Freedom Wall

I've been reading short stories here and there and, had I been scaling them from one to ten, ten being the highest, most of them gets sixes and eights, maybe a ten from time to time. I started doubting myself and wondered if I was the kind of reader who doesn't have any strong opinion on things, the kind who just loves everything and tries to appreciate each story, even the sloppiest of stories--which shouldn't always be the case. Luckily, I came across two stories I didn't like (after a long pause from Murakami's Sleep, that is): the first one was Find the Bad Guy, a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides from The New Yorker I was initially hesitant to dislike (to the point that it needed a confession to my wife) for it was the first story I read from the celebrated author. (Or was it because it was preceded by high expectations?) Kevin Brockmeier's The Year of Silence, a short story from the Best American Short Stories 2008, seemed promising only for a couple of paragraphs, and agonizing all throughout.

from The New Yorker

The nerve of me to nitpick such established stories, I know! But let this be an act of self-discovery, of listing down, for once and for all, the things I don't like (which is very unbecoming of me, since, as I've said earlier, I'm the kind of guy who tries to appreciate each story). I won't be too particular; instead, I'd consider these two stories as a whole, a sort of blank slate with all the things I disliked from Fiction written on it.

*

In Find the Bad Guy, a part of me felt like there ought to be a more "positive" (for the lack of a better term) resolution to the story--a redemption of some sort, a consolation prize, an answer to the reader's plight as he reads the story. The insight on smell (as in the detail on the smell of the de Rougemonts, the former occupants of their house) is noteworthy, as it wrapped the story in the same manner that it started it all: the family, the personality of smells, its connection to ownership.

Its weakness is its voice. It's awful. It sounded like a sitcom that's trying too hard to be funny--which reminds me of Adam Sandler and his self-deprecating roles. (If it weren't for Bedtime Stories, I would have never considered his acting as funny.) The character is a disc jockey originally from Michigan who lived most of his career in Texas, so there's that southern inflection I wasn't worried about. But the voice! Add to that the treatment of marital problems as something trivial and petty makes it unnerving.

Verdict: Maybe all I wanted was a somber story on marriage, that's all. I'm not so sure.

*

Brockmeier's story reminds me of how short stories are like chewing gums: chew it longer and it becomes stiff. The premise is simple: there were short periods of silence in a city, and there were repercussions, and the whole world wanted silence, embraced it, and then they longed for noise, for how things sounded, until they forgo every effort on reducing noise, and the world is back again, business as usual.

There are commendable parts: since the city is the story's main character, there's this part where the government invents noise reduction mechanisms that I think are noble enough, both in itself and in the story. Also: it's refreshing to think of the city as a character with a body (as in a governing body, and an anatomical body).

I can't help but think of the story as an arc where everything mounts in the middle, then slides down to normalcy. Why can't things be irreversible in the story, just as global warming is? If the people wanted silence, shouldn't they stick to it? Whether the story wants to be a testament of that fine balance the world has been making sense of, or simply tries to play with that existential realization that noise and silence comes together, I think it's uninspired.

Verdict: What I would like to read is that part where everyone wanted silence, and stick to it. Otherwise, the story isn't really worth reading.