Nine shorts by Bruce Holland Rogers, Feb-May 2006

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"Good Neighbors"
"The Little Pot of Rice"
"Paper Hearts"
"Letter of Recommendation"
"Bruce Holland Rogers"
"Something is in the Air"
"The Two Musketeers"
"Donat Bobet Administers a Test"
"Hall of Mirrors"

Bruce Holland Rogers is a much-decorated writer (the Pushcart, two Nebula Awards, and more) who markets his short-short stories at—where else?— For ten dollars US per year (gift subscriptions for five dollars), he sends out three stories per month: “Thirty-six stories for ten dollars. That’s about twenty-eight cents a story.” According to the website, he has 710 subscribers worldwide.

With arithmetic like that, I have to suppress the urge to estimate his hourly wage as a writer. But that’s not the point. Rogers is getting his name out there, and he’s found an innovative way to do it. He’s building a fan base of folks who will no doubt buy his novels and hype them to their friends.

How are the stories? Some are excellent. One of his award winners, “Don Ysidro” (available free on the website), is a multilayered allegory that brings to mind that great fantasist, Jorge Luis Borges. On the face of it, the story is about a man who finds immortality through his pottery, but the ideas Rogers develops will resonate with any writer who imagines living on through his words.

In this collection of nine stories, the quality is spotty. “Good Neighbors” tells of a well intentioned couple who strive mightily to please an elderly tenant in their apartment complex. Sanjay and Jamila are a likable pair, but I wanted more from this story than a well worn Twilight Zone-style ending.

“The Little Pot of Rice” is a fable of dueling fabulists. One fancies himself an Aesop, while the other is grounded in reality; Rogers clearly sides with the latter. In doing so, he tells us something about his own literary ground rules.

“Paper Hearts,” the only tale in this group remotely connected to the science fiction genre, considers a future where Valentine’s Day has become a holiday for those who despise love and lovers. Yes, people can be ridiculous. Yes, love is wonderful. If there’s more to this story, it went over my head.

A good deal more interesting is “Letter of Recommendation.” Laney Foster, a student in Professor Kent’s class three years ago, calls the professor to ask for a letter of recommendation to graduate school. Not surprisingly, Kent doesn’t remember Laney—until she reminds him of a moment they shared which had far more significance for her than it did for him. Rogers does a fine job capturing the intensity of that moment, and he gives a powerful reminder of the way each of us lives in such isolated worlds, even at times when we seem unbearably close.

“Bruce Holland Rogers” begins with the author’s apologetic preface, “I think a fiction writer is allowed one story like this per career.” The author wakes up to find several bronze statues of himself scattered through his house. The statues symbolize the recognition an author craves. As the preface suggests, this story is a bit self-indulgent, but in the ending, Rogers makes an interesting point about the limitations of recognition.

“Something is in the Air” is a three-six-nine: “three thematically linked stories, each of which is exactly 69 words long.” The author’s chosen theme: the arrival of spring. Each 69-word vignette is evocative, and each manages to stir up thoughts and emotions.

“The Two Musketeers” features the poet Donat Bobet, who I gather is a Rogers regular. The mistakes of an American woman with a poor grasp of French provide fodder for the poet to deliver a lecture. It’s a brief lecture, but a lecture nonetheless. I felt the story was more arrogant than insightful.

“Donat Bobet Administers a Test” is more of the same. Here, Rogers has interesting things to say about the poetic personality, but I still found his Bobet altar ego to be annoying.

The longest, and for me, the most successful fable of the group, “Hall of Mirrors” is a King Midas story of sorts. Emory is an office worker who talks to himself, voicing opinions. In an art museum, he discovers that his “interpretations” are in great demand. Indeed, his opinions on anything and everything are so engaging, he’s able to quit his job and offer his insights full time. Then, one day, he sees a mirror, and feels compelled to offer his opinions on himself, criticizing his appearance, and then criticizing his criticisms. What follows is a thoughtful fantasy which, like Rogers’s “Don Ysidro,” is reminiscent of Borges’s more approachable stories.