One of the greatest movies I know--I guess if I owned movies I’d own it on DVD or something--is My Dinner with Andre. Don’t know it? It’s great! Here’s the story: Two men meet in a restaurant, have dinner, then go home. Now have I got your attention? (I mean, imagine the special features for that one!)
The fact is, though nothing happens in My Dinner with Andre, it’s the one movie I can think of that is closest to being about absolutely everything, such is the conversation that takes place between the two characters. And the writing is so good you sometimes just swim in the dialogue.
And so Rachel Sims’ “Thor” from The Wordstock Ten comes to mind. What happens in “Thor”? A little less than My Dinner with Andre, actually, since Thor invites his friend Nona for dinner, but she ultimately has to cancel. Compared to My Dinner with Andre, we’re short one character and one meal. If it weren’t about all of creation (and all of destruction), “Thor” would be the Seinfeld of short stories, about absolutely nothing.
Thor (Thorbjorn Raimonds, the main character) is obsessed with creation, though he himself only seems capable of destruction. The story begins with Thor surveying the floor of his bedroom upon awakening. The night before, he had taken a pair of shears and cut all his white shirts into strips which now lie in a bedside heap. As we get to know Thor, and his fascination with the making of noodles, the connection seems clear: The long thin strips of shirts are his (ultimately destructive) act in the service of attempting to match his friend Nona’s skill in creating noodles.
It should be mentioned that the prose of “Thor” is refined, restrained even, so that Nona is referred to as Thor’s friend, though Nona as love-interest (the very first sentence tells us Thor is thinking of how “her hair felt too clean when it rustled shinily past her long nose”) is never far beneath the surface. Their level of intimacy is never discussed, however, in favor of other aspects of their relationship. Thor, after all, is the thunder god—a destructive force; while Nona serves as a counterweight goddess of creation. And so the two define one another and are always in one another’s presence. Even when apart from her, we are told Thor holds her in constantly in mind.
And so as the story progresses, focusing primarily on Thor’s thoughts and observations, we begin to realize just how sweeping such thoughts can be. A story that starts with a glimpse of a small act of destruction concludes with the end of everything. The final paragraph of this story is worth reading again and again. Writers will pay attention to the delicate treatment of verb tenses and marvel at the poetry invoked by the subjunctive and the present tense; the general reader experiencing this prose more viscerally will feel something like what we used to call profound back when I was in school. Here it is:
Thor sometimes imagined that the end of the world would be quiet and would come on such soft feet that no one would know it had been and gone. He imagined that the end would be a weakly sunny day with a bracing wind from the west, maybe a Saturday or a Monday. He would stand by a sleek kitchen counter and watch as Nona made her noodles, and the radio would be telling a story about how whales sing to each other, and there might be a small person underfoot, one with rustling hair who liked knees more than hugs. It would be a quiet moment when he thinks perhaps the wind has stopped, and looks outside to watch the trees glittering, and still, and is hopeful that things have changed abruptly and that he can go out. It would be a long moment, within the constraints of momenthood, and the walls would glow like the sky, the clouds still running up high where they run. Then the wind would start again, and Thor imagined that he would turn back to Nona’s hands, and their creation. He would turn away from the rustling trees and there would be Nona, and the noodles. But something would have changed, almost imperceptibly, a change all over the world. A tiny change in being, but so profoundly affecting, and outside the sky would keep blowing by. But as Thor imagined it, that would be the end.
“Thor,” I must admit, is a personal favorite in The Wordstock Ten, a collection that has potential personal favorites all over the place.