Trends in Chris Adrian s Short Stories. As columnist Drew Nellins wrote on the literary blog Bookslut, No one writes like Chris

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1 Trends in Chris Adrian s Short Stories As columnist Drew Nellins wrote on the literary blog Bookslut, No one writes like Chris Adrian. Adrian s unique experiences have caused him to develop into an interesting and completely original writer with a style all his own. After graduating from the prestigious Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa and publishing his first two stories in The Paris Review and Story magazine, Adrian did not turn to writing as a career; instead, he entered medical school. He currently works as a pediatrician at Boston Children s Hospital and, despite identifying as an atheist, is enrolled in Harvard Divinity School ( An Interview with Chris Adrian ). His experiences with medicine and religion have evidently contributed greatly to his writing, as disease, death, and supernatural powers are elements that frequently appear in his fiction. Through his short stories, Adrian uses supernatural elements to provide unique insight, conveys important messages through his titles, and includes the presence of disease and death as an inevitability. A Tiny Feast, A Better Angel, The Sum of Our Parts, and Why Antichrist? all include overt supernatural elements that provide greater insight and a unique perspective. All of them tell very human stories the plots include a dying child, a dying father, depression, and confusion over sexual orientation, respectively but the inclusion of aspects such as faeries, angels, a spirit that has left its body, and the Antichrist allows Adrian to tell those stories in original ways. In A Tiny Feast, Adrian tells the story of a faerie couple whose human changeling becomes ill with leukemia and eventually dies of it. This allows him to describe aspects of the experience such as the surfeit upon surfeit of love... that ought to be able to move mountains ( A Tiny Feast 6) of which humans are capable that an ordinary person might not notice, but that seem remarkable to a faerie. It also allows him to demonstrate the way that the parents of dying children feel isolated from everyone else. When the faeries talk to humans, [e]verything was filtered through the... normalizing glamour that hides their true magical nature ( A Tiny Feast 2). This parallels the way that experiencing the fatal illness of a child is an utterly lonely experience; parents dealing with it can communicate no more effectively with

2 someone who does not understand than a faerie can communicate with a human. In A Better Angel, Adrian tells the story of a man with a dying father, a drug addiction, and an angel who follows him everywhere. The angel s constant remonstrations that, if he would only try, he could make his father well with one hand, [and] with the other [he] could do the same for the whole world reflect the sense of wasted potential that people find torturous (A Better Angel 129). The angel has told him his entire life that a great destiny awaits him, but he has been unable to make it manifest itself. To an extent, everyone is self-centered, because each person s individual identity is essentially a universe unto itself. Adrian depicts that by giving the protagonist an angel who tells him so. In The Sum of Our Parts, Adrian tells the story of a woman in a coma whose spirit has left her body. She has tried to commit suicide because of a crushing sadness under which she had labored for most of her life (A Better Angel 35). Because her spirit is able to read minds once it has left her body, she is able to observe the individual sadness that every person experiences, and to realize that suffering is universal. Her own specific perspective is broadened by those of the people around her, uniting all of them in the human experience of sorrow. This is only possible because of the protagonist s ability to invisibly observe people and to read minds. In Why Antichrist?, Adrian tells the story of a boy struggling with his sexual orientation and with a Ouija board s accusation that he is the Antichrist. The protagonist is aware of the existence of the problem in [him] that causes his loneliness and feelings of isolation (A Better Angel 223), and he must decide whether it is a result of his being gay or his being the Antichrist. Choosing between between an easy lie and the difficult truth is a decision faced by everyone who is uncomfortable with their sexual orientation; however, by making the dishonest option even more horrible than the truth, Adrian demonstrates the true extent of the protagonist s resistance to his homosexuality. He willingly chooses to accept himself as the son of Satan, because to him, that is better than being gay. In all of these stories, the supernatural elements add to the human experiences of the characters and allow the reader to gain unique insight into the story and into human nature. All of Adrian s titles convey a message about the theme of the stories. Although the title often

3 does not appear in the story itself until close to the end, it always fits the story and its theme perfectly. In Every Night for a Thousand Years, the title establishes a sense of endlessness that is evident throughout the story. As horror upon horror of the Civil War is described, it feels as if infinite numbers of people are dying and as if the suffering will go on forever. By the end of the story, the protagonist thinks to himself that he will never leave this place ( Every Night for a Thousand Years 96). He feels as if the war and the suffering will never end. In A Tiny Feast, the title relates to the faeries experience with mortality. They hate that their human son is in danger of death, but are able to bear it because of their love for him. One of them describes him as a terrible gift ( A Tiny Feast 8); he has brought them enormous amounts of sorrow, tempered by the joy of their love for him. Just as eating one tiny little feast ( A Tiny Feast 6) is enough to satisfy the boy when he can eat very little due to an infection, the faeries love for their son, however powerless it might be, is enough to help them through their pain. In A Better Angel, the title reflects the protagonist s growing sense of his own failure throughout the story. As his angel tells him over and over again that the hundred thousand sins of omission that were [his] unfulfilled destiny added up to national and individual catastrophe (A Better Angel 169), her words sink deeper and he becomes more convinced. When he finally expresses a wish for a better angel, he is really expressing a wish for a better self, one who would have been able to fulfill the great destiny that his angel insists he was once capable of achieving. In The Sum of Our Parts, the title describes the way that each aspect of a person adds up to a whole, and each individual adds up to a universal human experience. As the protagonist moves throughout the hospital, her access to aspects of people that usually are utterly private allows her to learn their most intimate thoughts and feelings (A Better Angel 26). As a result, she gains an understanding of them as complete human beings and sees the ways that they are all similar at the core. In Why Antichrist?, the title demonstrates the human tendency to question why they must suffer. As the protagonist begins to understand the true horror of what being the Antichrist entails, and that his only other option is that he is gay, he asks himself, Why Antichrist?... Why did that have to be the answer to the problem in me? (A Better Angel

4 223). What he really wants to know is why he must be faced with this choice, and why he has to suffer this way. By choosing each of these titles, Adrian enhances the stories and makes them more meaningful to the reader. Disease and death are present in all of Adrian s stories. In Every Night for a Thousand Years, the protagonist works in a war hospital where he is surrounded constantly by sick, wounded, and dying soldiers. It is dark, dark everywhere ( Every Night for a Thousand Years 90), and the suffering and death seem as if they will never end. In A Tiny Feast, the protagonist s son is dying of leukemia. To the protagonist, the ward was almost the ugliest place she had ever seen because of the prevalence of suffering ( A Tiny Feast 5). She feels surrounded by pain and death. In A Better Angel, the protagonist is a doctor whose father is dying of lung cancer. He describes his hatred of hospitals, especially the way that he hated the smell of the place (A Better Angel 116). To him, disease has a particular scent of which he can never seem to rid himself. In The Sum of Our Parts, the protagonist is hospitalized and unconscious after a failed suicide attempt. For her, death is her only option due to a crushing sadness under which she had labored for most of her life (A Better Angel 35). She wants to die because it will relieve her of the sadness of living. In Why Antichrist?, the protagonist is befriended by another character solely because they both lost their fathers. The protagonist s friend, whose father died during the September eleventh terrorist attacks, is obsessed with death, and every morning when she woke the two planes flew into her head and the towers fell down all over again (A Better Angel 200). She is unable to think about anything else, and by befriending the protagonist, she surrounds both of them with the acute awareness of death. In all of these stories, disease and death are strongly present, causing them to seem like inevitable parts of life. Although each of Adrian s stories is wholly unique, the similar threads that wind through all of them connect them all as products of his imaginative and original style. His use of supernatural elements, which appear in almost all of his stories, allows him to present new perspectives on familiar and fundamentally human situations. His titles are never arbitrary, nor do they work solely on a literal

5 level; instead, they enhance the stories by magnifying some deeply meaningful aspect of each of them. His inclusion of disease and death as components of every story depict their inevitability and establish them as situations that are inherent in the human experience. Adrian s writing tells deeply human stories in entirely unique ways, with remarkable talent and insight. His utter originality makes him truly unlike any other writer.

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