Short Story Friday: And by N. E. Houston

Harlow explains it so much better  than I can (see below).

Title: And

Author: N. E. Houston

Publication Info: Summer 1990 — Dialogue, Volume 23, Number 2

Submitted by: Harlow Clark

Why?: Harlow writes:

“The author gave this story an unindexable title because he has all these story collections with titles like Nothing Very Important and Other Stories, and The Voice of the Moon and Other Songs of the Night, but none of them has a story called And. He intended the story to be a bridge between The Voice of the Moon, a story by the main character of And, and Other Songs of the Night, the character’s master’s thesis.

The collection the story belongs to is unfinished. The design is to alternate stories about Amos Corbin with stories he writes about his experience. So in one story, “Shoulder to the Wheel” he imagines himself as Sisyphus, then writes a story called “Sisyphus” based on that moment in Ovid’s Metamorphoses when Orpheus comes into the underworld seeking Eurydice and all the torments stop because his song is so beautiful they can’t not listen. (It’s not as boring or erudite as it sounds.)

The author only needed 90 pages for his own thesis, so he took several he had written and used them, and swears he’ll finish the others some day.

The story reads like a nightmare of poop and pee and unrequited desire near the end of a semester. One letter to the editor said, “and baby makes three” but I suspect it’s more (or also) a story about a man whose marriage is in deep trouble but he can only bear to think about it in his dreams. I think the opening sequence, with Amos trying to get to the great and spacious building is his wife’s view of him, seeping into his dreams.

(Way the by, the author’s initials stand for Nathaniel Edward, Nathaniel being that Israelite of old in whom there was no guile, like unto Edward Partridge.)”

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13 thoughts on “Short Story Friday: And by N. E. Houston”

  1. Ahh, I see. I didn’t notice the tags because they don’t show up on the main page.

    What’s the difference between a “category” and a “tag,” then? (Either technologically or philosophically?)

  2. According to WordPress there isn’t much of a difference. AMV uses both because when we first started tags weren’t available.

    There are actually two key differences:

    1. Categories can have parent and child relationships (e.g. can be expressed hierarchically) and are are selected via checkbox.

    2. Tags can be entered just by typing terms and separating by commas.

    Becaise of these two differences, tags are generally used to express the specific semantic or keyword data of a post whereas categories are more, well, categorical. In addition, most blog platforms (or content management systems) display tags and categories differently (for example, you may have seen Tag clouds on some websites).

    I hate using both, but because we started off with categories I don’t want to discontinue support for them. However, I like using tags because they are especially handy for linking themed posts like Short Story Friday.

  3. How is semantic content not categorical? (I.e., what else would you use to categorize something?)

    And do you come up with the categories yourself or are they somehow predefined by WordPress?

  4. And do you come up with the categories yourself or are they somehow predefined by WordPress?

    You come up with them yourself. For instance, I have categories and tags, but my categories are tightly contained.

    At first, I only used the four main points of my blog (“religion,” “money,” “politics,” “sex”) as my categories, but then I realized I talk about more than that, so now it’s those four plus “books,” “Kansas City,” and “miscellaneous.”

    I use tags to subdivide the above seven categories to within a millimeter of their lives.

  5. Interesting. It sounds like categories are more of a controlled vocabulary / thesaurus, while tags are uncontrolled indexing terms.

  6. I think of it like this:

    Categories = subdivision name, like “Green Acres.”

    Tags = street names within the subdivision, e.g., “Eddie Albert Lane” and “Eva Gabor Circle.”

  7. Right, but “Eddie Albert Lane” and “Green Acres” have a child / parent relationship (which you can’t express if either one is a tag) and wouldn’t you want to standardize the form of “Eva Gardner Circle” (which, again, it sounds like you can’t have with tags).

    I understand that you’re using them for general terms and more specific terms, and I can see why that would have advantages, but WP’s idiosyncratic combination of the two systems still strikes me as odd.

  8. I see what you’re saying re no parent/child relationship between categories/tags.

    WP’s idiosyncratic combination of the two systems still strikes me as odd.

    Hmm, I think it’s just a holdover from earlier versions when there were only categories. Then “cloud” computing came into vogue and they added tags.

    However, you don’t HAVE to use tags at all, and for all practical purposes, you don’t HAVE to use categories, either. All posts are automatically slotted into “uncategorized” category but are not given a default tag.

  9. Hmm, I think it’s just a holdover from earlier versions when there were only categories. Then “cloud” computing came into vogue and they added tags.

    That makes sense.

  10. It is indeed just a holdover. Some bloggers have set up systems to make the two work together in a way that makes sense. AMV has issues because we used categories for so long before tags were supported that our categories are rather messy.

  11. Thanks for posting this story, William. I haven’t read it for several years, since the last revision. (For space considerations Dialogue asked for substantial cuts and the author has reworked the story a couple of times since it was published.) I was a bit surprised at how personal the story is. I’ve been thinking about this story a lot during the discussion here and on AML-List of Jerry Johnston’s article about the great Mormon novel.

    Most of the comments ignored the last half of the last sentence:

    “The Great Mormon Novel is a dream held by literary types in the church.

    “It is also the Great White Whale pursued by devout Mormons who can’t understand — in this day and age — just how uncomfortable, exposed and betrayed an authentic literary masterpiece would make them feel.”

    Johnston’s comment is about as terse a restatement as I know of the reasons Lionel Trilling hesitated to accede to his students’ request to teach a class in Modern Lit (see “On the Teaching of Modern Literature,” in _Beyond Culture_). Modern literature is very personal, demands a very personal response, Trilling says. And I was still surprised at how personal the story is.

    And while I won’t say the story is “an authentic literary masterpiece” (despite being part of a master’s thesis), the story did make at least one reader uncomfortable, perhaps feeling somewhat “exposed and betrayed.” The author intended “And” as a love letter to his wife. He was trying to catch a particularly difficult moment, reassuring her that things would get better, but I don’t think she saw it that way.

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