by James Wallace Harris
“Something Street” is exactly the kind of story I was looking for when I bought The Best American Short Stories 2020 (BASS 2020). It’s a Category 3 hurricane in its emotional intensity, with anguished gusts pushing into Category 4. The only other story with any powerful emotionality I’ve reviewed so far from BASS 2020 is “Godmother Tea,” but it was only a Category 1. “Something Street” roars with pain and anger.
“Something Street” was an hour and nine minutes on audio, making it the second longest story in the BASS 2020 anthology. Technically by some yardsticks it’s a novelette. However, I do recommend that you follow the link above and read it online before reading any further here. Actually, I highly recommend getting the audiobook edition of BASS 2020 to hear the powerful narration by Robin Miles. She brings Parthenia’s story to life like a one-person show on Broadway.
Trigger warning: This story is about a fictional famous black comedian who is a rapist. It’s obviously inspired by Bill Cosby. Carolyn Ferrell has divided the story into sixty sections. Cosby was accused by sixty women. This is Parthenia’s story, the wife of the comedian nicknamed Craw Daddy. I’m not sure how much it intentionally parallels Camille Cosby’s life but it feels like it faintly does. This makes me somewhat queasy because I wonder about the ethicality of using famous people for fiction. Not just here, but at any time.
I don’t intend to describe or summarize “Something Street” because it’s long, complex, and very deep. I’m afraid any description or quote I might give could dissuade you from reading it. Besides it so rich that I could write a dissertation on it, and I just don’t have the energy and time. “Something Street” is available to read online, and I recommend that you do so. But like I said, if you want the full force gale experience, get the audiobook of BASS 2020.
I do want to talk about why I crave powerful short stories. We live in a far-out reality that we mostly ignore because of our endless pursuit of diversions and duties. Reading an intense short story canes me over the head and shoulders like a Zen master telling me to pay attention.
I don’t feel my day has been worthy unless I read one or two stories that give me an that intense existential wake-the-fuck-up rush. “Something Street” did that for me today. Another recent read that did that was “Second Person, Present Tense” by Daryl Gregory. The link provides both the story to read and audio to hear.
You need to read “Something Street” very closely to get all the implied horror, some of which I goes beyond its real life inspiration. The reason why this seventh story in BASS 2020 stands out is its dramatic voice. Parthenia is painted in hyper-realistic details. “Something Street” has a baroque structure, with a rising arc ending in a tragic epiphany. I seldom use this term, but “Something Street” is a tour de force. Carolyn Ferrell hit one out of the park.