Douglas Watson’s short story “Against Specificity”

“…there comes a day when a certain truth starts to tug at your mind, gently but insistently. This truth is a little bit like a child who pulls at the sleeve of someone older and ostensibly wiser. It also resembles a change in tides,which swings all the boats moored in a harbor around to face away from where they’ve been facing – except that this truth does not turn you around completely. No, the direction in which you are pulled is entirely new to you.”

One great thing about reading a short story per week is that it’s pretty easy to find something different and new if you’re struggling to decide what to read. This was the case a couple weeks ago when I drew the two of diamonds for my 2013 Short Story Reading Project which I call “Deal Me In.” I read one story per week (52 total) throughout the year. For the most part, I come up with a list in advance, and assign each story to a playing card (52 weeks in a year, 52 cards in a standard deck, right?). Each suit has a “meaning” too, and this year diamonds was my suit for “authors I’d never read before.” Also, “deuces are wild” so the four deuces in the deck are for stories I didn’t include in my list prepared in advance. I pick which story to read each week randomly, using a deck of cards. On May 25th (I usually draw a new card on Saturday mornings, a prime time when I am free to get some quality reading in.) I drew the two of diamonds and went off looking for a story…

One resource I had found in May (National Short Story Month!) was the blog of The Missouri Review. They featured a story a day with different guest-post-ers writing about a story of their choosing. One post that intrigued me was on Douglas Watson’s story “Against Specificity,” and thus I was off to find and read it.

This was an unusual story, written in the (rarely used) second person. The reader is told that he is tired with “Thing A” and has begun to covet “Thing B” (these are the exact terms used in the story – I am not withholding specifics). Our neighbor, for instance, has “Thing B” and couldn’t be happier. Oh, if only we too could have “Thing B!” We are stuck with old (yet familiar and comfortable) Thing A. We go on a search for Thing B, which leads us to the “Thing Exchange” where trade-ins of one thing for another thing are possible. It is an odd place, with seemingly disinterested salespeople. Eventually, however, we complete a transaction and walk out of the Thing Exchange with Thing B. Life will be new and improved now, you’d better believe it!

But will we truly be happy with Thing B? That is the real question examined in this story and indeed likely in many of its readers’ lives as well.

The story is part of the collection “The Era of Not Quite.” I intend to read more from this volume in the coming months.

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What short stories have YOU read lately? Any you’d suggest that I put on my list for next year’s Deal Me In??

(below: author Douglas Watson, winner of the innaugural BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize)

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