Mary Gaitskill’s “The Other Place”


I drew the Queen of Hearts this week for my Deal Me In short story reading challenge. Back when I was planning my roster for this year (and prior years) the name of author Mary Gaitskill kept coming up as a recommendation. When I saw that one of her stories was included in my copy of The Best American Short Stories of 2012, I quickly reserved a place for it on my list.


“The Other Place” is, frankly, a disturbing story to read. It deals with a man who, in outward appearance at least, appears to be “just a normal guy.” One like many men these days, who are troubled about their children’s fondness for the violent video games, movies, or music of today’s world. The story takes on a chilling nature, however, when we learn that the narrator himself has “a past” which included violent fantasies – fantasies that he came within a hair’s breadth of acting upon.

The “other place” in this story’s title refers to that realm where the narrator’s darker thoughts could take on a reality of their own. In his past, certain situations would arise – or be sought out by the narrator – where “The Other Place” was readily accessible. Once, for example, while “following” female students at a nearby college he says, “I’d feel the other place running against the membrane of the world, almost touching it.” Creepy.

This story makes one think – or realize – that there is a thin line between violent thought or fantasy and violent action. How many people are there “out there” like this story’s narrator? People who just barely hold it together in their lives? It’s an unsettling question to ponder, but through it all, I found Gaitskill’s treatment of this difficult subject matter quite masterful, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

This story may be read online at

Or, listen to this story (read by Jennifer Egan) at

Or, better yet, watch the author herself reading it at an appearance at Rutgers University:

I also found an interview with the author in the New Yorker to be very interesting:
I’ll share one quotation here:

“It’s one thing to entertain an idea, even to feel it physically, quite another to act on it. Our culture encourages people to entertain these feelings; I realize that this is old-fashioned of me, but I sometimes consider that a sign of decadence, playing with something that shouldn’t be played with. At the same time, it is an attempt to sort something out, to grapple with the reality of these feelings. In this country, apparently normal family men joined lynch mobs, and normal communities went along with it; we all know what happened in Rwanda and Bosnia. Of course, we want to understand this, or to cope with it somehow, because it’s frightening.”

Gaitskill’s “contributors note” in the back of the Best Short Stories of 2012 collection:

“I wrote “The Other Place” for a very simple reason. I was afraid. I was living alone in a flimsy fishbowl house on a college campus that, as far as I was concerned, was a pervert magnet. The climactic scene of the story came to me before I had any intention of writing a story; I think it appeared in my mind because I wanted to imagine killer and victim coming right up to the crucial moment and the both walking away unharmed. At some point after that, the story formed.”

What about you? Have you read anything by Mary Gaitskill? Any works you’d recommend I follow up this reading with?

(Below – from Wikipedia – author Mary Gaitskill)


Deal Me In Week 7 Wrap-Up


Greetings all! A great week of reading for me here, figuratively snowed in and not motivated too much to go out so it’s option B – stay home and read! Below are links to everyone’s stories that I found since our update last Sunday. Make sure to pop over to your fellow DMI participants’ blogs and see what they’ve shared with us this week.

Dale at Mirror With Clouds ( ) reads his 2nd Edith Wharton story in a row, “The House of the Dead Hand”

Two weeks, two Edith Wharton (below) stories for Dale.  That’s one per dog. 🙂


Returning Reader ( )drew the ace of hearts and read Liam O’Flaherty’s “The Sniper

Katherine at The Writerly Reader ( ) is taken away to Montana in Eric van Lustbader’s “The Singing Tree.” (Her post includes a great clip of a Penn & Teller “magic trick” too)

We also have a couple stories from Candiss at Read the Gamut (  –  Haruki Murakami’s “Samsa in Love” and Sherman Alexie’s “Saint Junior”

Hanne of Reading on Cloud 9 brings us her four of clubs, Lorrie Moore’s “Referential” – another story from the pages of The New Yorker.

For my part, I drew the Queen of Diamonds which led me to Glen Hirshberg’s creepy ghost story, “The Two Sams.”

And as a DMI ’extra’ I read Donald Hall’s short story “Argument and Persuasion” for a local discussion group. It presents an interesting question that I’ve shared with my readers. If you have time and would like to play along, it’s at

Happy reading & see you next week!

“The Two Sams” by Glen Hirshberg


Deal Me In 2014 – Short Story Reading Challenge week 7

This week I drew the queen of diamonds for my Deal Me In 2014 challenge (details here). This year, Diamonds are my designated suit for “stories recommended by others,” and one thing I’m discovering is that I don’t always do a good job documenting where I heard about a story. Poking around my records for this one, I think I heard about it via Nina’s excellent blog “Multo (Ghost)” which also led me to the great story anthology, “The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories,” which is also represented on my Deal Me In 2014 list.


“The Two Sams” is the title story in the author’s volume of short stories subtitled “ghost stories.” That works for me. 🙂 I own it in e-book format and will certainly be reading the others at some point.
It is one of those stories that reveals details only slowly, which sometimes annoys me and sometimes works for me – probably depending on my mood as much as anything – am I willing to do a little extra work in reading a story or not? In this case I was.

It begins with a husband waking in the middle of the night and not realizing what has awakened him. An earthquake? The noise from a garbage truck? His wife’s unborn baby moving (as her belly is pressed against him)? Or something else that is more sinister?

The reader later learns that the couple lost their first two babies, so naturally there is much anxiety about how this third pregnancy will turn out. We also slowly learn that the husband suspects that the spirits of the two children have come back to greet the third child. Creepy, eh? Well, trust me, it gets even creepier by the end. More so than I liked, but that’s the story this author chose to tell.

There’s also a great, chill-inducing scene in the story where the husband relates an incident – this one during the second pregnancy – when he is starting to sing to the unborn child in his wife’s womb (his song of choice? “You Are My Sunshine”) and “realizes” there is another presence in the room with them. He panics, but his wife reassures him “It’s just Sam. You and me and Sam.” The couple had decided to name their first child Sam and stuck with the name for the second pregnancy, but abandoned it after it also ended in loss (thus the title of the story). The husband goes on to relate that:

“Not until long after Lizzie had fallen asleep, just as I was finally dropping off, did it occur to me that she could have been more right than she knew. Maybe it was just us, and Sam. The FIRST Sam – the one we’d lost – returning to greet his successor with us.”

Overall a pretty good story, even if not exactly to my tastes. Have you read or heard of this author? He has also published a novel, “The Snowman’s Children” and recently another collection of short stories, titled “The Janus Tree.” You may check out the author’s website at

I don’t think this story is available online anywhere, but here is a link to the collection on Amazon (only 2.99 for the kindle version)

What short story(s) did you read this week?

“Diem Perdidi” – a story by Julie Otsuka


First published in Granta magazine, Julie Otsuka’s short story Diem Perdidi was the fifth story I drew from my “Deal Me In 2014 Challenge” deck.  I own it as part of the Best American Short Stories of 2012 anthology.

If you’re up on your Latin, you know that the title of the story translates to “Lost Day.” It’s a painful story to read, especially if you’ve experienced the tragedy of having known a loved one whose mental faculties have deteriorated, for that is what this story describes.  Briefly, it’s told effectively in the 2nd person voice, and with what becomes a natural “rhythm” – almost all the sentences begin with “She remembers…” or “She does not remember…” and this juxtaposition serves to amplify how heartbreaking the situation is.

Otsuka wrote the story based on personal experience and tells in the “Contributors’ Notes” section of the anthology that , for a while, she feared she would go on collecting notes for it “forever” until she “got the idea for the structure (She remembers, She does not remember) and found the right voice (using the second person narrative addressed to the “me” stand-in seemed vastly preferable to writing about myself in the first person), the story began to write itself and take on a life of its own.”

Below: author Julie Otsuka. Have you read any of her work?


“The Shorties” my 1st Annual (ha ha) awards for short stories I’ve read.


(Note that “shorties” is intended as a term of endearment not a politically incorrect disparaging remark about short people – though I am making Edgar Allan Poe’s character, Hop-Frog (below, at bottom right), my official ambassador for these awards.) 🙂


Now that my 2014 version of my annual short story reading project is getting underway, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on stories I read in 2013, and recognize those stories and characters I now count among my favorites. All nominees are worthy, so my winners a more a matter of taste than anything.

The Nominees:

1. Best New (to me) Author:
a) Caitlin Horrocks (“The Sleep”)
b) Steven Milhauser (“Phantoms”)
c) Henryk Sienkiewicz (“The Lighthouse Keeler of Aspinwall”)
d) Claire Keegan (“Foster”)
e) Alice Adams (“Roses, Rhododendron”)

I’ll have to go with Steven Milhauser.  His story “Phantoms” was such a unique look at the possibility of ghosts and so wonderfully written I still think about it often.

2. Best Female Character
a) Amanda (“La Vita Nuova” by Allegra Goodman)
b) unnamed MC (“Foster” by Claire Keegan)
c) Mathilde Loisel (“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant)
d) Natasha (“One Autumn Night” by Maxim Gorky)
e) Aleksandra (“The District Doctor” by Ivan Turgenev)

I’m a sucker for stories of resilient young people, so I’m going to go with the main character (I believe she’s never named) in Claire Keegan’s “Foster.” She adapts to her circumstances and “gets it.” Her thought near the end of the story where she “realized it was my perfect opportunity to say nothing” gave me goosebumps.

3. Best Male Character
a) The Howling Man (“The Howling Man” by Charles Beaumont)
b) Monsieur de Mellet (“The Mysterious Mansion” by Honore de Balzac)
c) unnamed narrator (“The Town of Cats” by Hagiwara Sakutar)
d) Negore (“Negore the Coward” by Jack London
e) Joe (“My Old Man” by Ernest Hemingway)

I liked young Joe from Hemingway’s “My Old Man.”  Another resilient youngster. Take away everything he’s got, but he’ll still be okay.

4. Best Writing
a) Ernest Hemingway (“TheSnows of Kilimanjaro”)
b) Willa Cather (“A Death in the Desert)
c) J.D. Salinger (“The Laughing Man”)
d) Jack London (“A Relic of the Pleiocene”)
e) Algernon Blackwood (“The Willows”)

This is a tough one. Since I was so spellbound by Algernon Blackwood’s story “The Willows,” I’ll give it the nod.  His story merits that ultimate compliment to an author, “I felt like I was there.”

5. Favorite Story
a) “Phantoms” by Steven Milhauser
b) “The Laughing Man” by J.D. Salinger
c) “The Sleep” by Caitlin Horrocks
d) “The Town of Cats” by Hagiwara Sakutar
e) “A Passion in the Desert” by Honore de Balzac

Another tough one. All are worthy. If I had to pick one, I’d say Salinger’s “The Laughing Man.” That title character is actually a fictional character within the story, which is a nice added element. Anyone whose diet consists only of “rice and Eagle’s blood” makes for a good character and story. (That and how he lived on “the stormy coast of Tibet.”(!)

Those are some of my favorite stories read during the past year.  What were some of yours?

Join me for my 2014 Short Story Reading Challenge!

“In a novel you might get away with a loose line or two, a saggy paragraph, even a limp chapter. But in the … short story, the beginning and end are precisely anchored tent poles, and what lies between must pull so taut it twangs.”

– Geraldine Brooks

Only one week to go in 2013, so it’s time to set up my (4th) annual short story reading project, “Project: Deal Me In!” (aka DMI2014) I’ve gone through my heaps of anthologies and friends’ recommendations to come up with 48 stories to read next year, dividing them into “suits” and assigning them each to a card in a standard deck of paying cards, leaving four open spaces for a “deuces wild” element. That makes 52 stories total. One per week. On a certain day each week (I prefer Saturday mornings), I’ll draw a card to determine which story I will read that week. Pretty easy, huh? My selections are listed at the bottom of this post. I included only three past favorites this year, and have 23(!) authors I have never read before. What do you think of my choices? Do you know of a story you’d like to suggest that I read as one of my wild cards? Let me know, I’m happy to be guided…

BUT… What I’d really like to say is… “Why don’t you join me in this challenge in 2014?” (picking your own 52 stories, of course!) Let’s face it, it’s a much less onerous reading assignment than almost any other challenge you’ll find out in the blogosphere. One short story a week? Come on, anybody can do that, right!? All you need is a deck of cards, a short story anthology or two (or a public library, or an Internet connection) and a little imagination. There are hundreds (thousands?) of great short stories in the public domain too. I’ll share a few links below. Have a busy month or two and fall behind? Big deal. With short stories you can catch up in just a couple hours. Why not play along? It’s almost crazy if you don’t! 🙂 Dale at Mirror With Clouds joined me last year and will be doing so again this year (see his 2014 list), but the more the merrier, right?

I’ll be creating a separate page for this “challenge” in the next week or so, but if you’d like participate, leave a comment here with your blog’s url, and I’ll link to you on that page, and also link – on my weekly post – to any weekly DMI2014 posts you make.

My Prior Years:




My Stories for 2014:

Note: As the year progresses, I’ll note which week the story’s card was drawn and add a link to my post (if I write one) specifically about the story.

Hearts (stories by female authors)

A – “Meneseteung” by Alice Munro (week 27)
2 – Wild “The Garden” by Joanna Parypinski (week 25)
3 – “Bear Dance” by Edina Doci (week 44)
4 – “From Brussels to Ottignies” by Monica Westeren (week 12)
5 – “Class of 1990” by Rebecca Emin (week 33)
6 – “Hydraulic” by Ekaterina Sedia (week 10)
7 – “Fado” by Katherine Vaz (week 46)
8 – “The Last Speaker of the Language” by Carol Anshaw (week 50)
9 – “Axis” by Alice Munro (week 29)
10- “North Country” by Roxane Gay (week 20)
J – “Diem Perdidi” by Julie Otsuka (week 5)
Q – “The Other Place” by Mary Gaitskill (week 23)
K – “Undressing the Vanity Dolls” by Katherine Vaz (week 14)

Spades (mostly darker stories)

A – “A Stone Cast Into Stillness” by Maurice Broaddus
2 – Wild “Dark Cloud Rising” by Marianne Halbert (week 13)
3 – “Beautiful Monsters” by Eric Puchner (week 26)
4 – “The Hungry House” by Robert Bloch (week 8)
5 – “The Eyes” by Edith Wharton (week 49)
6 – “Mrs. Bullfrog” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (week 16)
7 – “The Autopsy” by Michael Shea (week 9)
8 – “Tenth of December” by George Saunders (week 21)
9 – “That in Aleppo Once…” by Vladimir Nabokov (week 28)
10- “The Redfield Girls” by Laird Barron (week 32)
J – “Miracle Polish” by Steven Milhauser (week 1)
Q – “The Half-Skinned Steer” by Annie Proulx (week 35)
K – “It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby

Diamonds (stories recommended by others)

A – “Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin (week 40)
2 – Wild – “Amphetamine Twitch” by Frank Bill (week 2)
3 – “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Andre Gide (week 34)
4 – “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury (week 17)
5 – “Perfection” by Mark Helprin (week 37)
6 – “Beyond the Wall” by Ambrose Bierce (week 45)
7 – “The Business of Madame Jahn” by Vincent O’Sullivan (week 38)
8 – “Mateo Falcone” by Prosper Merimee (week 47)
9 – “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella Consummate their Relationship” by Salman Rushdie (week 43)
10- “The White Wolf and the Spirit Hunter” by Frederick Marryat (week 15)
J – “The Things” by Peter Watts (week 6)
Q – “The Two Sams” by Glen Hirshberg (week 7)
K – “The Bell in the Fog” by Gertrude Atherton (week 31)

Clubs (“The Russians are Coming!”)

A – “The Cloak” by Nikolai Gogol (week 36)
2 – WILD “The Nose” by Nokolai Gogol (week 48)
3 – “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov (week 30)
4 – “God Sees the Truth but Waits” Leo Tolstoy (week 39)
5 – “The Shades: A Fantasy” by Vladimir Korlenko (week 42)
6 – “The Christmas Tree and the Wedding” by Fyodor Dostoevsky (week 3)
7 – “Lazarus” by L.N. Andreyev (week 11)
8 – “The Outrage: a True Story” by Alexander Kuprin (week 22)
9 – “St. John’s Eve” by Nikolai Gogol (week 19)
10- “Her Lover” by Maxim Gorky (week 24)
J – “The Black Monk” by Anton Chekhov (week 18)
Q – “The Queen of Spades” by Alexander Pushkin (week 41)
K – “Twenty-Six and One” by Maxim Gorky (week 4)

Sources: The Best American Short Stories of 2012, Public Domain/Linked by Fellow Bloggers, Dark Futures: Tales of SF Dystopia, Great Short Stories of the World, The Meantime: Nine Short Stories from Brussels, The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, The Best American Short Stories of the Century, Twenty-Six and One and Other Stories, Haunted Legends anthology, A Knowing Look and Other Stories, and “others”… 🙂

Classic Horror Stories: short story of the day
EastoftheWeb’s short story of the day:
TheLibrary of America’s short story of the week archive:

These links alone would provide you with enough FREE short stories to do this project for years, and there are MANY other sites if you look around a bit. There’s even a short stories app for the iPhone (also free).

“Roses, Rhododendron” by Alice Adams


This touching short story was #50 in my 2013 Short Story Reading Project. It was first published in The New Yorker magazine in 1975. I own it as part of the epic collection “The Best Short Stories of the Century” edited by John Updike.


It is narrated by “Jane,” one of the characters, and related mostly in the form of remembrances. I was immediately intrigued by one of Adams’ opening philosophical salvos:

“Perhaps too little attention is paid to the necessary preconditions of “falling in love” – I mean the state of mind or place that precedes one’s first sight of the loved person (or house or land). In my own case, I remember the dark Boston afternoons as a precondition for love. Later on, for another important time, I recognized boredom in a job. And once the fear of growing old.”

Jane and her friend Harriet, though nearly opposites, personality-wise, were thick as thieves growing up, and Jane has many fond memories of Harriet’s house, family and property which she was “in love” with. Similar to what becomes of many close childhood friendships, they end up drifting apart. As an adult, Jane thinks many times of writing Harriet, who has become a frequently published poet. She finally does, in care of a magazine that recently printed some of her work, and receives no immediate response (it doesn’t occur to Jane that “an inadequately staffed magazine could be at fault”). When she finally does receive a response, though, it is well worth the wait. Harriet talks of her parents, who have both – as Jane already knew – died since she and Jane last saw each other. She mentions too that during the difficult period when her parents were dying, the picture that moved her (Harriet) most was not of her parents, but one of her and Jane on their bikes “...on the top of the hill outside the house. Going somewhere.”

She goes on to say of her parents:

But they were so extremely fond of you – in fact, you were a rare area of agreement. They missed you, and they talked about you for years. It’s a wonder that I wasn’t jealous, and I think I wasn’t only because I felt included in their affection for you. They liked me best with you.”

I also loved the finale:

Jane says: “An amazing letter, I thought. It was enough to make me take a long look at my whole life, and to find some new colors there.” I showed Harriet’s letter to my husband and he said, “How odd. She sounds just like you.”

Yes, a powerful letter to be sure. Have you read anything by Alice Adams? I believe this is my first experience with her, unless I’ve read a stray, anthologized story somewhere. I’m not easily moved by reading a story, but this one quite nearly pulled it off. 🙂

(Below: author Alice Adams)


Allegra Goodman’s short story “La Vita Nuova”


My 47th story this year was another good one from my anthology, The Best American Short Stories of 2011, edited by Geraldine Brooks. This story takes its name from a 13th century work of Dante Alighieri. The English translation, which you might’ve been able to guess, is “The New Life.” It centers around a year in the life of Amanda, an art teacher at a school near Harvard University. We learn in the very first sentence that her fiancée has left her. The story deals with her reactions to this “traumatic event.”

(below: *from Wikipedia* a famous painting of “Dante encountering Beatrice”)


One of her first acts is to bring her unused antique wedding dress to school and allow her class to use it as a canvas for sort of an ad hoc art project. This attracts the negative attention of school administrators who do not renew her employment at the end of the school year. She then spends the summer as a nanny/tutor for one of her former students, and establishes a unique bond with him.

I found her character to be quite interesting and sympathetic. Another part of her healing occurs when she begins to paint those Russian-type dolls (you know, the ones that are nested one inside the other until you are finally down to a little tiny doll), representing, from small to large, the growth of herself and other people she knows. I also liked that, as we would infer from the story’s title, it’s a tale of change. Amanda’s life has undergone an upheaval, and what follows will surely be a new life, with new people and maybe a new city being part of it. Certainly almost all of us have those key moments in life where we undergo a sea change – one so marked that we could almost have one of those Dorothy moments: “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more.” Some are likely more aware of these moments when looking back in time, but the ones who navigate them best are the ones who are aware they are taking place. Ones like Amanda.

Have you heard of – or read anything by – this author? Do you subscribe to or read the New Yorker (edition in which “La Vita Nuova” was published is pictured below)? It’s been a relatively recent addition to my reading regimen…


Ray Bradbury’s “The Last Night of the World”

Short Story #49 of 2014


My annual short story reading project is winding down and yesterday morning I drew the six of Spades, leading me to Ray Bradbury’s story, “The Last Night of the World.” It was one of the shortest (just over four pages in my edition) stories I’ve read this year and, frankly, ultimately one of the most unsatisfying. First published in Esquire Magazine in 1951, it is also a part of his highly acclaimed collection, “The Illustrated Man.”

(Below: the February, 1951 edition of Esquire Magazine)


This story is the second of those that I’ve read from this collection that deals with how people react to the knowledge that their lives will soon end (The other was “Kaleidoscope,” which I’ve blogged about before). The reactions of the characters in this story couldn’t be more different than in Kaleidoscope. In “The Last Night of the World” the characters, a married couple with children, have a kind of resigned acceptance of the fact that the world will simply come to an end that night. How they, and everyone else, knows this is a little vague, except they seem to have shared a common dream, wherein the certainty of the end is not in doubt.

The wife speculates, “Do we deserve this?” and he says, “It’s not a matter of deserving; its just that things didn’t work out.” Later she says, “We haven’t been too bad, have we?” and he says, “No, nor enormously good. I suppose that’s the trouble.”

According to this story, the date that the world will end is October 19, 1969. I’m not sure if this is significant and in my brief, “drive-by research” for this post found no explanation. All in all a perplexing story, and not among my favorites by Bradbury.

This one’s actually available online too. Click the link below if you have 5-6 minutes to spare to read it.

(Below: Clint Eastwood in the great movie, “Unforgiven,” echoed Ray Bradbury’s story by telling Little Bill, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it…”)


Alexander Pushkin’s “The Snowstorm”


Five lonely playing cards remained in my 2013 short story deck (see my Project: Deal Me In – for details, check out the link in the “Pages” section on the left) this morning. Now there are four, after I riffled them a bit and out fell the queen of diamonds, leading me to Alexander Pushkin’s short story.

As you might expect, the snowstorm in the story’s title plays a major role in the events of the tale. In the Russian empire in 1811, star-crossed lovers decide to elope, but their conspiracy is thwarted by a violent snowstorm. Now I haven’t experienced a Russian winter or snowstorm myself, but I’ve learned a little of their danger (albeit at a cheaper cost than Napoleon’s retreating army) from reading Tolstoy’s story “Master and Man,” which was one of the stories I read in the innuagural Project: Deal Me In in 2011. (Coincidentally, Tolstoy also penned a short story with the title “The Snow Storm”- perhaps I should add into my list for 2014 short story reading?)


The storm’s fury is such that only one of the two lovers is able to keep their appointment. The girl, Maria Gavrilovna, falls into a deep fever in the weeks that follow, and her parents decide to relent and accept her young lover, who was thought beneath her station since, obviously, she was consumed by her love for him. When she recovers, they invite him to their home along with promises of their newfound acceptance of him, but, in an inexplicably “insane letter” he tells them he “will never set foot in their house again.”

The rest of the story follows, for the most apart, the diverted path of her life. But what is the mystery of the lover’s estrangement? Just as it seems we will never know, and Maria appears to be “moving on” the truth is revealed in an O. Henry worthy twist.

Have you read any of Pushkin’s stories? This one may be read for free online at: – It’s only eleven pages so I’m thinking you should give it a try, even if you thought – as I did – that Pushkin “only wrote poetry…”

(Below: Alexander Pushkin)


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