“The sky is going all slatey like in a painting people say is important,” Terese Svoboda

The father comes up behind him. Furthest away the mother halts. They look up. The sky is going all slatey like in a painting people say is important. In the second they take to glance up, the rocketship retracts its legs and tail and plays dead.

—Terese Svoboda, “Leadership”

The best of Terese Svoboda’s words read themselves in your head like hearing a Steve Lacy line, perhaps from Only Monk, his solo recordings of Thelonious Monk compositions, all tight and ropy and in a single strand encompassing melody and harmony both, such as it is. They are quick and expressive and in every story in her collection Trailer Girl there is something strange, something you could call “modal” that comes about, like changing the harmonic structure of the story while the melody plays on, like listening to something new emerging out of the swamp off in the distance.

In “Leadership,” there’s a family: mom, dad, son. There’s also a rocket ship that lands on their lawn. Read the quote above, and see how in less than 30 words she’s drawn an entire poster in the Constructivist style, complete with dramatic lighting and a family unit.

Reduced rent was what the parlor floor got in exchange for letting everyone in the building roll through their window onto their bed, where they liked the light, though everyone entered snow-dusted or iced, and at any hour, often with them in it.

—Terese Svoboda, “Cave Life”

Though the sentence starts out practically and rationally to discuss household economy, the writer switches on the absurd lamp after the first clause. Then, there’s a nifty chiasmus, xy-yx, that tells you as much about the people who live on the parlor floor as their housemates. The elaborate construction, which seems to strand the phrases “they liked the light” and “with them in it” on their own little inaccessible semantic islands, signifies that something is bound to happen in the house, if only to resolve the tensions Ms. Svoboda has created in this single sentence.

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‘It will be lovely, he thought ten times a day before he set off.’ –Maxim Biller, 80cm of Bad Temper

It had all been so easy in Cracow. Well, not entirely. The stout Jewish young man from Microsoft whom she had visited there was in love with her, but she didn’t feel the same about him. She was in love with Itai, but he didn’t feel the same about her. He knew that he was not in love with her, but she didn’t know it, so she’d said come and see me in Ljubljana sometime soon, it will be lovely. It will be lovely, he thought ten times a day before he set off. When he saw her in Ljubljana at the airport he thought, No, it won’t.

—Maxim Biller, 80 Centimeters of Bad Temper
(As a personal interjection, please don’t let this story dissuade you from traveling to European cities to meet dates. When I was single I preferred staging first dates in the Old World; the chemistry might not be right, but on the bright side, you’re in Paris, instead of stuck out in Brooklyn.)
Maxim Biller’s stories have been compiled into an austere-looking hardback collection called by the sprightly and opaque title Love Today. I’m reading the stories (there are 27 of them, most no more than six pages), and thinking that somehow the word “Grumpy” should have been shoehorned in that title somewhere. “Grumpy Love, Today,” perhaps, or “Love? Today, Grumpy.” This story’s title (the measurement refers to the width of the woman’s bed) is probably the most accurate in the whole collection.
The characters are always on the move from one place to another, inhabiting temporary roles in the sturdy cities of central Europe. This is the kind of book that has tram tracks running through its pages. The quoted story I like for its simple, straightforward nature that doesn’t rely on awkward tricks or character traits to be told. This guy, Itai, comes to Ljubljana to meet up with this woman, and just like that, it doesn’t work out. Dommage. J’en suis desolé. It’s not me, it’s you.
What redeems Itai from the ordinary strain of grumblecore characters (grumblecorporals?) is his optimism. He was genuinely hoping that he would fall in love in Ljubljana. The sudden clarity of mind he displays in the quoted passage is perhaps his realist streak coming out: the woman’s too-narrow bed just makes his plight more obvious. 

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‘A dog could love anyone, she thought. A dog could be happy almost anywhere.’ –Jon Raymond, Train Choir

A dog could love anyone, she thought. A dog could be happy almost anywhere. They just needed food and water and affection. They were not picky about who delivered it.

And by the same token, a dog could forget anyone, too. They were loyal, but only to whoever was around.
And people, they just had to stick dollar signs on everything.
‘Pretty nice, isn’t it?’ Verna said. ‘Nice yard. This isn’t so bad.’
The tears began gently, but then, quickly, came with more power. Soon Verna’s whole body was quaking. She felt like rusty nails were being pried from her chest. She crouched there and let the sun hit her. The sun was still free, she thought, though probably not for too much longer.
‘I lost the car, Lu,’ Verna said, sobbing. ‘I’m sorry…’ And already the decision was made.

 —Jon Raymond, “Train Choir,” from his collection Livability
The whole story, which was recently adapted into a film (Wendy and Lucy), is just one heaping teaspoonful of bad news on top of another. Yet redeeming the difficulties inherent in daily life is somehow worthwhile for protagonist Verna because of her unquenchable love and affection for her dog Lucy. The compressed and unspoken emotion in this passage almost pushes it into Sydney Carton, Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens territory.
At this moment, Verna has decided to abandon Lucy to the foster home in order to be able to proceed with her plan to get to Alaska and work in the fish cannery there.
Raymond writes so flatly about human relationships throughout most of the collection that it takes love between a woman and her canine to really allow him the freedom to express these feelings. I frankly have enough difficulty expressing myself to my friends and entourage that reading about people with the same trouble doesn’t ordinarily interest me, but as a pet owner (cats), I can identify with Verna and her dog. Lucy, her pooch, doesn’t express herself in words, either, making her the perfect Raymond protagonist in a book full of characters who have difficulty getting their feelings out.
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