Sunday morning: Granta – Betrayal (No 122/Winter 2013)

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I have a little stack of things to share with you this morning. Or a stack of things to go through. That’s it, sitting in the foreground of the sunny picture, next to some pillows on the floor. (I have something against the couch – I just don’t like couches so I sit on the floor.)

The problem is that my head is fuzzy right now, in a kind of pre-cold or pre-cough way. I will try to post something on Granta, and post on the other stuff later.

granta 122 betrayal

I read this latest edition of Granta on the flights I took this week to Moscow and then to Bishkek. I read basically the whole thing on the Moscow flight (4 hours), and then snoozed a bit and read a couple more stories on the Moscow-Bishkek flight. (On the return flights, only a couple hours later, I was totally exhausted and slept.)

Betrayal, Granta’s current volume, starts with a cruel, horrific story about Syria, “Seven Days in Syria” – about torture and about the real lives that are caught up in the war there. It writes unflinchingly, but a bit unsatisfactorily as well – it writes to show horror, and, of course, betrayal. There are no answers, though, and this story will not feed them to you – it is devoid of politics, at least from a Western audience’s point of view. Everyone is being betrayed by everyone else, and it sounds like hell. (I am currently also reading Samar Yasbek’s A Woman In the Crossfire, albeit very slowly/intermittently, and it has a similar tone. Maybe there is no more satisfying way to write about that conflict.)

Almost every story in this book has an interesting setting and unusual characters – ranging from re-enactors in a Custer’s Last Stand, forest fire-fighters and Pakistani teenagers. Aside from the Syrian piece, my favourites were “A Brief History of Fire” by Jennifer Vanderbes and the photography essay “Julie” by Darcy Padilla. “Abingdon Square” by Andre Aciman was also gripping, and somewhat true to life: it reminded me of men I work with and who hit on me, but don’t actually have the courage to do anything (not that I want them to).

All of the writing was good, but some of the other stories seemed like basically creative-writing-class assignments, or stories where they were trying on a new genre but weren’t giving anything away of themselves. I’d put Lauren Wilkinson’s “Safety Catch” in that category, although I enjoyed reading it. And “The Loyalty Protocol” by Ben Marcus, which reminds me of other bleak but somewhat uninspired dystopian stories. I don’t know if it is part of a book, but it felt like a lot of other things I have read before. Probably the most strong contender for this category of books that seemed to have been written for creative writing is “The New Veterans” by Karen Russell. That story was affectingly written but felt sort of cheesy, and I didn’t really ever get into it.

Finally, I didn’t manage to read “Paddleball” because it bored me in the first couple pages, and I was falling asleep on the plane.