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Short Story Monday: Color Me Brown

August 24, 2009

I’ve finally gotten back into reading short stories online! I wandered through The New Yorker‘s free archives this weekend, and read four stories by people of color for the Color Me Brown Challenge. They were all by authors that I’d heard good things about, but not read any of their work before. I’ve linked the titles through to the stories so you can read them too. :) As always, I review short stories on Monday to participate in John Mutford’s Short Story Monday event.

“War Dances” by Sherman Alexie
“War Dances” was definitely my favourite of the bunch, and I now have Alexie’s first novel on hold at my library. It manages to be funny and profound and tell a story and meditate on characters and everything a good story should do. But it’s difficult to describe the plot, so you ought to just read it. Here’s one of the funny bits:

And then I saw him, another Native man, leaning against a wall near the gift shop. Well, maybe he was Asian—lots of those in Seattle. He was a small man, pale brown, with muscular arms and a soft belly. Maybe he was Mexican, which is really a kind of Indian, too, but not the kind that I needed. It’s hard to tell sometimes what people are. Even brown people guess at the identity of other brown people.

Most of it takes place around hospitals and illnesses, both the narrator’s own (he’s a married man with two younger kids) and those of his father. The narrator just felt wonderfully human-he has a ridiculous inner fantasy life (what if there’s a cockroach in his ear?!) just like me, and he tries to do the right thing but doesn’t always know what that is. And the ending was perfect for a short story: it didn’t wrap everything up pat, but it was a definite ending rather than just an ‘I give up’ by the author. Also, one of the sections is called Exit Interview For My Father, and consists of questions to be posed to his father after death. They’re simply amazing, and enough reason to read the whole story. There were no flaws with this one.

“Ghosts” by Edwidge Danticat
This one’s set in Haiti, and it reminded me a bit of Adichie’s “Cell One.” Both deal with young men who get in trouble simply for being in the wrong place, wrong time. But that’s really about the only similarity! :) Pascal is a young man, comfortably well off for his area, who hates how his neighbourhood is torn apart by a gang. Since he works for a radio station, he imagines having a talk radio show that helps reconcile people:

In his dreams, Pascal had imagined beginning his radio program with a segment on lost limbs. Not just Tiye’s but other people’s as well. He would open with a discussion of how many people in Bel Air had lost limbs. Then he would go from limbs to souls, to the number of people who had lost family—siblings, parents, children—and friends. These were the real ghosts, he would say, the phantom limbs, phantom minds, phantom loves that haunt us, because they were used, then abandoned, because they were desolate, because they were violent, because they were merciless, because they were out of choices, because they did not want to be driven away, because they were poor.

But when he pitches the idea, there are unintended consequences, and he sees what life is like for ‘the other half.’ Danticat is skilled at conjuring up place, which I really liked. And is obvious from the excerpt I included, she’s a beautiful writer. However, I did feel there was something a little flat in the story; the characters didn’t feel like full people. Still definitely worth a read, and I’ll be reading one of Danticat’s novels this year for the Caribbean challenge!

“Alma” by Junot Diaz
This was a very short story, written in second person to a young man dating Alma, a Dominican American. I loved how strong the narrator’s voice was; it pulled me along and wouldn’t let go. And the ending was just exquisite. But I didn’t particularly like how Alma was defined almost solely by her looks and what she did in bed. So I have mixed feelings about this one. :) But it’ll take less time for you to just read the story than to read a longer review!

“My Parents’ Bedroom” by Uwem Akpan
This short story is set during the Rwandan genocide, and revolves around a young middle class girl with a Hutu father and Tutsi mother. Need I say more? It’s wonderfully written, but the sadness and desperation will punch you in the gut. I can’t say any of it was manipulative, or gratuitous, since the Rwandan genocide was really like that. And Akpan’s very strong at characters; even the side characters who only get a few sentences are vivid. I just hope that his story collection is a bit more balanced, with stories about everyday Africa (he sets his stories in a variety of countries) as well the heart wrenching side.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2009 12:52 pm

    I’m glad to hear you like Alexie. I have The True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on my TBR. Which was the “first novel” you just requested at the library?

  2. August 24, 2009 1:24 pm

    ((susan doing a happy dance)). Love, love, love reading what you’ve read and you’ve linked these for the challenge, FANTASTIC!

    Thanks, Eva. And your book went out today. Hope you enjoy it. Don’t feel bad if you don’t.


  3. August 24, 2009 1:25 pm

    Speaking about Color Me Brown, there is a great series at Amy Bowllan’s column at School Library Journal entitled, Writers Against Racism.

    Great featured writers. But today, she has me. Go figure. You can find the column here:

  4. August 24, 2009 1:44 pm

    I hope it’s The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part-Time Indian, that’s a great read

  5. August 24, 2009 3:09 pm

    Thanks for the links, Eva! Looks like you picked some good ones.

  6. August 24, 2009 5:57 pm

    I remember seeing War Dances in of my New Yorker mags – I’ll definitely have to try that one. The last one sounds good, too. More stories to read in my quest to like short stories! :)

  7. August 24, 2009 7:55 pm

    I really liked Sherman Alexie’s style in the Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (think I got that right). And since you mentioned “Alma” was short, I read it quickly. An interesting read, although like you said, a little focused on her abilities in bed. I like the style though.

  8. August 25, 2009 2:35 am

    I have a short story collection Say, you’re one of them by Uwem Akpan. I haven’t started it yet, but it does look promising.

  9. August 25, 2009 2:06 pm

    I’ve been wanting to read Alexie. I’ll look up all of these!

    I just read a great African-American YA novel called Mare’s War by Tanita S. Davis. It was fantastic. I hope to review it soon!

  10. August 25, 2009 7:00 pm

    Rebecca, it’s called Reservation Blues. I want to work up to The Absolutely True etc.

    Susan, thanks! Can’t wait for the book to arrive. :D

    Katrina, I’m going to read his earlier stuff first so I can watch him grow as an author!

    Terri, hope you enjoy the story. :)

    Megan, I admire your persistance. :D

    Kim, I liked the style too.

    Violet, that’s on my TBR list! I jsut hope it isn’t all depressing.

    Heather, I’ve heard great things about that novel. It’s on the wishlist!


  1. Reservation Blues (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair

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