Lee Hope

Fiction Co-Editors’ Note

What a collection of seemingly divergent yet paradoxically interrelated stories we offer you this spring! Pieces ranging from established authors to emerging voices, from the realistic to the more experimental. As editors, we seek such a variety of vital, culturally diverse fiction, of stories meant to challenge and entice you, the reader. To paraphrase Stanley Fish’s Reader-response theory, we value your reaction as you actively construct the text. In fact, if you wish to respond to us directly with your comments, please do.

Jack Driscoll, an NEA fellowship recipient, PEN/Nelson Algren Award winner, and author of twelve books, presents the lyrical yet hard-bitten story “The Burial,” a riveting, empathic tale of two brothers about to commit a crime while their father is in prison. We’d gotten hung up an extra half-day and which made us late retrieving the body. Us meaning me, and my half-brother Harlan who’d recently turned seventeen. I was three years older, and the house, for better or worse, fell to us. As did our dad’s hard-used, one-ton Chevy flatbed with the homemade driver’s side running board, and those cherry red, spray-painted wheel hubs.  This piece delves deep into souls and is, therefore, unpredictable, unforgettable.

Tina Egnoski‘s “Radiant Insanity” is a rich feast for the senses, a glimpse into the unfettered life of Tennessee Williams as seen through the eyes of his friend and fellow writer Carson McCullers. We can taste Vermouth on sea-salted lips, hear Tenn’s barking laugh, feel Carson’s love for Tenn, as well as her exasperation and jealousy. Full of rich language, the story is tender and delicate. In the evenings, she and Tenn took the trolley to Mallory Square. He carried the lounge chairs and a thermos of gin martinis, shaken by the rutted road. Carson carried, as ever, her desire to see the world, to be seen. By the world … They were three drinks in. Why wait? On this skiff of earth, connected to the mainland by railroad piers and concrete—by prayer, really—you pour any hour of the day.

Breena Clarke, whose first novel was an Oprah Book Club selection, offers us two interconnected stories. A very short piece of lyrical, magical realism “Back Along the Octoraro” is set in Russell’s Knob, NJ in 1866. After the war for freedom of the enslaved, folks started getting word about a beloved’s whereabouts through the services of songbirds. Dossie Smoot had special powers. She was skilled in understanding the conversation of birds … She knew their cheer, their come-hither calls, their fear, their caviling, their dirges, their territorial songs … though they did not engage with her in direct conversation most times, spoke in her presence …

This story provides a mystical, historical underpinning for Breena Clarke’s longer piece, “The Afterlife of History,”also in Russell’s Knob, but in 1933, as the next generation returnsRobert’s mother was fond of birds and was delighted with them. He feels uneasy here now, on this land, surrounded by chirping and singing … Which is this persistent chatterer? When they hear it and try to catch a sight of it, it has flown away. Robert is certain this particular bird means to harry him. The passing of the parents haunts the sons and daughters even as they venerate their Black ancestors.

Phillip Freeman, a published psychoanalyst, in this novel excerpt, brings his astute, darkly humorous perceptions to the perverse game of golf.  As they prep to play, Van perseverates about saving the small public course from developers, while Nick, the protagonist, hears his deceased wife’s voice and frets about a possible cancer diagnosis.  The course, like so many things, brings Anne to mind … Nick and Anne played as they did everything, bickering and grateful. He feels her absence from a distance, a barren landscape, but he must resist for their daughter, Evie … Nick surveys the ribbons of green fairway up the hillside to a rock promontory … Glades of trees separate one hole from the next. Ponds and streams, soothing for the soul but sirens to wayward golf balls, decorate the fields. In this landscape, beauty is officially a hazard.

With “The Rivermen” by Sithulisiwe Wabatagore we travel to Zimbabwe where a young girl is tossed about by her parents, her culture, and her traditions. She remains, however, determined in her sense of self. Any moment can change your life in ways you would never have anticipated. For me, it was the time I went to the rivermen. I’d gone to rid myself of my ‘illness,’ that hefty sack of burdens that was about to sink me to the depth of despair forever. The visit to the river had done more than that and perhaps nothing at all. It’s a struggle for me even now to decide which it had done.  In the end, it is her resilience and creativity that prevail … for the most part.

Rebecca Pyle‘s “Birds of New York” is an engaging meditation on anonymity and connection in the city, on the way in which the protagonist, a delivery woman, never knows what she is actually delivering—neither what the object is, nor what it means to the recipient: joy, dread, the fulfillment of some hope or the dashing of another. She was a package delivery woman. She took her job seriously; almost every package was a birth. A birth of something new replacing something old, or a new idea, or the beginning of a determination, or a future. There is an element of magic, a sweet intimacy, a melancholic solitude that draws one to this woman.

In “The Dead Love Us,” Emily Shoff gives us a protagonist who has a refreshing self-awareness and skepticism regarding her compatriots in a Mexican seaside town into which she has been thrown in almost against her will. She’s riddled with guilt and grief over her daughter’s death, but resists those things that might actually help, and at first spends her days letting herself just exist. In Sayulita, the spaces are small. Nicole passes stores and cafés that would serve as closets where she’s from, and no one apologizes for not having a bathroom, simply wagging their heads, “Aquí, no,” and gesturing at some unnamed place. An unnamed place is in a place where her sadness, lodged like a mollusk under her diaphragm, can give way to softer memories and forgiveness.

Along with these fine stories we offer you two interviews. One is with Sena Desai Gopal, author of the debut THE 86thVILLAGE, an absorbing story—mystery, crime, eco-fiction—set in a doomed village of South India, and the other is with one of our short story authors Jack Driscoll as the much-published writer Patricia Ann McNair discusses with him craft and empathy.

We trust, while you read, you will also create these fine works.

Lee Hope and Anjali Mitter Duva

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