Issue #97: Bar Joke, Arizona

When I teach my students how to create structure in their fiction, I always have them bring in a joke. Then we take the jokes apart. Each one has a set up, a build up, and then a payoff. If you can tell a good joke, I say, you can tell a good story. A man walks into a bar. Is there any better way to start? Bar Joke, Arizona surfaced from our slush pile, pulled by Marie Bertino, and then passed from reader to reader. Everyone had the same reaction–this story is great. It’s hilarious, and sad, and very, very different. I loved the concept of entering the jokes and turning punchlines into characters.  But the story wouldn’t work if Sam had stayed on the surface and made it only about this conceit. The opening is intriguing, but what really won me over was when the duck walked in. That was the signal that this was going someplace else entirely, and it does–each story that is told builds on the one before, until the duck takes center stage, and the story finds its heart. What makes Bar Joke, Arizona even more special is that it is Sam Allingham’s first publication. I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

3 thoughts on “Issue #97: Bar Joke, Arizona

  1. Pingback: One Story blog » Blog Archive » Release party for “Bar Joke, Arizona”

  2. There’s a well-respected writing teacher where I live and and many of the aspiring short story writers I’ve hung around with or participate in our weekly writers’ group have taken classes from him. We all did a reading once and the story this instructor read was similar to this story. It was an extended bar joke. I was so disappointed that this was the best this guy could come up with since I’d heard so much about him and since I’d even read other stories of his that were much better.

    “Bar Joke, Arizona” repeated that experience in some ways. Bar jokes are satisfying usually through the telling. They are rarely funny when read. They are also rarely funny when sober. I’d like to hear Mr. Allingham read this story, in the hopes that he’d do a better job than the last one I heard.

  3. I remember the first day of my creative writing class, my professor told us no talking animals and no waking up to it was all a dream. For the most part I’ve thought those were good rules for short stories. When the duck walked into the bar, I threw the first one out. This story was such a nice surprise.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *