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Likely Stories -- New Sudden Fiction: Short Stories from America and Beyond by Robert Shepard and James Thomas

This collection of short stories contains one by Elizabeth Berg. Berg is a funny writer, and I 've admired nearly all of her novels

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

New Sudden Fiction is a collection of short-short stories from America and beyond, some of which are barely more than three pages. The editor’s note writes, Robert Shepard teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Hawaii, and James Thomas in Yellow Springs, Ohio: they also edit Flash Fiction Forward.

Elizabeth Berg is a friend of mine from many years ago. I have several of her books, and I thought hers would be a different type of story. She is the author of numerous novels, including several award-winning stories.

Berg’s story, The Party, begins.  The story begins: “There were a bunch of us who had drawn together into a corner of the dining room. It was a big party, and none of us had met before. But a tiny core of woman of a certain age had drawn more women until there were enough of us that we needed to be democratic about talking—each of us needed to be careful not to take up too much airtime. // We talked about kissing, and we spoke rapidly and excitedly and laughed loudly. This was T-shirt and jeans laughter, not cocktail dress laughter—it came from the belly, not the chest. It was size fourteen and not size two. When one of us made moves toward some wilting hors d’oeuvre, the rest would stall, so that nothing good was missed by anyone” (238).

“We seemed to like best telling stories about our first times. There was a glamours blond wearing huge diamond studs who said she first kissed at age eleven, while playing spin the bottle on a hot Texas night. The rule was that after the spin, the chosen couple would go into the kitchen, stand by the washing machine station in the corner, and kiss. No tongues. The blond modified the rule to include no lips. Cheeks. That was all. But a certain Paul Drummond was too fast for her that night and smacked a kiss on her mouth. She said she’d intended to get angry, but instead backed with pleasant shock into the washer hard enough to make a noise that roused the supposedly supervising parents from sleep. The kissing stopped; the party brook up, and the blond went home, where she stayed awake much of the night reenacting the scene in her mind, and telling herself that the sin was venial, venial, venial.” (239).

“A woman named Vicky said she spent years in practice with her best friend Mary Jo. ‘We would put a pillow between our faces, kneel down on my bed, rub each other’s back, and kiss the pillow to death.’  We all laughed some more, because we’d all kissed pillows, it seemed. // One woman wearing a seductively cut black dress that now seemed beside the point ventured bravely that she and her best friend Sherry had dispensed with the pillow and gone at it lip to lip. You can tell from the ripple effect of lowered eyes that she wasn’t the only one. I thought of fourth grade and my friend Mary, whom I asked to be the wife so we could be the husband. I liked to be the husband—you got to say when about everything. While she dusted, I went to work.” (240).

Elizabeth Berg is a funny writer, and I admired nearly all of her novels. I hope she finds out I bring back memories from many years ago. I found The Party to be one of the best stories in this collection5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a Production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy reading!