Apr 20 2022

Short Story Review: “Octopus” (2022) by Nathan Willis

Mortadella in Bologna, Italia

SHORT STORY REVIEW: “OCTOPUS” (2022) BY NATHAN WILLIS

In Nathan Willis’s short story “Octopus” (Necessary Fiction, Feb. 16, 2022) the reader must confront randomness. There’s some seemingly radical juxtaposition going on, with words, images, and ideas focusing around octopi, the theatricals of choking in public, as well as hostage negotiation. But, overall, it also involves the notion that, while children may later remember specific moments and actions done by their parents, they rarely (even upon reflection in their own old age) understand why their parents did the things they did when they did them.

So “Octopus” is about the nostalgia (grown) children have for certain memories that involve them being with their parents. The mood of the story is contemplative, combined with a detached sympathy of the narrator toward his father—things that remind me of Nicole Nesca’s poem “What would Hemingway Say?” (Let It Bleed: Screamin’ Skull Press, 2017, p. 1), as when she writes:

I never tried to be my father.

But, I was and am him.

Everything that we learned happened before we were ten years old.

But compare a character in Denis Wong’s short story “The Resurrection of Ma Jun” (Missouri Review, Spring 2018) who remarks:

Thinking about this stuff drives me crazy. Who cares about made-up ideas like God? “We can only rely on ourselves,” is what Quian and I have always believed. Not even our parents can save us. (p. 60)

Though I refuse to summarize Willis’s story that was a joy to (re)read, I will say that parts of “Octopus” have––in terms of style––a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance” to some of Kafka’s short stories––particularly “Forschungen eins Hundes” (“Investigations of a Dog”) (1922) and “Der Bau” (“The Burrow”) (1933) with the way each sentence seems to take the story in a new direction than it was seeming headed beforehand.

For the plot in Willis’s “Octopus” makes incredible strives sentence-by-sentence, where, like a corkscrew, each line and clause twists the narrative more and more––and all this strongly resembles the storytelling methods found in the anonymous Tale of Aladdin, a near-novella often lodged in copies of Tales from the Thousand and One Nights but technically not an original part of that anthology.

In terms of substance—particularly the (yes, I know) surrealistic content of radical juxtaposition to be found in “Octopus”––this reader also detects some resemblances to Nesca’s short story “Child,” (from Let It Bleed), the late, great Norm MacDonald (1959–2021) and his quasi-memoir-novel Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir (Random House, 2017), as well as Me & Mr. Cigar (Soho Teen, 2020) by Gibby Haynes…. (perhaps even Terry Southern (1924–1995) and his novel The Magic Christian (1959)….)

While I won’t quote from “Octopus,” which is brief enough to be read across a single lunch break, with regard to substance, things in it can be found that are reminiscent of the way Norm could twist a seemingly ugly remark until it blossomed into revelation:

 “Yeah,” says Adam Eget. “I really wish I’d met him, but it was before my time. There are so many great Kinison stories at the Store [a New York stand-up comedy club]. It’s so unfair that guys like Sam have to die so young and a sonofabitch like Nelson Mandela lived to be an old man.”

“Nelson Mandela wasn’t a sonofabitch. He fought apartheid and they put him in prison for more than twenty years. And when they finally released him and he took power, he never exacted revenge on his enemies. Instead, he exacted forgiveness on them and brought his torn nation together.”

“I thought he stole some diamonds.” (pp. 30–31)

The randomness of “Octopus,” furthermore, harkens back to my recent reading of Gibby’s own randomness, as when in his debut novel Me and Mr. Cigar he writes:

About halfway there in the wooded hollow right before Catfish Creek (where you’re more likely to catch a washing machine than a catfish), there’s a police car on the side of the road. Halfway across the bridge, just past the cop, I sneak a look back. He’s pulled out onto the road and turned on his lights. The cab of the pickup is suddenly filled with red flashing lights. For some reason the thump-thump-thump of the metal slats on the bridge is particularly loud tonight. I pull the truck over, stick it in park and look over at Lytle and Mr. Cigar. Wide-eyed, we simultaneously mouth an elongated Ohhhh shiiiiit. (p. 141)

So check out Nathan Willis’s “Octopus”––I think you’ll like it.


Apr 4 2016

Interesting Reads Over the Weekend

bookbread athens

Interesting Reads Over the Weekend

  • “If American Jews and Israel Are Drifting Apart, What’s the Reason?” by Elliot Abrams. Mosaic Magazine.

 

  • “Language Leakage: An Interview with Sarah Thomason: the linguist discusses how technology shapes culture and culture shapes words.” by Ryan Bradley. The Paris Review.

 

  • “Vanishing Languages, Reincarnated as Music.” by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim.  New York Times.

 

  • “Nights of Terror, Days of Weird: [Review of Yours in Haste and Adoration: Selected Letters of Terry Southern.” by Will Stephenson. Oxford American.