Friday, March 22, 2013

The One About the Camel...

Recently, Amazon announced the inception of two new literary fiction imprints in its rapidly expanding publishing business: Little A, which will release novels, memoirs and story collections and Day One, a digital imprint to focus on short stories from debut authors. We should all take notice of what Amazon does, be you author or reader and so, in the spirit of business research I downloaded the first story from Day One: "When a Camel Breaks Your Heart" by Kodi Scheer. I was curious about the type of story it would be--traditional or experimental, upbeat or dark--and whether, of course, it was any good. Something could be learned as well, I thought, about the editorial direction of Amazon's latest venture.

To cut to the chase: I liked the story very much. The narrator, known only by her boyfriend's nickname for her, "Heart," describes the last days of their relationship. As she tells it, one day her boyfriend, a first-generation American of Muslim descent, was a human and the next, he was a camel. An "exotic" animal, foreign smells and behaviors, unable to communicate with her any more. It's a metaphor for the difficulties of building a relationship between two people of different cultures, particularly when one person's culture has just invaded the other's to wage war. The camel watches images of bombs exploding with tears coursing down his face; the narrator addresses the reader in second person (a risky business that works here), because you should see the difficulty with your "heart," as she does, while she begins to understand after three years that the relationship is doomed.

I suppose this story accomplishes everything the author and Amazon could have hoped for because after I read it, I downloaded the second story from the imprint, "Monster" by Bridget Clerkin and I looked up Kodi Scheer to see what else, if anything, she had written. Turns out neither Ms. Scheer nor Ms. Clerkin are exactly debut authors. Scheer's stories have appeared in well-known publications such as The Chicago Tribune and The Iowa Review, and Clerkin is a regular contributor to McSweeney's. But both authors are young and female and let's face it--being a writer of short stories is a tough racket, so I'm glad they've had this opportunity. And I'll keep a eye out for what Amazon may have planned on the literary fiction front in the future.


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"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka