Exposed at Last: The (Very) Short Stories of John Hughes
Everyone pretty much assumed John Hughes didn't quit writing when he quit Hollywood, and eventually some archive would burst open with nearly 20 years of stockpiled Hughesian goodies. But good luck finding anyone outside the late filmmaker's inner circle who knew he'd been publishing in our midst all along -- not as John Hughes, alas, but as the pseudonymous, prolific short-story craftsman JL Hudson. Like, really short. But also, as a few newly published samples prove, pretty damned excellent.
The three new stories at Vanity Fair complement the magazine's definitive profile of Hughes, who passed away in New York last August at age 59. And while at least one op-ed eulogy sketched the former teen-comedy kingpin as a moody, disenfranchised Peter Pan, the short fiction Hughes had both published at Broken Wrist Project (a journal co-founded by his son James) and collected at home aligns him more with a sort of post-postmodern J.D. Salinger. In fact, the more you study the stories and the other background on Hughes's later years, it's impossible to overlook a specific (and largely successful) emulation of America's preeminent recluse -- both his art and his life.
Oh, and did I mention they're funny? Try Eulogy for Mildred Penniman, whose 66-word entirety goes like this:
Reverend Clay cleared his throat. He raised his chin and closed his eyes. He issued a deep sigh.
"Mildred Penniman," he said softly, pausing between syllables. "was a teacher, a community leader, and an autogynephilic transsexual."
An angry murmur rose from the bereaved.
"Now, now," Reverend Clay said, silencing the assembled with a wave of his hand. "Jesus was a teacher and community leader."
OK! The other new stories, which Hughes sketched out in some of his hundreds of notebooks gathered through the years, are even better, with The Things That Bother Jeanne Marie on Friday, January 16, 2006, 4:04 p.m. offering the day's best two-minute procrastination break that doesn't involve Jennifer Garner and horny dolphins. An excerpt:
Jeanne Marie scowled at the teenagers outside the coffee shop. She wanted to rap her knuckles on the window and shake an angry fist at the girl and the three boys.
"They'll just give me the finger," she said softly. "If they want to rough up that girl, so be it. And if she lets them do it--well, that's too damn bad for her."
She took a test sip of her nonfat triple-vanilla almond latte. "Too fucking hot," she whispered. "And the goddamn milk's burned. Great. Three dollars for scorched milk and inauthentic syrup from Italy. What kind of fool am I?"
She cast an exaggerated expression of dissatisfaction in the direction of the young, redheaded barista busily pulling shots and frothing milk. "Is it really necessary that you offer so much cleavage?" she wondered. "Are you here to make great coffee drinks or peddle your flawless, alabaster bosom?"
She sighed. "God, I hate red hair."
VF's got the rest of your posthumous misanthropy -- your must-read posthumous misanthropy, by the way -- at its Web site.