Was dying to write something witty and engaging and perhaps even interesting to introduce these four stories. And, finally, to leave a mark—if only a coffee stain—on the page of Literature. I thought to give descriptions of the work, the rationale for my choices, and to conclude with some passionate praise of the authors. Also, maybe somewhere along the way I would briefly and cogently and brilliantly analyze the condition of Contemporary American Fiction, the state of market place, capitalism, and the use of “emerging” to describe any writer who has or soon will publish a paragraph or two. Was dying and floundering, the way flounders used to on the icy stands of the Fulton Fish Market (where they flounder now I do not know).
I was so desperate to find a novel approach to my introduction that I hired a ghostwriter to write me an opening sentence, the supreme key to unlock all doors to my struggle. Here is that sentence: “I have read widely, noting that many stories frequently employ the word ‘the’ to good and useful use, but I find that in the stories I have here chosen, the word ‘the’ is freshly minted, shining with a certain élan vital that makes reading worth writing.” It’s a decent line, good enough for the fifteen or twenty smackers I promised to pay that certain party.
But finally, I decided to say simply and without fanfare the truth that these are wonderful stories. Yes, there are many wonderful stories sailing about, but these four travel in waters both fresh and deep and might pass for lighting bolts to ride on. Alacrity of telling is what I’m getting at: You might not notice, for example, that when you’ve finished Diane Williams’s three paragraph story, you have read, in small, a domestic epic like *t Anna Karenina *. I exaggerate somewhat.
Packing the deck with wild jacks and deuces, I love how these stories do not deal the cards straight, but keep a few extra aces hidden between the lines keeping you glued to the game. Sometimes the deal seems like any other in an honest game of poker. Aurelia Sheehan’s *t Big Truck *, a story of a young woman high up on a truck, pretends to be that—straight talk like Kerouac and Whitman, until you notice that the cards of her deck have music notes instead of numbers.
However, these writers here are not cardsharps—or technicians without heart–trying to trick or to cheat us, but are bent on deranging the tried and forgettable. To reinvigorate—for the sake of its deserved place in a world of powerful attractions, for the sake of its life—the tired old game of fiction.
But to do that with heart and sensibility. With sympathy for our loneliness, say. That sense of loneliness Iris Smyles so beautifully etches into her story, whose zany twists take us through Chinese take-out, car trips with kids, speculations made in a funeral parlor on death and the delicious hereafter. Smyles tells her story zigzag, with conceits worthy of John Donne. Shelley Jackson writes hers—a seemingly sweet mother-and-child in a library tale—like a tunnel through a hill of leaves and granite. Sometimes she caves-in images, throws in a few wrenches into the sentences just to derails the narrative, just to keep you aware that hers is an uneasy ride, as are, of course, all fictions worth the trip. As are, of course, the beautiful stories here.
By Iris Smyles
[The Cat’s Meow]
By Shelley Jackson
By Aurelie Sheehan
By Diane Williams
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