If Emma Cline's short story, "Los Angeles", is anything to go by, I think Granta #139 is going to be a pleasure to read my way through. It certainly brings me another step closer to a real splurge and just getting a subscription to the periodical. It is a quarterly magazine and apparently every ten years they devote a whole issue to the "best American writing" (they also publish a best of British writing issue as well). This is the third such issue they have published. Oh, short stories, I have missed you. Maybe this little tease is just what I need to get my short-story-reading-mojo back.
I have Emma Cline's debut novel, The Girls, sitting on my bedside pile and I can't wait to start it. I actually had every intention of reading it the moment it arrived in the mail, newly reissued in paperback. (But then I decided to jump into Australian lit and I need to finish a few other books first). Since this is my first taste of her writing style, I am not sure if the story is typical or not, but considering her novel is based on/inspired by the 1960s Manson cult, I can see how she might tend towards a more unsettling style of storytelling. As a matter of fact this story feels to me somewhere in the region of Joyce Carol Oates's creepy terrain.
What I love about short stories is not knowing exactly where the author is going to take the reader. And even better if she ends up taking the reader to a place not expected even after that first taste. In "Lost Angeles" there are hints, now that I know the ending (and I go back and skim over what I've read), where the story is headed.
"It was only November but holiday decorations were already starting to creep into the store displays: cut outs of Santa wearing sunglasses, windows poxed with fake snow, as if cold was just another joke. It hadn't even rained since Alice moved here, the good weather holding. Back in her hometown, it was already grim and snowy, the sun behind her mother's house setting by 5 p.m. This new city seemed like a fine alternative."
Alice's apartment leaves much to be desired, essentially a room in a larger and not very clean house. The only thing making her space more palatable is the lack of any furniture except a bed. She finds a job a trendy clothing store--a flagship store, which means it's bigger and busier than others, selling "cheap, slutty clothes in primary colors, invoking a low-level athleticism--tube socks, track shorts--as if sex was an alternative sport."
Alice is twenty-something but one of her coworkers is a mere seventeen, and much more mature than her age would imply. There is a luridness to the details that hint of what comes later.
"Only young women worked the floor . . . girls who acted as a shorthand to the entire brand."
She has to wear the brand's clothes, which she gets for free, but the caveat is her boss picks them out, and everything is "a little too tight, a size too small."
Is it Oona's, Alice's coworker, influence? Or maybe a lack of money, and a mother who isn't willing to pay for yet more acting lessons that prompts Alice into doing something a little bit dangerous. A little bit illicit?
"The pervs loved Oona--the men who came in alone, lured by the advertisements, the young women who worked the floor dressed in the promised leotards and skirts. The men lingered too long, performing a dramatic contemplation of a white T-shirt, carrying on loud phone calls. They wanted to be noticed."
I'll let your imagination run away here. I don't want to give anything more away. The beauty of this story is the way in which all the myriad little details makes this story both very intimate and very unsettling. I can imagine LA at a certain time just swallowing up a young woman like Alice. That said, this is a story shaded in ambiguity. You read to the end and still you wonder about Alice and what that last scene shows, or doesn't quite show as the case may be.
There are twenty-one stories in this collection and I plan on reading all of them. And I might just keep writing about them as I go.