Anthony Doerr is the author of four books, The Shell Collector, About Grace, Four Seasons in Rome, and Memory Wall (Scribner, 2010) from which “The Ri...moreAnthony Doerr is the author of four books, The Shell Collector, About Grace, Four Seasons in Rome, and Memory Wall (Scribner, 2010) from which “The River Nemunas” is taken. Doerr’s short fiction has won three O. Henry Prizes and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. He has won the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and other awards. In 2007, Granta placed Doerr on its list of 21 Best Young American Novelists. Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife and two sons.
Doerr had this to say about writing “The River Nemunas:” A few years ago, I was asked by WildAid, and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation in the UK, to write a short story about an endangered species. The idea was that a bunch of writers from all over the world would each pick a different species, contribute them to a book, and the book would be sold to help fight the illegal wildlife trade.
I figured lots of writers would go for cute, photogenic animals: pandas, chimps, polar bears. So as soon as I saw sturgeon—a huge, mysterious, ugly fish—on a list of threatened species, I knew I had it.
I was writing a book about memory at the time (now titled Memory Wall), trying to use fiction to ask questions about how fragile memory can be, and somehow the sturgeon—particularly the Baltic sturgeon—seemed to fit perfectly. Sturgeon have been around for about 200 million years, and during that time their morphology has hardly changed. Individual sturgeon have lived for 100 years, grown 20 feet long, and reached 4,000 pounds; they seem to me to be visitors from some ancient time, as if they don’t quite belong here in our era of Wal-Marts and airport fast food. They’re abiders, survivors, able to eat anything, live in fresh and saltwater, and exist in subarctic and subtropical environments; they outlasted the dinosaurs.
And now we’re wiping them out.
I thought it would be interesting to transplant an orphan into an old place, steeped in human memory, and see if I could get her into contact with an even older memory: a last, mythical sturgeon.
Incidentally, a few readers have since written to me to tell me they think this story is an argument for the existence of God. Is it? I have absolutely no idea. (less)
Patrick Somerville grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin and earned his MFA from Cornell University. His books include two collections of stories -- TROUBLE...morePatrick Somerville grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin and earned his MFA from Cornell University. His books include two collections of stories -- TROUBLE (2006) and THE UNIVERSE IN MINIATURE IN MINIATURE (Featherproof Books 2010) -- and a novel, THE CRADLE (2009), which was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2009 by Janet Maslin of the New York Times. His writing has appeared in One Story, Epoch, GQ, and Esquire. His latest story collection has been long listed for The Story Prize.
Sommerville had this to say about his story: I wrote “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” as a way to leap from the world of one book into the world of another -- into the world of the next. I wrote it soon after I’d finished THE CRADLE, my first novel, which sticks to realism and doesn’t bend the rules of our shared reality too much in order to tell its story. With “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature,” I wanted something different, I wanted to stretch out and indulge in whim and the imagination. But I still wanted to tell a story with relatable emotional stakes. That’s a tough gambit, that in-between place where strangeness is allowed to thrive, but the everyday human heart still makes sense. So I looked for a sad story -- the story of a son whose life is essentially ruined because of an accident -- and tried to layer the whim, the fancy, and the unusual institutions over the top. In the end, I hope I found the right combination: real sadness in the center, but a sadness borne along by the humor and color of the fantastic. (less)
"Poor Devil" appears in GRYPHON, Charles Baxter's new and selection collection of short stories, published in January 2011 (Pantheon Books, div. Rando...more"Poor Devil" appears in GRYPHON, Charles Baxter's new and selection collection of short stories, published in January 2011 (Pantheon Books, div. Random House). Baxter is the author of the novels THE FEAST OF LOVE (nominated for the National Book Award), THE SOUL THIEF, SAUL AND PATSY, SHADOW PLAY, and FIRST LIGHT, and five story collections. He lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.
Jeremiah Chamberlain, in Fiction Writer's Review said: "Poor Devil" is one of the most moving stories in the [GRYPHON] collection, as it shows not only Charlie's exquisite language and his ability to render dialogue saturated with subtext, but also the magic of being able to reveal what it's like to be human. On the surface, it is the simplest of plots: a divorced couple has returned to the home they once shared in order to clean it for the new owners.
Baxter remembers well the genesis of "Poor Devil:" I don't keep notebook entries anymore, but I once did, and these entries consisted of story ideas and anecdotes that I had heard. The story's heart has to do with fleeting love--the kind you feel when you see a stranger whose image stays with you for days--but that heart is surrounded by notebook-entry stories that seemed to have the same emotional weight. I remember whale watching when there were no whales. I once got a strange unsigned postcard. A friend in the Bay Area told me about someone who wanted to have his picture taken when he was still handsome. The rest of the story, like most stories, came to my rescue out of thin air. (less)