Well, OK, this one was harder than the last; I had to think about it for several days and let the stories roll around in my head a bit. As before, selecting one depends on which set of criteria you use, and that can be pretty arbitrary. So besides a description, I’m going to point out my favorite parts of each entry, the parts that kept me dithering for a few days.
OZ: “Mores, O Mores!,” an aria of reminiscence over indiscretion and lost opportunities, with a brief examination of class expectations and their relative fairness viz-à-viz human nature. What impressed me most about this short story was how beautifully it was written; the prose is just splendid, something you want to linger over.
The Royalist: “Tidal Wave,” a barroom ballad of naughty dimensions, that proves once again that we are all in the grips of nature and that timing is all. The most glowing aspect of this story is its wicked humor and its pace. The former is easier to achieve, the latter shows real skill.
Araminta: “The Royal Streaker,” a 21st-century ditty on a story by the wonderfully Victorian-minded Hans Christian Andersen, that puts a different spin on the original, moving its concentration on deception and vanity to a presentation of outré behaviour (OK. For you guys I’m adding the u in behaviour even though my software is complaining) and a mocking lightness. The poem’s best points are its contemporary language and its concision, which enable it to step past the original.
Pseu: “Cupboard Love,” practically an entire opera on the theme of self-delusion and projection. This is a thorough, and even classic, understanding of plot and how it can reveal dimensions of a situation. It begins with a straightforward telling of a compromising situation, one constructed in the imagination, and then moves to the real compromising situation, which is also a product of the imagination working itself out in real terms.
John Mackie: “The Arab Bus to Bethlehem,” a choral reworking on the preposterousness of life with a coda on the rightness of life’s ability to work out retribution with or without a human agent. What is striking about the piece is how, once again, “truth” is as absurd as the imagination.
Bilby: “Clones: a Very Short Story,” a lively duet on the foibles of love and familiarity. The language used was so wonderful; how much, for example, was packed into the word “darling:” its repetition a condensation of the entire dysfunctional situation. The descriptions of the wife’s clothing—another example—were sharply immediate and evocative. And the doppelganger couple at the end ironically pointed out the directions “things might have taken.”
Jan: “The Business Plan,” a torch song to the enduring forces of sexuality and rumor. Once again the compromising situation is simply a dark shadow in everyone’s mind, something that will seed and grow into possible disasters for the innocent. It’s clear that raucous humor (no u in that word) and slyness are the writer’s strengths. But also the ending shows how a story can move beyond the boundaries of what’s on the page, or screen; a very nifty trick.
Janus: A model of concision. As clever and stick-in-your-mind-ish as a radio jingle.
So. Too many possible winners here. What I finally chose was the story that seemed the most fully realized as far as language, plot, and pure story-ness: Pseu’s “Cupboard Love”.
Congrats to all of you! As always, I’m impressed, and I’m certainly glad I don’t have to judge the next one! Giftie to follow in the week.