kids Padgett and Pinckney! With names like that, they'd have to become boxing champs.

Ed, I wasn't one of those people who rejected Evenson, was I? I provisionally hang my head in shame.

jrlennon said...

Whoops, sorry R., you're right of course, I was thinking of Pinckney. Padgett Powell was the guy who lit the mattress on fire.

I think I supported publishing the Evenson story? I think??

Hey everybody, these are great suggestions...I just got back from the library with a pile of them. The Landolphi was in this obscure corner of nowehere, where the ceiling is terrifyingly low, one stack over from the much-thumbed-through books about nudists.

zoe said...

Pinckney Benedict is holding a class in Apocalypse Fiction in that weird virtual world place, Second Life (I think that's what it's called). Have you thought about teaching in cyber space? Maybe it would add more to the weirdness.

rmellis said...

I wonder what Pinckney's avatar looks like? Seeing him there might be worth downloading all that SecondLife stuff onto my computer for.

He was a great teacher, incidentally: always supportive without ever being too enthusiastic. He could make you laugh at your own crappy writing.

gnomeloaf said...

I'll blanket nth a ton of what's already been mentioned.

A story I've always loved, and talked about in workshops I've moderated a few times: Daniel Orozco's "Orientation", in BASS '95. Structure and content both qualify, I think.

ed said...

Re the evenson story, it was the year after you graduated. I won't name names. I solicited the story, he sent it, and then I had to say well, uh...and then Conjunctions published it.

I thought of another: Stanley Elkins' long story "The Making of Ashenden."

Joe said...

Jim Shepard--he's got quite a few delightfully weird stories.

jrlennon said...

Making of Ashenden: oh God, the scene with the bear...

KarateParty said...

Oh yeah-- Pinckney Benedict has a pretty weird story called "Zog-19: A Scientific Romance". It's on the Zoetrope site: here

5 Red Pandas said...

How about Brady Udall's "The Wig" from his collection, Letting Loose the Hounds? It's really short.

jrlennon said...

Yeah, I like that Brady Udall collection, I forgot all about it, thanks!

Ed, I read that Dean Paschal story on the bus home from work. Awesome! I love the little babboonlike demon holding onto his wanker.

Lila said...

Nobody ever teaches the title story from Lorrie Moore's Like Life, which is totally weird and good. And speaking of Daniel Orozco, how about Officers Weep?

Hugo Minor said...

Gary Lutz.

Margaret said...

Jincy Willett - the Dear Nancy story from the Sedaris mix tape of a book is a great introduction to her work, and a brilliant, freaky story by itself.

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