Tag Archives: short stories

Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett

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Nightmare Town is a collection of short stories from the originator of the hard-boiled crime genre, Dashiell Hammett. As a private eye for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in San Francisco during the Prohibition Era, Hammett experienced shootouts, knifings, stakeouts, and cold-blooded murder for cash. These experiences convinced him of one thing: everyone is a suspect. He began writing short stories based on his detective work for pulp fiction magazines.

Nightmare Town is a book of high-quality stories punctuated by brilliant gems. This book shows Hammett as a versatile writer able to work in any area concerning crime. He can use the first or second person perspective and put readers in foggy city streets or little desert towns with a whole cast of psychologically-unique characters.

Several stories break away entirely from the detective backdrop. “The Man Who Killed Dan Odams” centers on an escaped convict hunted across a barren countryside. He’s wounded and desperate, and nobody is going to take him in alive. This story has the life-or-death feeling of John Steinbeck. “His Brother’s Keeper” is told in the first person perspective of a young boxer who just can’t figure out the deadly plot closing in on his brother. “Afraid of a Gun” lays out the naked fear of a gangster with a phobia of guns.

The stories range from crimes of passion to bone splintering violence. In every instance, there are tightly-drawn plots unfolding at an exciting pace. The dialogue is original and enjoyable. Hammett’s prose is economical, achieving the greatest impact and solidity with the least number of words possible. He tells complex mysteries in a barebones style.

Nightmare Town is a great book because it gives lowbrow subject matter a literary-grade treatment. For all the pulp, noir, and crime readers out there, get back to your roots with these hard-boiled masterpieces.

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Fire From the Ashes: Short Stories about Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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Fire from the Ashes: Short Stories about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is an anthology of short stories by Japanese writers who experienced the Atomic bomb or lived during the era. The stories are presented and edited by Nobel Prize Laureate Kenzaburō Ōe. Through their stories a wide spectrum of the devastation is given in unwavering detail. Some of the stories take place within the raw carnage of countless burned people in a setting that is an almost surreal representation of the end of the world. Other stories tell of the aftermath in which people attempt to make sense of what happened, live with their injuries, internalize the death of their loved ones, revisit the bombsite, and experience ostracization within their own country.

In compiling this anthology I have come to realize anew that the short stories included herein are not merely literary expressions, composed by looking back at the past, of what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945. They are also highly significant vehicles for thinking about the contemporary world over which hangs the awesome threat of vastly expanded nuclear arsenals. They are, that is, a means for stirring our imaginative powers to consider the fundamental conditions of human existence; they are relevant to the present and to our movement toward all tomorrows. (Kenzaburō Ōe)

This book is the cumulative result by a group of writers to intellectually confront the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the realities of living in an age of nuclear weapons. The stories themselves are written at the highest caliber of modern literature and done so with a degree of restraint that adds an immense solemnity. Nuclear annihilation is the ultimate method of dehumanization and self-destruction. It goes beyond all atrocities for at least in traditional genocide the killer must see the faces of their victims, and so acknowledge their humanity, before killing them. A nuclear weapon dropped from the sky or fired as a warhead from miles away is impersonal as ringing a doorbell. Japanese and American people, though tied by this historic event see it in a different light. Japan says it as an atrocity, while most Americans see it as a justified means to an end. Yet if take it on sheer numbers, a devastation of one-hundred 9/11’s in a single instant is still preferable to one Hiroshima or Nagasaki. That is to speak nothing about the agonizing effects of radiation burning and birth deformities that would ensue. This is not a defense of one atrocity over the other, but a condemnation of them all. The question of extinction vs. salvation raised in this book has not ceased to be relevant. The torch has been passed to our generation and it is up to us whether we will use it to cook for the hungry, or continue to crush it out on people from above.

The following writers are included in Fire from the Ashes: Masuji Ibuse, Tamiki Hara, Katsuzo Oda, Yoko Ota, Ineko Sata, Kyoko Hayashi, Mitsuharu Inoue, Hiroko Takenishi.

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The Faithful Lover by Massimo Bontempelli cracks the mirror of reality

 

The Faithful Lover (1953) is a collection of short stories by Italian writer Massimo Bontempelli, the father of realismo magico (magical realism). This genre works as an evolved form of traditional French surrealism. Bontempelli has commented on the writing style by saying,

the real norm of the art of narration is to describe the dream as if it were reality, and the reality as if it were a dream.”

The stories begin with ordinary people and feel normal enough. Yet as the stories continue, Bontempelli starts twisting the screws until cracks appear in mechanism of reality. He uses this technique with varying degrees. At times the effect is full blown while in other stories it bubbles under the surface. Real life becomes infected with dream qualities, the results are strange and beautiful. For L’mante Fedele (The Faithful Lover), Bontempelli was awarded the “Strega Prize,” Italy’s highest recognition for literature.

The book has a wonderfully mysterious tone. Some stories are cloaked in darkness while other will stand in broad daylight. No matter what setting Bontempelli chooses, his stories never become murky or lose their intended effect. The book itself is short, and thus the stories come at you in quick bursts like flying embers. Immediately the reader is ushered into the story. By the first paragraph, Bontempelli has drawn you into his imagination. All the while, one never gets the feeling of being rushed. Things happen in a plausible manner and so we go along without question. The magic of his writing permeates the mind like a fast acting drug whose affects are wonderful.

Readers that are fans of the magical realism genre are most likely attracted to works by Haruki Murakami and Toni Morrison. Writers such as these present magical realism in very modern way. Bontempelli’s style by comparison does read with a noticeably older prose. I personally tend to avoid works that sound outdated. The Faithful Lover reads a little “old school” but the literary devices at work are surprisingly cutting edge. This hybrid style of “old and new” is diatomic as King Arthur’s knights lost on Mars. The sense of tragic humor helps to keep things light.

The Faithful Lover is a book that had attained great prestige, yet, as years gone by, has become unknown to a new generation of readers. It is a work that is worthy of rediscovery.  I enjoyed every story in The Faithful Lover. There wasn’t a single one I can point to and say it was lacking. Give this book a try, tear through the mundane, and experience another world that runs parallel to our own.

 

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