Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Roaring 20's

I just finished up my Beginning Fiction Workshop and had the chance to read some great, strange stories from the students. There was animal sacrifice, a son watching his dad put baby powder on his thighs in order to slip into a pair of tight leather pants, a girl trying to trick her sister into eating deer feces, and organ harvesting.
For the second half of the semester, I always use the Ben Marcus anthology, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, which I think is fantastic. It has stuff from George Saunders, Aimee Bender, Christine Schutt, Padgett Powell, and Jhumpa Lahiri. It's weird and funny and the students generally struggle with it at first but ultimately come around on the anthology. But I've been thinking about adding some other stories to the class, ones that deal with people their age, dealing with the ramifications of impending adulthood. So I was hoping to appeal to the two or three people who read this blog and see if you had any recommendations for great short stories that involve people in college. I've tried to think of some and haven't had much luck. I can find all kinds of amazing stories about teenagers dealing with the horrors of high school, but not much about college. Any help would be appreciated.

36 comments:

Jamey Stegmaier said...

This story takes place right after college, but I think college students could really relate to it: Have you heard of the short story, "Tunneling to the Center of the Earth" by Kevin Wilson?

The other I'd recommend is "Closely Held" by Allegra Goodwin (found in the Best American Short Stories of 2008).

K. Wilson said...

I cannot imagine teaching "Tunneling..." to my class. I don't think the majority of them know that I write.
I'll look for "Closely Held". I like her stories, so I imagine this will be a good one. Thanks for the help with this. And thanks for the very, very kind review on Amazon.

Jamey Stegmaier said...

No problem. I don't even remember posting a review on Amazon, but I applaud myself for doing so.

It could be an interesting experiment to distribute "Tunneling" to your class under a different title and alias.

edlweiss1 said...

I immediately thought of the Stephen King short story "Strawberry Spring" from Nightshift. And then my next thought was Russo's "The Whore's Child" (bonus points for taking place in a creative writing class).

K. Wilson said...

Darcy,

I am going to check out the King story, which I haven't read.
And another friend of mine suggested the Russo story, and I really like it, but I'm hesitant to use it because I'm afraid of getting a bunch of stories about workshop. Stories about a student in a writing workshop falling in love with their handsome professor. I get enough of those as it is.

Molly Gaudry said...

This post really has me thinking. Of course, the two stories I came up with are the two already mentioned here.

High school stories, yes; post-college stories, yes; college stories, no. Alas. WIll have to keep checking back here to find out what others come up with. Will also ask the Facebook friends, see what they come up with. Will report back.

Justin Hamm said...

Dan Chaon has a story called "Fraternity" in Fitting Ends that I always loved.

K. Wilson said...

Thanks, Molly, for putting out the word. It is weird how few college stories I can think of. Even the one I really love, Ralph the Duck, is about a middle-aged guy who happens to work at the college.

And, Justin, hot damn that's wonderful! I read that story when the book came out but didn't remember it. That's perfect. Thanks for the suggestion and I think that will definitely be one that I add to the packet.

Christian said...

The stories already mentioned are all probably better than what I have to offer, but here are a few more, just for the hell of it. This is a weird assortment. My students submitted quite a few college stories in the workshop I taught last year (makes sense, they're all college students). I went off on the exact same expedition as you, but turned up a pretty odd group. I didn't end up teaching any of these, even though I enjoyed reading them all:

"Firefly" by Haruki Murakami (later became the novel Norwegian Wood)
"Drinking Coffee Elsewhere" by ZZ Packer
"Super Goatman" by Jonathan Lethem

Ravi Mangla said...

It feels like every campus story is written from the perspective of the professor. A few ideas … "The Theory of Light and Matter" by Andrew Porter (just read his collection, so it was the first thing that came to mind), "Twirling the Legless Sailor Dog" by Matthew Kirkpatrick, sort of, "Super Goat Man" by Jonathan Lethem, sort of, the DeLillo short in last week’s TNY, Joe Meno's short from One Story a few months back, "My Life in Heavy Metal" by Steve Almond, that one ZZ Packer short from her book.

J Quizzle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J Quizzle said...

Check out the title story in Alice Munro's mind-blowing, linked collection, The Beggar Maid. One of the best stories in one of the best collections out there, even among Munro's thirteen others, and yet still I'm not sure how well college students would relate to it, as 1) it's set in mid-twentieth century Canada, and 2) in typical Munro fashion the story ultimately takes a sharp turn, projects into the past/future and becomes about hostility/resentment in a marriage/divorce. Just a thought.

And thanks for starting this thread. I had the same conundrum at the beginning of the current semester when trying to compose a packet of stories with characters of a broad range of ages/backgrounds. I'm making a list from what we turn up for future classes.

LAG said...

The narrator of Eric Puchner's "Children of God" isn't in college, but he is college-aged and dealing with the usual mid-twenties anxieties. It's one of my favorite stories.

"Blackout" by Stacey Richter is probably the darkest Spring Break story you'll find.

You're right that there are plenty of college stories. However, most of them are about professors.

JWB said...

michael parker's story, "hidden meanings, treatment of time, supreme irony, and life experiences in the song 'ain't gonna bump no more no big fat woman'"is written in the form of a bad college comp essay. and it's laugh out loud funny.

isn't there that bret easton ellis novel, too? rules of attraction? that's at college, no? not a story, but...

i thought this was going to be easier. you'd think there'd be tons of these.

K. Wilson said...

Christian: I had forgotten about the ZZ Packer story and it will be perfect.

Ravi: Thanks for all those suggestions, none of which I've read, so I'll dig into them. I have Andrew Porter's book and have been meaning to read it.

Justin (right? Justin? Is that you?): I'm always embarrassed to say that I haven't read much Munro, so I'll check that out. It's weird to see what they relate to in workshop. A lot of them loved Joe Wenderoth's "Letters to Wendy" (which I thought would be too weird for them) so I can't really tell any more what's going to grab them.

LAG: Oh, man, that Richter story looks good. I just read the first paragraph and I'm excited to read the rest. Not just a college story but a sorority story as well. I hit the jackpot.

Jensen: I'd also forgotten about that great Parker story. Thanks. And they already know and love Ellis. It's surprising to me to see how much some of the students, all men, love Ellis.

Suzanne said...

To echo everyone else, this was a challenge. But one that I don't think anyone has mentioned is Julie Orringer's "When She Is Old and I Am Famous," in her debut collection: How to Breathe Underwater.

I also want to say, really quickly, Kevin, that I picked up your book while I was in a bookshop in LA last year and I really loved it and have been passing it around to friends. Thank you!

Juliana said...

Mona Simpson's "Lawns," which also features a great unreliable narrator (a girl who's been sexually abused by her father for years). It's in the Tobias Wolff Vintage American Short Stories anthology; I taught it this semester, and my students wrote some really good papers on it.

Jensen Beach said...

Ryan Harty's story, "September" from Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona has a college-aged narrator. He's at community college (if I'm remembering this right) and talks a lot about friends off at universities, etc. I think the he's a freshman, too.

Actually, I think a lot of the stories in that collection are about high school kids up to 20 somethings--only September is about college, though.

Martin Fulmer said...

Hey Kevin, try Stacey Richter's "An Island of Boyfriends." I taught it this past semester to my dual-enrolled students (most of them high school kids taking my ENG 102 for college credit). They loved it. In fact, at the end of the semester, I put them in groups and had them create a top-five list, and every group listed the "An Island of Boyfriends" in the top five. Every group out of three sections and about sixty students total. In the story, a girl who has taken a break from college to wait tables goes on an anthropology cruise for college credit, and the ship sinks and only she manages to survive, washes up on an island, which at first seems deserted. Later she discovers the boyfriends. The story is in the collection MY DATE WITH SATAN.

Martin Fulmer said...

To be clearer, the unnamed narrator of Richter's "An Island of Boyfriends" takes a break from college, after her boyfriend Cain has to go to rehab, to "find herself," so the following summer her dad insists she go on an "anthropology cruise" at his expense so she'll at least get some college credit and be with people who probably aren't drug addicts. But the ship, as I mentioned above, sinks and everyone but her apparently drowns.

My students really seemed to relate to it--they loved that the girl has three relationships, one with a dude who looks like Tom Cruise and worships her, but she dumps him for a second guy who's a kind of rock star on the island named Axl. She leaves him for another guy, and ends up cheating on him before going on a serial monogamy kick and finally abandoning sex for celibacy. She retreats to a mountain above the boyfriends where she secludes herself and still searches for her identity and wonders whether or not she's happy. The story is allegorical, surreal, and even anthropological. But the kids hardly know it because of the humor and sex.

Arna Bontemps said...

All of Junot Diaz's stories in "Drown" and elsewhere either sound like they're spoken by college students or are about the kind of people a lot of undergrads are/recognize. The best of his are probably "Nilda" and "The sun, the moon and the stars". Also, like, the whole middle section of his book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is about being in college.

K. Wilson said...

Suzanne: I have that Orringer book, so i'll check out that story. And thanks for the nice words about my book and thanks for passing it around. I wonder if you picked it up at Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City.

Juliana: Thanks for the Mona Simpson suggestion. I now remember that story and I think that will go into the packet.

Jensen: I really like Ryan Harty's stuff but had forgotten about that story. Thanks for reminding me of it.

Martin: I loved that first collection by Richter when it came out and now I have to decide if I use both stories by Richter that have been mentioned or pick one. Thanks for the fantastic recap. I might try this one out on the advanced fiction class that's coming up in the spring.

Arna: Yeah, that section from the novel is pretty wonderful. Thanks for the Diaz suggestion.

Dr. Carpetbagger said...

May seem dated, but I like to teach "Greasy Lake" by T.C. Boyle, which is about 3 undergrads on the third night of their summer vacations having a run with some very bad characters.

Suzanne said...

I love Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City, but I actually picked up your book at Diesel in Brentwood. It was part of a local favorites/bestseller display.

Luke said...

Kevin,

You could check out The Love of My Life, by T.C. Boyle. It's primary characters are making the transition from high school to college.

Also, I ordered a copy of your book from Amazon a couple of months ago. When it arrived, I was surprised by what appears to be a signed copy.

Any chance you can verify this?

http://i45.tinypic.com/2qkmsxw.jpg

Presley Thomas said...

Antonya Nelson has this pretty long story called "Flesh Tone"(I think, I don't have it in front of me, I left it in my dorm)in her collection titled Some Fun that chronicles a boy going to college with what he believes to be is the ghost of his mother. It's really funny and touching and I love it. I also like Antonya Nelson, she taught my workshop class last semester, and signed my copy when I asked her to. She's cool like that. I'm reading my first Yates Novel, Junot Diaz's Novel, and just picked up your collection on a whim at Amazon, and was checking out the website referenced in the back and got here. I must get all my graduate applications out before the crazy Christmas begins. I did a major revision of a story in my workshop class involving a pregnant narrator confronting her baby daddy on Spring Break. I got a lot of props I didn't expect since I am a guy and have never been pregnant or a girl. I didn't realize I was making any literary leaps because I usually just catalog the physical ones. I'm so not going skydiving or base jumping, don't ask, thank you.

Presley Thomas said...

After reading my last comment again it seems kind of weird to say I loved the story. It might be better to say that I liked it a lot, we dated for awhile and it didn't work out, but we're still friends. So yeah, I like the story a lot, and even if you don't teach it you should check it out.

K. Wilson said...

DC - I remember reading "Greasy Lake" when I was an undergrad. I had forgotten that the characters were in college. Thanks for the suggestion.

Luke - Another TC Boyle rec and I'll check out that story. And that is my signature. Here's what probably happened. I went to read at a bookstore. No one showed up. They felt bad and asked me to sign a bunch of copies. Those copies went unsold and they were returned. The warehouse then shipped the books to amazon. You got a signed copy of the book. Looking at the signature, all I could think was, "Goddamn, Kevin, you have a lazy signature. Get some letters in there." Thanks for buying the book.

Presley: Thanks for the Nelson recommendation. I love her work. When I was an undergrad, she came to read and me and another student got to take her to breakfast. She was really nice to us and told us about how she met Noah Wylie from ER and both of us wanted to marry Antonya Nelson after she left.

Presley Thomas said...

I didn't ask Toni to marry me, but I did ask her for a letter of recommendation and she kindly accepted. It's sitting in my Interfolio account at the moment, and going to be sent to Florida State and Bama shortly. My Auburn Wareagle family members aren't too excited about Bama, but I think they've gotten over it by now. I've just realized the application process is going to be all winter break long. Those are just my two earlier ones.

I'm really liking your collection. I dig the spontaneous combustion story. It reminds me of George Saunder's "Sea Oak" in its job fascination and O Brien's "How to Tell a True War Story" in the narrator's obsession with a singular event and how it happened. Oh, I'm also applying to Texas State, that would be fun too.

I need to get doing some of my own writing too. I gave myself a two story quota over break.

Bryan said...

Look at "Officer Friendly: and Other Stories," by Lewis Robinson. A few stories in that collection might do the job, especially "Puckheads."

Bryan said...

Also, look at Joy Williams. The names of specific stories escape me just now.

Jensen Beach said...

re: Joy Williams: i think "Marabou," although, narrated from the mother's pov, is about a kid's death and his friends' reaction. they might be college students. i think they are. maybe highschool, though...

Heather said...

'Bloodletting and Other Miraculous Cures' by Vincent Lam - it's a great collection of short stories that follows a group of students through medical school, residency, and eventually into their careers.

Although frankly, I think you should chuck some Willa Cather and Edna Ferber at them, too.

Heather said...

Oh, and that short story about digging a tunnel in the backyard. I loved that one.

:)

MarcoPolo said...

While being completely stumped about this, I soon realized that I was reading a story about college kids: Midnight in Dostoevsky by Don Delillo. It was in a New Yorker not too long ago. Great use of scene and accumulation of detail. And best of all for college kids, this one is free to print out!

http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2009/11/30/091130fi_fiction_delillo

hobart said...

I'm here a month or two late, but this was all great! Excited to see a story from Hobart get mentioned, and also was reminded to reread some Harty and Orringer and Richter and maybe teach one of those myself. Was probably going to have them read Harty's story about the android kid. Crap, can't remember what it's called. Also, I know I'm late, and I know and understand that you said you'd prefer the college stories not be workshop stories, but Nam Le has a pretty great workshop story, "Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice."