A Review Of Two 2009 Stories: “Substitutes” And “The Order of Things”

The ten-page short story “Substitutes,” by Viet Dinh, takes place in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon.  Expectably, the Vietnamese Communists resemble Nazis and the Vietnamese people resemble Jews, with the story’s setting almost entirely limited to a classroom where a succession of teachers disappears at the hands of the new rulers.  Work over education, false propaganda over the truth—it transpires that this is what the victorious Communists represent.  With its fine premise, Dinh’s story is savvily and straightforwardly written.

So is Judy Troy’s “The Order of Things.”  Here, a Lutheran minister, Carl, ultimately thinks he must walk away from the pastorate after having an adulterous affair.  Some words by Saint Theresa, however, leave him understanding that although he has been unthinking, he has not been unloving, and perhaps this is a fulcrum for a certain spiritual renewal.  It is an absorbing tale whose setting in Wyoming feels absolutely fitting. . . Both of these pieces won PEN/O. Henry awards, and are included in the 2009 edition of The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories.

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