Joshua Ferris in The New Yorker

Joshua Ferris, author of last year’s Then We Came To The End, has a new short story in the current issue of the New Yorker titled, “The Dinner Party.” I’ve read a couple of Ferris’ shorts after reading the novel and he’s legit.  His stories on the surface seem unremarkable – the prose delivered with a breezy casual air – but they pack an unexpected emotional whollop that emerges as the story progresses.

“The Dinner Party” has particularly fresh dialog:

He returned to the kitchen. “When they come in,” he said, “let’s make them do a shot, both of them.”

“A shot?”

“Of tequila.”

“Her, too?”

“Both of them.”

“To sort of . . . fortify the baby.”

“We’ll force them somehow,” he said. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Better hurry,” she said.

“All this talk of folic acid and prenatal vitamins. Give me a break. Do they think Attila the Hun got his daily dose of folic acid when he was in the womb? Napoleon?” She was going back and forth across the kitchen while he kept his drink close. “I could go on.”

“George Washington,” she said, “a Founding Father.”

“See? I could go on. Moses.”

The arc of this story is somewhat unique, in that it slowly builds upon itself, and then rises sharply during the last paragraph, culminating in a climatic final phrase.

(Photo:  The Brooklyn Paper / Daniel Krieger)

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“Thirteen Hundred Rats” by T. Coraghessan Boyle

T.C. Boyle has a new story in this month’s The New Yorker. It’s called, “Thirteen Hundred Rats,” and, as the title implies, Boyle, once again, contemplates a situation where mankind is overwhelmed by nature. From the introduction, here’s a description of the story’s unfortunate protagonist:

“By my calculation, Gerard Loomis was in his mid-fifties when Marietta was taken from him, but at the ceremony in the chapel he looked so scorched and stricken that people mistook him for a man ten or twenty years older. He sat collapsed in the front pew, his clothes mismatched and his limbs splayed in the extremity of his grief, looking as if he’d been dropped there from a great height, like a bird stripped of its feathers in some aerial catastrophe.”

This story reminds me of my last apartment. The guy who lived there before me bred snakes. He had more than fifty of them, some apparently worth tens of thousands of dollars, living in a one-bedroom flat. He slept in the living room and in the bedroom he’d constructed an elaborate system of shelves and lights to house his prized snakes. For food, he raised rats in the hallway closet. The apartment carried the faint cedar-shaving odor of a pet store for a long time after I moved in and I was deathly afraid using the toilet in the dark. I remember getting a nasty lung infection that lasted for a couple of weeks and my mother calling me, certain that I’d contracted the hantavirus from rat feces decaying in the apartment’s dust. This story is like one of my nightmares from that time.

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Alma by Junot Diaz

Junot Díaz, among many things, is a damn confident writer. One could be easily seduced into thinking this is just how he talks, how he raps, that he’s lucky this comes off so well. No. It may seem effortless and free, but a lot of hard goddamn work goes into writing like this. And faith. From The New Yorker, “Alma” by Junot Díaz.

“You have a girlfriend named Alma, who has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans. An ass that could drag the moon out of orbit. An ass she never liked until she met you. Ain’t a day that passes that you don’t want to press your face against that ass or bite the delicate sliding tendons of her neck. You love how she shivers when you bite, how she fights you with those arms that are so skinny they belong on an after-school special.”

Consider this an afternoon delight.

Walkabout by Jeffrey Eugenides

The list of authors that I must read is endless; whenever I cross one off my list with pride, two more are added. Jeffrey Eugenides is the author of “The Virgin Suicides” (superbly adapted by Sofia Coppola) and the Pulitzer-winning “Middlesex.”

“Walkabout” is an essay from last year’s “Summer Movie” series in The New Yorker. It’s about a crucial time in his adolescent life, straddling the cusp between boy and man, where an awkward evening with his mother pushed him one step further into adulthood.

“I was older than I’d been two hours earlier. I was ready to get out of the car right then and there. I could wander into the woods of Belle Isle, go back over the bridge, past the Chrysler factory, all the way downtown. Over to Canada, even. Or south to Toledo. Or at least to college someday. Wherever my walkabout would take me.”

Many of us have cringe inducing movie-with-my-mother stories. Mine isn’t really cringe-worthy, but it does a good job describing my mother. We watched “American Pie.” During one scene, she leaned over to me and asked, “What’s a MILF?” I paused and whispered the explanation. And she let out a yelp of laughter just as the rest of the theater had quieted down.

Do any of you have a movie-with-my-mother story?