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This month I am participating in the A to Z blog challenge. http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

The challenge involves 26 posts in April, all somehow connected to the alphabet. My theme for the month is short stories. The Story Factory needs market research, of course, so I will be reading a short story for each letter of the alphabet and trying to learn some new techniques for my own story writing. My lacks seem to be characterization and emotional experience, so I am mainly looking for stories that will teach me those things. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments if you know of an amazing story. Another component of the challenge is the blog road trip, where we visit each other’s blogs, leave comments, etc. While I would like to visit a couple of blogs every day, it is more realistic for me to do Road Trips on Sundays. (Of course, my ongoing, 52 bad story challenge is still on, as well as the 2021 creative hours in 2021.)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My C story is Cougar by Maria Anderson.

This story was originally published in the Iowa Review, but I happened upon it in The Best American Short Stories 2018 anthology. Roxane Gay edited the 2018 version. I am intrigued again by great characterization. Cal, the main character, describes the location of the trailer he calls home, “a four cigarette drive from town.” Later, when he starts driving slower to save money, it becomes a six cigarette drive from town. Since the cigs come from “the Rez,” there is no offsetting cost. 

Cal is in a holding pattern, just out of high school, his father recently dead, and washing dishes at the local Korean-owned Chinese restaurant. A friend offers an opportunity to work the oil fields for a considerable amount of money, and the story then stays with 19-year-old Cal as he ponders his future. It’s a future informed by loss – in this story, he has lost his father, his dog, his neighbor, his job. And yet, Cal keeps Cal-ing along. It affects him, but it is like he just expects loss. But he doesn’t seem sad about it, more like resigned. This is his life; no sense fighting it. 

I am trying to figure out how Anderson does this. How does she get this sense of resignation to come off the page? Maybe it is how Cal accepts whatever comes his way with no drama. He doesn’t have strong reactions to anything (being fired, notwithstanding).

The magic to me is that while one would expect a nineteen-year-old to be obsessed with sex, girls, etc., the writer keeps the hierarchy of needs here. Cal isn’t sure he’s going to eat or keep his trailer; who has time to procreate?

The Best of American Short Stories anthologies will be a significant source of materials for this project. I have seven years’ worth here at the Story Factory, and any other year I could want available at the local University Library. I will try to include the year of the anthology for anyone looking to read these stories.