Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Posts tagged ‘short stories’

The current (Fall/Winter 2011) issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review includes my translation of “If the Sun Were Never to Return,” a beautiful story by C.F. Ramuz. This happens to be one of my very favorite Ramuz pieces, for the reasons I mention in my translator’s note, and so I’m obviously thrilled that Hayden’s Ferry has published it, but I’m even more thrilled that it was selected as one of the online sample pieces from the issue. Ramuz deserves as wide an audience as possible, and now everyone can read this story.

“If the Sun were Never to Return” is actually two stories in one. The first is the story of a village that wakes to total blackness. The villagers slowly realize that the sun is not coming back and that this encroaching darkness means they are all going to die. But the real story starts halfway through, and it’s about having lost in love, about revenge. It is one of Ramuz’s most violent stories, even if no real violence actually occurs.

The village is still sleeping and this reassures him for a moment. Maybe he’s actually woken up at the wrong time, or he’s having a bad dream. But all of a sudden his muscles tighten below his Adam’s apple, pushing it upward; he breathes with difficulty. The need to shut his door comes upon him, he closes it, and he stands behind the door, not knowing what to do, waiting.

Five o’clock rings, and we can see it isn’t yet light out.

Yet this is May. The five bells ring out, and it seems like the sound they make has doubled, even tripled in strength. They ring and echo and echo for a long time, as if they are hitting sheets of metal. It’s impossible for us not to hear them. And Larpin moves his head forward. He rests his forehead against the door panel, he listens, the clock rings again, each new ring quieting in its turn, then a door opens, then a second door, then a long voice calls out in the dark.

He recognizes the voice of a neighbor, and she’s calling her husband, “Julien! Julien!” We hear Julien answer her, “This is the devil’s work.” A third voice comes in from the opposite side, “What’s going on?” And now, from all around, the voices cross and question each other.

Aside from what I write in my translator’s note, one of the other reasons that this story is one of my favorites is because it was the genesis for his incredible novel with the same title. The short story and the novel actually have very little in common – the characters are different, most of the story is different, but the psychology is all there. The fear of living in darkness.

Finally, just a funny note. Living in Switzerland, just a few kilometers from where Ramuz spent most of his life and the fact that I’m obsessed with his work means that I see reminders of him just about everywhere. A few weeks ago, a truck passed me while I walked with the dog and my daughter on a country road. The name on the truck read “Milliquet” which is the name of the café owner in La Beauté sur la Terre. In this Hayden’s Ferry Review short story, Ramuz mentions a man named Larpin, the old man who is up walking around because he doesn’t sleep anymore. Well, my doctor’s name is Larpin and every time I drive past his office (which is just in the village, so I go past at least three times a week) I’m reminded of the scene of Larpin checking his watch and standing at the doorway, staring out on the dark night.

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This week at Necessary Fiction I write about Melinda Moustakis’s début collection of short stories, Bear Down, Bear North:

Make no mistake, nature is no friend to the people in these stories, but their most savage confrontations are with each other and with themselves. The natural world is only an accessory, and very often a witness, to their conflicts. In this way, Bear Down, Bear North is much more than a book about Alaska, or about people living in Alaska. It is a book about people, period. These are stories that dig deep into the fragile and difficult spaces of human experience.

You can find the whole review here.



Just before I headed to Japan, the lovely Atticus Review published one of my short stories. It was quite a treat to see this piece finally find a home somewhere. I wrote it nearly eight years ago and have taken it out nearly once a year since then and revised it, working it over again and again until it finally took this final shape. Here is an excerpt:

The car windows consume an endless stream of brown fields and dry grassland as she continues forward and faster. The scenery has turned violet in the darkening light. Anne has wanted to come out this way for a long time, wanted to see the part of the state that doesn’t live in the green and the damp or with the ocean as a constant companion. But now that she’s here she just recognizes the unfairness of geography. It really is more beautiful where she comes from.

She passes a mobile home propped up on cinder blocks; its screen door lurches forward aggressively toward the highway. The front half of a windscreen-less car sticks out from behind the trailer and piles of tires mark the far edge of the property.

How sad, she thinks, knowing her mother would never settle for such a mundane expression of sympathy. She would summon up proper indignation: “That’s just tragic,” or, “It’s a crime to let people get that far behind.”

The urn has been sitting on the back seat since Anne left Aberdeen yesterday. She can’t keep ignoring her, although she is aware that addressing her dead mother’s ashes would be an indication that she isn’t coping.

Click here for the full story.


Before leaving on holiday, I reviewed (at Necessary Fiction) Patrick Michael Finn’s excellent collection of short stories, From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet:

The eight stories in Patrick Michael Finn’s collection, From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet, are so thematically and stylistically cohesive they create a story collection that reads very much like a novel. These are not linked stories, not in the traditional sense; they do not share characters or even strict time periods. But they do share Finn’s rigorously consistent narrative style, his delight in intense sensory description and a firm geographic anchor in the city of Joliet, Illinois.

Together, these miniature novels create an unsettling fictional world of mid-western America, a detailed and vivid narrative rendering of the outcome of the area’s immigrant, industrial and social history.

I make it very clear in the review how much I enjoyed this collection. Finn’s writing is wonderfully consistent and although his narrative voice transforms itself for each story to create a unique perspective or voice, it also maintains a really satisfying stylistic harmony. Also, these are long stories. Stories that take time to get through, that draw you inside a detailed and complicated world. Each piece felt like it could easily be expanded into a full-length novel and I loved that about each one.

Find the full review here.



Today at Cerise Press I reviewed Reckoning, a collection of short stories by A.S. Penne from Canadian publisher Turnstone Press:

The emotional ground in A.S. Penne’s collection Reckoning is unstable:
shifting sands, rugged terrain. Her characters search, again and again, for a
firm foothold, a space to feel safe, a secure shelter in which to debate and
assemble their difficult decisions. Penne does not grant them this refuge, is
not interested in what it feels like to make it successfully to the other side
of heartache. Instead, the seventeen stories in this well-balanced collection
are about walking the rickety bridge forward from a difficult moment, about the
dread and confusion, the indecision, the regret, the panic and anger in those
careful steps. They are about the swirl and tumult of modern heartbreak.

Click here to read the full review.



Today at Necessary Fiction I reviewed Normally Special by xTx:

The narrators of these short pieces are worth commenting on because there is very little differentiation between them—all first person, all with a similar emotional tone, and all concerned with the pain, aches and losses from a related set of categories. This harmony gives the collection a real sense of unity as well as gives the reader a feeling that these are all the fictionalized abstractions of one person’s experience. In this way, the reader becomes an authorized voyeur of the narrator’s confessions and revelations. This intimacy is both unnerving and a source of the collection’s appeal.

The longer stories, however, because of their ability to involve more detail and real narrative complexity, do not create the same narrator-confessor/reader-voyeur impression. Despite also working from a first-person narrator, these stories each create a separate and distinct narrator negotiating a unique fictional landscape, alive with its own set of difficult questions.

Click here for the full review.