‘Up North’ by Charles D'Ambrosio

Charles D’Ambrosio, The New Yorker:

Caroline brushed her hair free of a few tangles and clipped it back in a ponytail that made her look a decade younger—say, twenty years old, taking her back to a time before I’d met her. Perhaps in reflex I remembered the sensation I’d had the first night we slept together, thinking how beautiful she was, how from every angle and in every light she was flawless, like some kind of figurine. Now she examined herself in the small round mirror she’d pulled from her purse, grimacing. The shallow cup of the compact looked to be holding a kind of flesh dust, a spare skin. She dabbed powder around her cheeks, the set line of her jaw. She took a thick brush and stroked a line on either side of her face, magically lifting her cheekbones. She traced her lips lightly with a subdued shade of red and suddenly she was smiling.

“Up a ways there’s a fork,” she said. “You want to stay right.”

Before I could start the car again, two men in orange caps crossed in front of us, rifles slung over their shoulders. They stopped in the road and waved, the ears beneath their caps like pink blossoms in the raw cold, and then they bumbled into the woods. I stared at their fresh footprints in the snow.

“You know them?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

Technically, this is a Thanksgiving story, but I think it works equally well if you’re looking to wallow in the overall despair of the holiday season.


David Foster Wallace’s Syllabus For 'English 170R: Selected Obscure/Eclectic Fictions'

David Foster Wallace:

It’s a 170-grade Advanced Seminar, meaning it’s “speaking-intensive” and presupposes the basic set of lit-crit tools taught in English 67. Structurally, the course is meant to be more a colloquium than a prof.-led seminar. We are going to read and converse about nine novels (some of which are kind of long) dating from the 1930s–1970s. They’re books that are arguably good and/or important but are not, in the main, read or talked about that much as of 2003. At the least, then, English 170R affords a chance to read some stuff you’re not apt to get in other Lit classes. It would also be good to talk this term about the dynamics of the Lit canon and about why some important books get taught a lot in English classes and others do not — which will, of course, entail our considering what modifiers like “important,” “good,” and “influential” mean w/r/t modern fiction. We can approach the books from a variety of different critical, theoretical, and ideological perspectives, too, depending on students’ backgrounds and interests. In essence, we can talk about whatever you wish to — provided that we do it cogently and well.

Another “Dave W.” syllabus, another masterpiece. Sidetone: can you imagine trying to bullshit your way through one of his classes? To his face? I get the shivers just thinking about it.

/via The Howling Fantods


‘The Largesse of the Sea Maiden,’ by Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson:

But looking at art for an hour or so always changes the way I see things afterward—this day, for instance, a group of mentally handicapped adults on a tour of the place, with their twisted, hovering hands and cocked heads, moving among the works like cheap cinema zombies, but good zombies, zombies with minds and souls and things to keep them interested. And outside, where they normally have a lot of large metal sculptures—the grounds were being dug up and reconstructed—a dragline shovel nosing the rubble monstrously, and a woman and a child watching, motionless, the little boy standing on a bench with his smile and sideways eyes and his mother beside him, holding his hand, both so still, like a photograph of American ruin.

This story is from the March 3, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, and I’m re-reading it for the third time because I’m still in awe of how wonderful it is. If you haven’t read it yet, now’s the time. (Paywall—down!) And if you already have, it gets better with age.


‘Last Meal at Whole Foods,’ by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh:

Now Kruszewski is long retired and there’s a Whole Foods on Center Boulevard and my mother is dying. Across from the Whole Foods is Starbucks. Next to Starbucks is Penelope’s Boutique. Next to the boutique is another boutique, and so on, for the length of the boulevard, the sequence interrupted only by the Goodwill, the sole remaining evidence of the age when this boulevard was a wasteland inhabited by shirtless phantasms. The blue sign still beckons with its smiling half-face that looks as if it had been drawn by a child with a crayon, but now it beckons the hip, who go there to discover cheap vintage clothes that a poor person would never dare wear. The Goodwill will outlast Whole Foods; I’m sure of it. It’ll outlast Starbucks, too. When the boulevard crumbles and reverts to its genuine self, Goodwill will be the last man standing. That’s the cycle.

A gem of a story in the most recent issue of The New Yorker. Sparse and rich and driven by voice. I think this just jumped into my stories-to-teach rotation.

And because of the lack of paywall right now, you can also read another story he published in TNY, ‘Appetite.’