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  • Yennie Cheung

Short Story Month, Day 30: Tod Goldberg

Updated: May 31, 2018


"Walls" by Tod Goldberg (read by Gary Cole)


I wanted to post about Tod earlier this month for Teacher Appreciation Day, but I couldn't find a print version of "Walls" online, so you'll just have to put up with hearing it read by a talented professional actor (or read it in Tod's story collection Other Resort Cities). If you can't get the video to work on this page, click on the link above. Update: Tod sent me a link to the text.



This is my last individual story post because I have something else planned for tomorrow's final Short Story Month entry, so I'm ending (sort of) with Tod because, as the director of my MFA alma mater, UC Riverside Palm Desert, he has had an enormous influence on my literary awareness and citizenship. I probably wouldn't have heard of about half of the stories I've listed had it not been for Tod, whether directly or indirectly. I got into Ben Loory's work, for example, because I noticed that the editor of his first book was someone Tod introduced me to. Some stories were also suggested by fellow alums. And while I'd heard of Elizabeth Crane, I hadn't read her work until Tod assigned it to me (which was after I'd met her since she's also an instructor).

But more importantly, I would not be the writer I am today without Tod, the MFA program, or the support he gives me and my fellow graduates every damn day. I used to roll my eyes hard at people who bitterly trash talk the idea of getting an MFA because their biases are pretty clear. Now, I'm a little sorry for them because their rants remind me that many people's MFA experiences don't match mine, and mine have been spectacular. Tod has created a program that feels like a family. It's inclusive instead of competitive, and it produces real results not just because we're talented but because we create our own community while participating in the literary community at large. We support and we uplift one another. And Tod, at the center of that community, goes out of his way to show his support.

But of course, Tod and the other faculty members do a great job with us because they are talented working writers themselves, as you can tell from "Walls," one of Tod's most memorable stories. While this has glimpses of Tod's signature humor, "Walls" is mostly a sad story that I guess you can say is about a family of kids recounting the many men their divorced mother brings home, but that's too simple. It's also about one particular man who stood out, and it's about adult struggles and it's about knowing what genuine love and compassion looks like, even when you're a kid. It's about knowing that great parenting isn't a matter of biology. What I'm saying is that you will probably get choked up reading this story, and that's okay because I might think less of you if you don't.

I could write about the technical aspects of this story the way I have with some of these other entries. I could write about the push and pull that takes place between memories of various men and memories of one particular one. I could write about pulling off first person plural without feeling gimmicky, or about how important that first sentence is not just as a hook but as a line that echoes throughout the rest of the story because, holy crap, does that line resonate. But one of the nicest things about this story is that it's easy to forget about its technical merits; they're all there, but you don't notice because you're just too busy being moved by what they accomplish.

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