A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 8 – Nirvana

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day Eight – Nirvana, by Adam Johnson

Read it online here:

Nirvana

As I look through the short stories I have chosen for this month, I see that I have been tending to the venerable classics – Hemingway, Salinger, Eudora Welty, Kate Chopin, Willa Cather… only Daniel Orozco could be considered new – the rest are hoary old chestnuts.

So today I’ll add something new, modern, post-modern even. Today’s story is set in the near future and is full of what marks our age – for good and bad. It’s a story of dot-com millionaires, private miniature drones controlled by Google, the newest Apple invention – the iProjector, artificial intelligence, and a mysterious circuit board from India that can crack any cryptography.

The tough nut to crack when writing about such things is to make it human. As interested as we all are in the technology of the time, it doesn’t serve very well at tugging at our heartstrings.

But Adam Johnson pulls it off. He works by giving the story a hear-rending human situation, one that goes so far beyond what technology can affect – all the bells and whistles of today are revealed as mere tinsel and foil, window dressing for the inevitable doom of our lives.

Or is it? As the story progresses the human tragedy and the digital world begin to spiral together in a dance of death and hope – and it the end the human and the artificial meld together in an epiphany of sorts.

It’s quite a thing.

I have to admit that until I read this story I knew nothing of Adam Johnson or his work – even though he won the Pulitzer Prize last year for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son. I think it’s time I read some more.

Charlotte’s mother arrives. She brings her cello. She’s an expert on the Siege of Leningrad. She has written a book on the topic. When the coma is induced, she fills the neuro ward with the saddest sounds ever conceived. For seven days, there is nothing but the swish of vent baffles, the trill of vital monitors, and Shostakovich, Shostakovich, Shostakovich. No one will tell her to stop. Nervous nurses appear and disappear, whispering in Tagalog.

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