McSweeney’s #21

ISBN: 1932416617
ISBN 13: 9781932416619
By: Dave Eggers McSweeney's Publishing

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Anthology Contemporary Fiction Currently Reading Fiction Mcsweeney Mcsweeney S Mcsweeney S Quarterly Mcsweeneys Short Stories To Read

About this book

With work by Roddy Doyle, Stephen Elliott, Peter Orner, Joyce Carol Oates, Yannick Murphy, and Miranda July, as well as the triumphant return of Arthur Bradford and stories concerning fistfighting Mormons, New Zealand policemalfeasance, and a man named Trang, and with all of those works interspersed with heartfelt letters to Ray Charles and storyboards by some of the finest pen-and-ink artists of our day, our twenty-first issue is sure to be one of our best assemblages yet.

Reader's Thoughts


I'm giving up. It's been on my bedside table for months and I have zero desire to pick it up. I barely got through the first 2 stories... I guess I'm not a McSweeney's gal after all.

Jody Grant

I always love McSweeney’s. 21 features really enjoyable block art accompanying each piece that was just as delightful as the stories. I like that you can play around with these journals beyond the written word. I love such creativity in publishing and I only with there was more of it. From this collection, “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan” by Rajesh Parameswaran was a great find. I loved this story. It’s beautifully crafted and really stayed with me. I think this is the kind of piece people in fiction workshops all over the land are trying to write.


My friend Greg's story "I Feel Free" is in this issue. Read it now. He's brilliant.Or go to his website -

Patrick McCoy

As usual the literary journal started by Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s, has introduced me to some new and original writers. This issue also has great pen and ink storyboards for every story and some really weird letters to Ray Charles in between the stories. Anyway, Issue 21 starts out with a compelling journalistic piece, “The Tall Man”, about a case of police brutality, at the hands of a white man, that lead to death of an aboriginal man on the aboriginal island community of Palm Island in Queensland Australia. The plight of the Australian aboriginal is similar to that of the America Native American Indian; they have been herded into small communities that are saturated with poverty, alcoholism, lack of education and employment, and violence. Chloe Hooper does an excellent job of providing the background, history, context, and attitudes of the community/police/government as well as a rendering of the events of the day that led to the death of an aboriginal man in the custody of the police. It is clearly a case of a death that could have been avoided, but due to inaction and precedent that has avoided acknowledging or punishing suspect behavior of the police guard. On a positive note, while I was on vacation I read a news story that provides a vindication of sorts. The “Tall Man Man” a.k.a. Chris Hurley has been charged for the death of Cameroon Doomadgee, this is a case that makes history for the rights of aborigines all over Australia. This is a fascinating and compelling look at race, politics, and justice in contemporary Australia.There was also a really entertaining modern horror story, ”The Pram” by Roddy Doyle, included in this issue. It is a sort of modern mystery suspense tale that is well paced and full of exacting detail. A Polish nanny becomes bewitched by an invented horror story that she herself has created to frighten her charges. I haven’t read anything by Doyle in years, but it would appear as though he has still has it.Another new discovery was Rajesh Parameswaran’s short story “The Strange Career of Doctor Raju Gopalarjar.” It is a strange, but compelling story of identity/self-deception, and ultimately redemption. The fact that it deals with naturalized East Indians in America draws comparisons in my mind to the work of Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing, although Parameswaran has his own individual style that is quite distinct from Lahiri.There was a Miranda July story in Harper’s last month and I didn’t care much for it, but “Majesty” has all the same elements that made me want to see her feature film when I read an excerpt form her script for Me, You, and Everyone We Know: realistic dialogue, humorous situations, interesting characters, bizarre situations, and an obsessions with the posterior region of the body.“Snakebite” by Arthur Bradford is another odd but compelling little story about salvation through a snakebite, saying things that shouldn’t be said, and doing things that shouldn’t be done.I like it when stories incorporate an incongruous motif or theme from an outside source in a story like the life of Flaubert in Flaubert’s Parrot. Greg Ames does this with aplomb by using the life of Tolstoy in his story about a dysfunctional relationship in “I Feel Free.”Meanwhile, Peter Orner has managed to compress pathos, bathos, loss, betrayal, revelation, acceptances and other unspoken observation about his father and life in a brief story about a tangential figure in the narrator’s life: “Pampkin’s Lament.”An epiphany is realized in the afterthoughts of fight witness by a directionless boy in Mormon-country Idaho in Christian Winn’s “Rough Cut.”The books finishes with a flourish as the collection’s most famous author, Joyce Carol Oates, presents a fictional account of Mark Twain’s last years by drawing on letters and scholarship. It’s not the picture I want of Twain, but obviously was a part of who he was. I find the mature writings of Twain to have amoral authority that isn't as fierce in his earlier work. Twain was above all a moralist, and I think Oates captures that in this story of an old man’s obsession with purity and youth.

Rachel Stern

this was my first mcsweeney's quarterly. All of the stories are very, very engaging. I didn't even know I liked short stories that much. The Balloon and the las story, (the one by Joyce Carol Oates) were both particularly ineresting.

MJ Nicholls

Hits: Rajesh Parameswaran, Miranda July, Arthur Bradford, Greg Ames, Joyce Carol Oates.Misses: Stephen Elliott, Yannick Murphy, Holly Tavel, Kevin Moffett, Christian Winn.The rest were somewhere in between. Rajesh Parameswaran's "The Strange Career of Doctor Raju Gopalarajan" was a strange wonder and wins my improptu BEST STORY IN #21 award.


Nothing stood out at me, but a fun enough read.


it was very very cool and interesting but my lack of literary skills prevented me from fully understanding and absorbing the meaning of the story :( but even so, it was a lovely read which i enjoyed immensely :)


As far as McSweeney's goes, this is a pretty so-so issue. The big winners in this one are Rajesh Parameswaran, Greg Ames, and Joyce Carol Oates- Their three stories are fantastic, some of the best I've read in Mcsweeney's. The rest- some good, some meh.




Thank you Internet, thank you Goodreads, thank you Jean, thank you McSweeneys.I never heard of McSweeneys until I saw it pop up in the timeline of one of my goodreads friends. It looked very interesting so I ordered a few back issues. One of these issues was #21 and I was immediately blown away by the whole concept and especially the unique design of each issue. Without the Goodreads (or the Internet) allowing me to connect to friends thought gone, I would have never encountered this series.I immediately got a subscription (a combo with The Believer monthly mag, which is also a good read) and am now back ordering as many issues as I can.Since I am a sucker for layout and design I decided to give all McSweeneys issues a biased 5 stars.

Dusty Matthews

The Strange Career Of Doctor Raju Gopalarajan by Rajesh Parameswaran on p. 77 is wonderful.


These stories have a fluffy macabre sensibility. Let's just say: sadistic sex, snakebits, and Samuel Clemens, all in one book. It's fun but I can't really make out the overall tone of the work as a whole, since I get the feeling the authors feel a sense of importance to their tales, but I can't make it out through their rush to witticism.Best story: Grandpa Clemens & Angelfish 1906Best thing about the whole thing: Bizzarre letters to Ray Charles.How I read it: The 4/5/6 train between Bleeker Street and 138th in the Bronx, on my commute.


McSweeney's Issue 21 brings a collection of 14 stories, and several letters to Ray Charles from fans. (And these are mostly entertaining, for various reasons. Some sweet, some creepy, some just autograph seekers.)This foundation of tales shows plenty of variation in style and subject, which is enough to make the collection compelling for most readers. Although several of the fictional characters are, well, somewhat irritating, they are no worse than all of us imperfect beings-- such as my early-rising neighbor Hassock, who loudly grinds concrete at 3:00 AM.You also may never think about Mark Twain the same way after reading this.

Jack Delicious

I learned to love McSweeney's.

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