“The Chase” by Italo Calvino, from his collection t zero
“The Chase” by Italo Calvino is not unlike The Chase, the 1994 film starring Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson. Both the film and the story take a single chase as their entire premise, detailing the pursuit of one party by another, in cars, with everything held together by high stakes and the threat of death. “The car that is chasing me is faster than mine,” Calvino starts his story, and this same problem plagues Sheen. Tensions run high. Unlike the 1994 film, however, Calvino’s short story does not feature cameos by Red Hot Chili Peppers members Flea and Anthony Kiedis, nor does the Calvino story offer an impossible highway sex scene at sunset. And obviously, Calvino’s does not star Charlie Sheen. Or Kristy Swanson. In fact, the more you consider them together, the less these two works resemble each other. Where is Calvino’s Henry Rollins cop? Where is Calvino’s candy bar robbery? His clown backstory? One begins to wonder how two things so different from each other can have the same name. In fact, if you actually sit down to read Calvino’s story in full, you’ll notice pretty quickly that his chase is what Calvino describes as “virtually motionless.” The whole thing takes place at a traffic jam. There are a gazillion cars stuck at an intersection, and one of them is “chasing” another. Or really they’re all just sitting there, not moving. What. That’s not a chase. Way to turn a perfectly good premise on its head, Calvino. Hello. And if you keep reading (idiot), you’ll soon be disappointed to find out that Calvino doesn’t even know who is chasing who. Or if anyone is chasing anybody at all. It’s as if one minute Charlie Sheen is pursued by Henry Rollins, and the next it’s Charlie after Henry, and then Charlie is everybody in the whole city, or Charlie thinks he kidnapped Kristy Swanson but really she kidnapped him, and who knows what’s happening. How can you write a story where you don’t even know who the bad guy is? Or the good guy? And nobody is even moving? Or winning? Or losing? What the hell is going on here? I thought this was a simple, fun premise, but it just keeps getting more and more complicated. And now I’m considering who I am and how I got here and stop it. It’s as if Calvino thinks you can literally make anything happen from the most minuscule of starting points. Jerk. In conclusion, “The Chase” by Italo Calvino and The Chase starring Charlie Sheen actually couldn’t be any more different, and I’m not sure if we should even bother comparing the two.
—Dolan Morgan, author of the collection That’s When the Knives Came Down
“Going for a Beer” by Robert Coover
It only took a page of The New Yorker; I know poems in that magazine that have been longer. But while some of my favorite stories can go on for ten-thousand words of solid sentences in a straight-line narrative of crisis-conflict-climax-resolution, “Going for a Beer” feels somehow to contain more by doing the opposite. It’s like a compression of a novel, a little page of language that just expands and expands and expands as you read. Have you ever seen those tealeaves that start out like a small marble and open up into a rose blossom as they steep? That’s “Going for a Beer.” Except instead of a rose blossom it’s…well, life. (Also, funny enough, the latest New Yorker just arrived at my apartment, and there’s another one-pager from Coover in it this week. I haven’t read it yet.)
—Joseph Riippi’s most recent book is Because
“Birds And Other Things We Placed In Our Hearts” by Timmy Reed
Sometimes you’ll be reading things online, coolly clicking on links in a daze, and then suddenly you’ll stumble on something that grabs you by the collar and blows hot life in your face. This story did that for me. There’s so many things that work so well here: the images, the heartache, the language. It’s beautiful and surprising, and it’s the best short story I can remember reading in a good long while.
—Juliet Escoria, author of the collection Black Cloud
“The Judgement” by Franz Kafka
Everyone knows “The Metamorphosis” and “The Hunger Artist,” but “The Judgement” has always been my favorite of Kafka’s short stories. It is a great example of subtle bizarreness, showing that a writer doesn’t need something as flashy as giant bugs to create a troubling, unstable world.
—Lincoln Michel’s debut collection, Upright Beasts, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press.
“Parker’s Back” by Flannery O’Connor
Like many fans of the short story, picking a favorite is no easy task. Joy Williams once said in the New York Times that one should ignore everything that Flannery O’Connor says about her own work. I couldn’t disagree more. And so I pick “Parker’s Back,” a brilliant tale that exemplifies how in the confines of a short story, and in illuminating the Catholic belief system of O’Connor’s, great worlds exist. It’s the last story she wrote before she died and therefore holds particular interest because she knew her judgement was imminent.
—Paula Bomer’s latest book is the collection Inside Madeline