It’s back! The blog advent calendar. I enjoyed last year’s blog theme last year—re-reading twenty-four books of my youth—so much, so this year I’m applying the same approach to short stories, trawling through a myriad bunch of collections and anthologies I’ve read in the last few years.
Author’s Note [Kinder] – Steve Berman
Tell me about your first time: If you believe that a writer reveals much of themselves through their writing, it may not actually be the most advisable thing to do – early in a friendship – to read a person’s short story collection, especially one that also includes interludes of memoir. But on the other hand, I’m the kind of person who will turn a blind eye to an admission of (presumably metaphorical) murder as long as it’s this well-written, so maybe it’s not a problem at all.
So: Second Thoughts really is a brilliant collection. There’s some superb short stories in there. In fact, I think Second Thoughts contains the best thing ever written by Steve Berman. But, contrary beast that I am, I don’t think that thing is a short story. What it is, in fact, is an ‘author’s note’ (following the story ‘Kinder’). The author’s notes are short pieces attached to each story that initially sets out to illuminate something of the story’s history, but, as the book wears on, slip in the strange and fictional.
Sum it up: On the streets of New Orleans, Steve meets a boy who recites poetry for money, and takes him back to a hotel room that sits above a wheezing, hungry oven…
Give me a quote: “The next night, I walked down the same block. He stepped out as before, repeating his offer, as if he had no memory of me. I suspected he might be some pretty clockwork mechanism that reset in the morning. Then a bead of sweat trailed down the side of his face, proving him human. I wanted to catch the drop before it reached the ground.
Second Reading: Taken simply as a short story, this piece is so evocative, so fragile, and so sinister that I would love it purely in that form, but in the context of the collection, it’s even more beguiling; the reader is accustomed to the author’s notes as straight-faced memoir, and this piece guides that assumption onto treacherous ground. (I don’t want to ruin the ending too much, but I did allude to it in the opening section.) And so on second (well, more like… sixth?) reading, I’m still of the opinion that this piece is sheer. unadulterated. brilliance. I know it’s probably intensely annoying to an author of 75+ short stories to have someone pick out what basically amount to a footnote as their favourite story, but… it is. So there.
Where can I find it?: In Steve Berman’s collection Second Thoughts from Lethe Press.