Welcome to the Museum of Torture by Yoko Ogawa

I think we’ve all be there, and anyone who says they haven’t is lying. Or maybe I am just a twisted individual who should get my head looked at. What I’m talking about, of course, is the break up gone so horribly bad that you begin fantasizing about all the horrible things that could (and should!) happen to your newly minted ex. Maybe it’s just hoping they look stupid in front of their friends. Maybe it’s that they lose something important. Maybe you have some revenge fantasy so elaborate you’ve settled on the exact number of times you will stab them in the face. (It’s six). Okay, maybe not the last one. Maybe.

Yoko Ogawa’s Welcome to the Museum of Torture is kind of about that. A woman’s boyfriend walks out after she can’t stop talking about the murder in her apartment complex. This sets in motion the events that carry the woman to a museum she’s never noticed before in town, a museum that occupies a creepy old house. It’s the Torture Museum, naturally, and the museum only displays instruments of torture that can be proven to have been used. Continue reading…

Our Relationship with Thieves by Kati Hendrey

There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t have a childhood secret. That’s my theory, anyway. As we grow older, these secrets we keep sometimes become more of a big deal, or sometimes less. But I’m pretty certain everyone has one, and they are never spoken of. I have one, though I’ll never tell.

Kati Hendrey’s Our Relationship with Thieves has that sort of mystical quality of childhood secrets and confessions. In this case, it is the confession of now-grown preteen girl to a dead man, her neighbor. And it is through this confession we learn the secrets of Martin (the dead neighbor), and the demons with which he battled. The unfolding of these stories has a sort of elegance to it. Continue reading…

The Life You Save Could Be Your Own by Flannery O’Connor

Confession time. I have a deep (and possibly unhealthy) love for Flannery O’Connor. As in, for a long stretch in my early twenties, she was my go-to Halloween costume. Yes, indeed. And no, explaining you are Flannery O’Connor at college parties is not a good way to meet people. Though it is a good way to figure out who all the writers in a room are. So actually, that was probably a win for me.

When most people hear the name Flannery O’Connor, they likely think of A Good Man is Hard To Find, which is probably her most famous and most read short story. I personally think of Good Country People, which is about a door-to-door Bible salesman and a girl with one leg. But I’m actually going to talk today about The Life You Save Could Be Your Own. I think it is the most Flannery O’Connor-esque story ever written. I could be wrong, but in my mind, The Life You Save Could Be Your Own is the most undistilled, humorous version of O’Connor’s world view and the least apologetic. It’s Southern Gothic as fuck, you might say. Continue reading…

How’s Your Sister? by Anne Goodwin

Cancer is a brutal beast, but this story isn’t about cancer. It’s about something stranger, something more dangerous to name than cancer. So cancer it is, as the family tries to explain what happened to their daughter, to their sister. Why Emily is now in a wheelchair.

Back when we had cable, I used to watch the National Geographic Channel almost compulsively (along with BBC America). In particular, there was one show that I enjoyed beyond all the rest, mostly because of how weird it was: Taboo. And there was quite a bit of backlash when, in 2012, they aired a segment on a fake paraplegic. Continue reading…

Young Berries by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Russia occupies a very precarious place in my life. My partner was born in the Soviet Union and lived through its collapse and then the rebirth of the motherland. One of my closest friends currently lives there. I’ve written screenplays set there. I’ve attempted to learn Russian at least three times with varying success.

There’s also a breadth of Russian literature. Dostoyevsky. Tolstoy. Chekhov. Gogol. Gorky. Yesenin. Tolstoy again. Nabokov. Etc. Etc. What strikes me is they are all men and all giants. But what of Petrushevskaya? Is the problem that she’s alive? Or is it that her work was officially censored for the first 50-or-so years? Both?

Continue reading…