A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day 4 – Bullet in the Brain

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. 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 four – Bullet in the Brain , by Tobias Wolff
Read it online here:

Bullet in the Brain

I have always had a soft spot for Tobias Wolff. First of all – he’s a crackerjack writer. Probably best known for his memoir This Boy’s Life (made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro); I especially love his short stories. In the Garden of the North American Martyrs is among the best.

Genius.

Plus, there is this little story. He had come to Dallas to speak and read from a new novel, “Old School.” It was part of the Dallas Arts and Letters Live series at the Dallas Museum of Art. I was excited to go.

However, since I have no money, I couldn’t afford to sit in the main auditorium. There were discounted seats in the museum theater, where you could watch the lecture on a large closed-circuit screen. Almost as good as live, but a lot cheaper.

Right before the lecture, I look up, and there is Tobias Wolff standing right in front of me. He had heard about the handful of us in the remote room and come down to get us. He spoke and then led us to a row of seats he had installed in the front row of the auditorium, where we were able to sit.

Pretty damn cool.

Today’s story is Bullet in the Brain.

It is a little bit gimmicky – it reminds me a lot of the classic An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. It’s interesting, especially given Wolff’s penchant for creative nonfiction, that the protagonist/victim is a particularly vile and self-centered literary critic. I’d bet that Tobias Wolff had someone (or more than one) – a particular person in mind and enjoyed writing about him coming to such an ignominious end.

But it is still the work of a genius. As a wannabe writer I was gobsmacked by this simple sentence:

“She looked at him with drowning eyes.”

That is a perfect sentence – I can’t imagine anything else being there.

Someone without the required skills, someone such as I, might write something like:

“She looked at him and he turned away.”

Or:

“She looked at him with a running nose.”

Or worse:

“She looked at him with a triangle of spinach stuck to an incisor.”

Or ever worse:

“She looked at him the way his ex-wife always did and his intestines instantly doubled in knots, causing him to keel over in agony.”

But he didn’t write anything terrible like that. He wrote the perfect sentence.

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