Hopefully you’ve spent a good portion of Short Story Month immersing yourself in your old favorites while also finding some new writers whose short works appeal to you as much as any novel. With ten days left in May, we asked a few of our favorite new writers to suggest one story they think everybody should read, in case you’re looking for a little inspiration as we head towards the end of the month.
“The Chase” by Italo Calvino, from his collection t zero
“The Chase” by Italo Calvino is not unlike The Chase, the 1994 film starring Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson. Both the film and the story take a single chase as their entire premise, detailing the pursuit of one party by another, in cars, with everything held together by high stakes and the threat of death. “The car that is chasing me is faster than mine,” Calvino starts his story, and this same problem plagues Sheen. Tensions run high. Unlike the 1994 film, however, Calvino’s short story does not feature cameos by Red Hot Chili Peppers members Flea and Anthony Kiedis, nor does the Calvino story offer an impossible highway sex scene at sunset. And obviously, Calvino’s does not star Charlie Sheen. Or Kristy Swanson. In fact, the more you consider them together, the less these two works resemble each other. Where is Calvino’s Henry Rollins cop? Where is Calvino’s candy bar robbery? His clown backstory? One begins to wonder how two things so different from each other can have the same name. In fact, if you actually sit down to read Calvino’s story in full, you’ll notice pretty quickly that his chase is what Calvino describes as “virtually motionless.” The whole thing takes place at a traffic jam. There are a gazillion cars stuck at an intersection, and one of them is “chasing” another. Or really they’re all just sitting there, not moving. What. That’s not a chase. Way to turn a perfectly good premise on its head, Calvino. Hello. And if you keep reading (idiot), you’ll soon be disappointed to find out that Calvino doesn’t even know who is chasing who. Or if anyone is chasing anybody at all. It’s as if one minute Charlie Sheen is pursued by Henry Rollins, and the next it’s Charlie after Henry, and then Charlie is everybody in the whole city, or Charlie thinks he kidnapped Kristy Swanson but really she kidnapped him, and who knows what’s happening. How can you write a story where you don’t even know who the bad guy is? Or the good guy? And nobody is even moving? Or winning? Or losing? What the hell is going on here? I thought this was a simple, fun premise, but it just keeps getting more and more complicated. And now I’m considering who I am and how I got here and stop it. It’s as if Calvino thinks you can literally make anything happen from the most minuscule of starting points. Jerk. In conclusion, “The Chase” by Italo Calvino and The Chase starring Charlie Sheen actually couldn’t be any more different, and I’m not sure if we should even bother comparing the two.
—Dolan Morgan, author of the collection That’s When the Knives Came Down