short story mixtape vol. 2: journeys + getaways

getting back on that fiction beat now that I’m home. but still in transition back to normal life. so here’s an attempt to bridge the gap: a list of short stories about voyages and vacationers and travelers and getaways.

descent of the aquanauts kathryn davis: a group of young girls at the beach are regaled with the tale of the aquanauts, as told by Janice, an older woman with a perfect golden-brown tan. the moon and the ocean are major players, but under the surface, Davis writes and youth and vulnerability in precise and original language that pops a punch.

a romantic weekend mary gaitskill: the title says it all (or does it? wink): a man and a woman go on a little getaway. Gaitskill is fearless and raw and edgy and funny in this brilliant story about relationships and power, and that gap between what we think and feel and what we say and do.

rock springs richard ford: also about a couple on a getaway. but a different kind of getaway. in a stolen getaway car. with a child and a dog. the narrator, the unforgettable, heartbreakingly well-intentioned but inescapably flawed Earl, gets a tattoo that says FAMOUS TIMES to commemorate it all. and you’ll want to, too.

interpreter of maladies jhumpa lahiri: this often anthologized story follows the Das family on vacation in India, as seen through the eyes of their hired driver, Mr. Kapasi. Lahiri’s eye for details and rich prose brings the vivid setting to life, and makes these complicated characters feel fully, believably human.

love and hydrogen jim shepherd: two star-crossed lovers journey from Germany to the United States on the doomed Hindenburg. the ending is obvious (it crashes!), but little else is. Shepherd’s unique knack for bringing historic details to life in fiction is on full display here, as is his winning humor.

 

on memory

after another 24 hours of traveling, I am home. I settle in and begin to unpack. for the first few days I wake up in the middle of the night not knowing what country I’m in. and already I wonder: what will I remember most?

memory is strange. it picks and chooses. it changes moments, maneuvers them, works them. things fade, and others become brighter.

I know that the difficulties will fade. things that once held the weight of the world, moments of fear and frustration and discomfort – standing frozen in the middle of the street in unceasing traffic, showing up 24 hours late for an overnight train,  the sight of a spider the size of a baseball scurrying up my apartment wall – will become less so, become lighter. have already become funny in retrospect, thankfully.

the good things, the truly unique and exceptional, will become brighter. the first bowl of bún riêu. the first sip of vietnamese coffee. the look of the streets at night on the back of a motorbike. the mountains in Mai Châu, the beaches in Hội An, the blue-green water in Ha Long Bay.

there are things that will become lost entirely, and it is sad to admit that the loss is inevitable. but writing it down slows this process. even when the writing is a simple recollection – I did this, and then I did that – there is a kind of magic to it: it pins the moment in place, leaves a mark, a record. I’m in awe of that magic. I’m grateful for it, too.