‘Especially Heinous’ is another story which satisfies my desire to be convinced of alternative realities. Or, if not alternative realities, then at least real fictions in our reality. Here, Machado details twelve seasons and 272 episodes of an alternative Law & Order, one which may be closer to the X Files than the source material, in which supernatural occurrences are de rigueur. Stabler and Benson contend with ghosts with bells for eyes, doppelgangers, and exorcist priests, and each of the 272 summaries is a Lydia Davis-esque short story in its own right.
““The Third Guy”: Stabler never told Benson about his little brother. But he also never told her about his older brother, which was more acceptable, because he didn’t know about him, either.”
At 16,000 words long, whether it counts as a short story or a novella is up to the reader to decide. The episodic summary form, however, compels ‘Especially Heinous’ not to miss a word. Perhaps long short stories are more interesting to writer-readers than lay-readers, but I’ve always been struck by the boldness, the audacity, of the long short story. It’s incredibly freeing as an artist; if you can rewrite an entire long running TV series and make it compelling, anything is possible.
Published in Her Body And Other Parties, Serpent’s Tail, 2019. Also available online in The American Reader