Kill Us On the Way Home by Gwen Beatty

Kim told me she was going to take a week to look at the new Stephen King book of short stories she was reading (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, just in case you don’t know), so I thought I should take the next week (this one) to talk about something I’d read recently that I really dug. Gwen Beatty’s new chapbook put out by Passenger Side Books, Kill Us On the Way Home, immediately sprang to mind (and continues the short story theme no less).

I knew I was going to grab this one as soon as I heard it was coming out (and only $5 shipped made it an easy decision to confirm). I’d read a few of Beatty’s pieces before, and certainly wanted to read more. Passenger Side Books also immediately gets a vote of confidence from me. Considering the previous offerings that I’ve read from that micro press (Whatever Don’t Drown Will Always Rise, Murmuration, Infinity’s Jukebox, If There’s Any Truth In a Northbound Train, and Soft), I can trust that I’m going to dig anything new they put out.

That was certainly the case with Kill Us On the Way Home.

Given the nature of the book, I’m not going to quote as heavily as I normally do. Kill Us On the Way Home is a chapbook of six short pieces and quoting heavily would simply give too much away. I can certainly gush about the book though.

Let’s consider “The Most Important Part About Being Fake-Pregnant.” A young woman meets the pregnant wife of the Mormon ex-boyfriend who had proposed to her not long before. She lies and says she is pregnant too, not telling the wife who she is. Her new boyfriend helps her construct fake pregnancy belly after fake pregnancy belly as she gets closer and closer to the unsuspecting wife.

“It really is wild that we are only two weeks apart from each other,” Lorrie repeated over the next few months. We would laugh over virgin cocktails about the strange parallels between our pregnancies and lives. We would cry to each other about our inattentive partners. She told me everything about Mark. From the way he likes his socks folded, to how he was in bed. She told me everything that I already knew about the man she married. She told me exactly what my life would have been if I had been less like myself.

It’s a strange story, filled with a strange hard to hold for long yearning, and it definitely gets under the skin of the reader. All the stories in Kill Us On the Way Home do. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, though “The Most Important Part About Being Fake-Pregnant” would definitely be high on my list.

Of course, that list might also include “Seven Things About Hot Dogs.” Perhaps also “Knots.” Maybe “Memorial” too. Well, you get the idea.

Beatty writes words on the page in Kill Us On the Way Home like she’s carving faces into giant logs with a chainsaw. The words are spare, the writing sometimes harsh, but the phrases and people are bent and surprising (“Our Mother was dying and my sister Maxine and I were on a game show that wouldn’t quite save her.” from “Sphinx Moth”), and the emotions evoked can be extreme. These stories are strong, and magical. Kill Us On the Way Home is a must read chapbook from a must read press.

 

Short Stories & Stephen King

As anyone that has read Dave and my blog with any regularity knows, I’m a Stephen King fan. He is kind enough to release a book (most years) right around my birthday. This year it was The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, a collection of short stories. He releases one of these every few years. It was a really great collection of short stories, in my opinion. The stories ranged from Twilight Zone twisty (Premium Harmony) to the downright give you chills along your spine (Bad Little Kid) to one connected to his Tower series (Ur). So, really, any of his writing that is your favorite, you will find something in here to make you happy.

But, while reading The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, which I had interrupted my reading of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories edited by Lorrie Moore for, I started thinking about short stories. And I decided I wanted to write a blog post on short stories for today.

I love short stories. I’ve always loved short stories and on here I have reviewed a few different ones over the last 3 years, including Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Jeremy Morong‘s collection of stories that just came out recently (look Jeremy! Your name is listed with O’Connor’s and Hemingway’s!), and one on Stephen King’s Top Ten, called The Golden Argosy (out of print, so if you find a copy for cheap, grab it, I’ll pay you back!).

People keep saying “Oh no! The short story is dead! Don’t write a short story!”, but while it might not be the premier form of entertainment anymore (at the turn of the century, when Best American Short Stories debuted, many Americans saw short stories as a perfect entertainment), it most certainly has not died. In mainstream publishing, you will see few collections, but I have run across a few over the years that aren’t from authors that are big name like Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King, and are in fact, first book authors. Now, from small press publishers, your ability to get short stories is much higher. In fact, your chances are quite excellent. If you have Dave on your Facebook, do not hesitate to drop him a line for some great small presses to check out or authors he recommends. If you don’t have his Facebook, feel free to leave a comment. One of us will respond with a list 🙂

Authors will say that short stories are often harder to write than a novel. In a short story, you don’t have the ability to digress. You have to keep everything streamlined, you have to be able to get it across in a limited amount of time, and you don’t have a lot of room for character development.

As a reader, I find short stories incredibly satisfying. I especially enjoy anthologies of short stories. Anthologies have a lot of different authors in them, so there are a lot of different genres, tones, styles of writing. And you get to sample all of them. If you don’t like one that you’ve started, you can skip it and you haven’t ruined the reading experience (if you try to skip, say Hugo’s section on argot in Les Miserables, you miss a few details you should probably have). But, it’s also fun reading a single author’s collection of short stories, like Jeremy’s that I mentioned above. You can get a feel for the author, and it’s interesting to see the different ways they use the stories to play with structure, with characters and with tone.

I recently ordered Harper’s when my daughter was selling magazines. My main reason? Each issue they publish has a short story in it.

Now, another thing people that have read this blog know, is that Dave has published two novels previously. In March, he has a third book coming out. This isn’t just a statement out of nowhere. It actually fits into the theme of the rest of this post. The book is titled Not Quite So Stories and as the title suggests is actually a collection of short stories. I’m excited for Dave, as he has actually published quite a few short stories in different literary publications over the years, so to see him able to have an actual entire book of them out makes me almost squee happy. (Note I said almost, not quite). You can pre-order his book on Amazon.

100 Years of The Best American Short Stories is a great collection as well. Every year for the last 100 years, an anthology called “The Best American Short Stories” has been published, in which the editors read hundreds of stories from dozens of sources and pick the ones they feel are best. The 100 Years collection is a story from each year. It’s got a lot of authors you’ve heard of, like Hemingway and O’Connor, but a few of them are ones you haven’t really heard of or haven’t heard of at all, like Tillie Olsen (well, some of you might have heard of her, I had not). A lot of different styles and types of stories are represented in this volume. It gives you a chance to try out an author that you’ve maybe heard about before but never picked up a novel of theirs to see if you might want to read more by them, like Phillip Roth.

The next time you’re looking for something new to read, please give a collection of short stories a try. Start with Jeremy’s, especially if you’re an Omaha native, then move on to others. And in March, get Dave’s.

I currently have I’m a Little Teapot stuck in my head. My daughter is in cleaning her room and in between coming out five million times and asking how much longer she needs to be in there keeps singing it. While not quite as annoying as it was to have “Do you want to build a snowman” stuck in my head last year, it’s pretty irritating. Like sand in your bathing suit.

Have a great Thanksgiving!