“The finger-talking gathering welcomes you, friend.”
from “Ether” by Zhang Ran
Zhang Ran’s story in the Watchlist anthology reminds me of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, with its alternate universes and shadowy doppelgängers. “Ether” is set in the future (maybe 30 or 40 years?), in an age after “the Internet degenerated into senselessness and everyone tossed aside their complicated smartphones for basic phones that could only make calls.“ The story’s narrator is a self-described ugly, balding man in his mid-40s who lives alone, drinks too much, and works a mindless job at The Department of Social Welfare. One day as he’s walking along the rain-drizzled street in his city, he’s nearly knocked over by a group of hoodie-clad people running from the police. One of the hoodielums grabs the narrator’s hand and writes a quick message, fingertip to palm. Later, after giving it some thought, our man realizes it’s an address. One thing leads to another and soon the friendless, balding, unhappy narrator finds himself in the dark basement of an abandoned building sitting in a circle with silent, faceless strangers who communicate by writing on each other’s palm, passing messages like the old game of Telephone. Zhang’s story is one of the longest in Watchlist, but it never flags in its suspense and intrigue.
Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21. The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.