New Yorker Debut Fiction issue

Some of my writing colleagues are burning with jealousy of the three new authors whose stories made it into this issue. But so far hardly anybody has said anything about the stories themselves. They're pretty good, and very different from one another.

Heather Clay, "Original Beauty" is the weakest of the lot. Two old high school girlfriends, to whom nothing especially interesting has happened since high school, get together to reminisce about something that didn't happen. The narrator recalls that a guy had sneaked into the girls' bathroom and looked longingly at her while he masturbated and she brushed by him to get out. Basically, a non-event, but one that suggested eventfulness. My reaction was, So?

Lara Vapnyar's "Love Lessons, Mondays, 9 A.M." is another thing entirely. It's very funny, and even though not much happens in the visible, exterior life of the young apprentice schoolteacher living with her aunt in Moscow, enormous things occur in her interior life. Physically, she gets laid, finally (she had feared it might not happen for a long time), but that turns out not to be especially exciting. What really happens is that she gains a suddenly mature insight into the pretenses of others and liberates herself from the gloom of always trying to please. Besides enjoying this bright young woman's company, we get to see details of life of modern Moscow's working poor.

The real prize in this collection is Daniel Alarc�n's "City of Clowns," tagged in the table of contents as "A life of crime in Lima." Brilliant. And, like Vapnyar's story, takes you far away from the boring routine of American suburbia. You can smell and feel Lima in this story, and get to experience its class conflicts as vividly as in the first novel by Alarc�n's elder countryman Mario Vargas Llosa, La ciudad y los perros -- which must have been part of the inspiration for this tale.

Anyway, I'm not jealous, though of course I'd be delighted to get one of my stories in the New Yorker. But for the Debut Fiction issue, I wasn't even eligible -- because I have already published a book of fiction, Welcome to My Contri. So I'll just pretend that that's the reason they didn't pick the wonderful story that I've been trying to get them interested in. (You can read City of Clowns on-line.)


What every modern author needs to know
Before submitting, be sure to study carefully Quick and Easy Tips on Professional Manuscript Submission by Roger MacBride Allen. Boy, and I almost made the mistake of sending out my manuscript on paper and in a cardboard box! Now I just have to hunt down those ex-aerospace engineers to help me rig up the laser etching.
For telenovela connoisseurs
I'm hooked. The culebrón now playing on Univisión (at 7 EDT) is witty and up-to-date in its themes, which include violent capitalist greed with a sure-sell product, Internet porn, and a cast full of easy-to-look at actors with exquisite comic timing. Check out Las Vías del Amor. (P.D. Mi compinche Oso me dice que no ha habido culebrón que valiera la pena desde "Betty la Fea", pero lo que pasa es que Oso, a pesar de ser muy buena gente, es demasiado oso para apreciar el humor que no sea obvio.)


More reflections on "the First Cities": To a friend who was waxing nostalgic
Yeah, the good old days. I really miss those clay tablets that we used to press with our cuneiforms to do our lessons. Everything started going downhill when they introduced papyrus, and pretty soon, even common people were scribbling nonsense and reading and misinterpreting the sacred texts. I miss those gladiatorial contests, too. And slavery. Boy, that sure was a labor-saving device, except of course for the slaves.

Fortunately, the Republicans have taken the right steps to take us back to those good old times. Wiping out all remnants of corrupting culture in Iraq was a start, and then letting those people know that democracy is too important to leave to the people.�In a similar vein, Tom Delay has decided that money is too valuable to give it to people who don't have enough of it. They'd probably just waste their $400 checks on groceries and shoes for the kids, instead of spending it on big-ticket items to boost the economy.