Selected Shorts: Families are So Complicated

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The legendary Broadway set designer Boris Aronson, when asked by an interviewer how he imagined the decors for the many different kinds of plays he designed, said, “You know, there are only two kinds of plays—plays about “issues” and plays about “relatives.”  But the two stories on this program are about people who have issues with their relatives, and/or significant others. 


Allegra Goodman’s “La Vita Nuova” takes its title from Dante’s famous text, which translates to “The New Life”.  "This work was not only about Dante’s unrequited love for Beatrice, it was also a commentary on how romantic love can be an important step in a person’s emotional development, leading the way to a spiritual understanding of the world,” notes SHORTS commentator Hannah Tinti, “and I think that’s what happens to Amanda in this story—it’s her heartache that opens her up, and allows her to cast off some of the darkness she was carrying.”

Allegra Goodman is the author of seven books, most recently The Cookbook Collector. Goodman was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Hawaii, and now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her story of love and longing in Harvard Square is set.  The reader is Marin Ireland, whose television credits include “The Good Wife,” “Homeland,” and “Prime Suspect,” and whose film credits include the 2012 movie “28 Hotel Rooms.”

The family fish knows all in our second story, David Means’ “The Secret Goldfish,” originally published in The New Yorker and the title story of his most recent story collection.   In the story, a suburban family’s disintegration is mirrored in the growing murk of the goldfish bowl, but, says Tinti, “ultimately, I think it’s a story of hope—about continuing on, even when your world is falling apart.”

Means, who holds an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University and teaches English at Vassar, has published three story collections, and told a New York Times interviewer that he is faithful to the form because, “We don’t tell novels at the kitchen table, we tell stories. We carry them around, mull them over, twist them, pass them on to someone else, who, in turn, adds a few things —and that’s what interests me: the magic of how a small story grants us an enormous amount of grace.”

“The Secret Goldfish” is read with grace and relish by SHORTS regular Charles Keating.

“La Vita Nuova,” by Allegra Goodman, performed by Marin Ireland

“The Secret Goldfish,” by David Means, performed by Charles Keating

The  SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit

We’re interested in your response to these programs.  Please comment on this site or visit

And for more thoughts on the stories in SHORTS, check out literary commentator Hannah Tinti’s site at

Announcing the 2012 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize.  This year's theme is “objects of desire.”  The judge is the author Maile Meloy and the deadline is March 2, 2012.