I’ve read through the eight stories in the first release of the New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” and decided it was time to start my own list. After some deliberation, I decided not to break it down to best piece of fiction or best short story. The two are different, but there’s only two stories that have me on the fence. “Twins” by C. E. Morgan is a better piece of prose, but “The Kid” by Salvatore Scibona is a better short story. Here goes:
1) “What You Do Out Here, When You’re Alone” by Philipp Meyer
2) “Twins” by C. E. Morgan
3) “The Kid” by Salvatore Scibona
4) “Lenny Hearts Eunice” by Gary Shteyngart
5) “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly” by Jonathan Safran Foer
6) “Dayward” by ZZ Packer
7) “The Entire North Side Was Covered With Fire” by Rivka Galchen
8) “The Pilot” by Joshua Ferris
It’s tough toward the end. I might have set “Lenny Hearts Eunice” a little too high in the list, and while “The Pilot” had it’s moments, it just took too long to build up to a punchline.
Interestingly, the story most searched for is “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly.”
“Twins” by C. E. Morgan is the second best story in this issue. First prize, goes to “The Kid.”
First, this story has a mood or tone that permeates the prose. There is a slowness and density to the setting, the characters, and the atmosphere. It’s as if we can feel the humidity and slow crawl of summer in Cincinnati. Part of this is accomplished through a masterful description of the city and the neighborhood where Mickey and Allmon live with their mom.
Second, “Twins” snakes around in a way that is unpredictable. We are with the boys and their mom as they move to a poorer section of town. With them as the boy’s father reenters their lives at various points, with no actions seeming too obvious. There is a natural progression between scenes that builds the story into something more complex than cause and action.
Third, the characters are lovable. “Twins” is one of the longer stories in this issue, so that could be part of the reason there’s more attachment to Morgan’s characters. Regardless, they are all interesting and complete.
The one area where this story falters, and I’m loathe to call it a story because Morgan mentioned it belonging to a novel, is the ending. It’s tiring to read an excerpt from a novel and then be hit with the non-ending. There is a difference between the power of a good ending (hell, even a mediocre ending) in a short story and the way a chapter closes in a novel. While great on many levels, don’t be surprised if you’re left slightly underwhelmed at the the end of “Twins.”
Q&A with C. E. Morgan.
More from “20 Under 40.”