In “The Way It Smelled” by Dylan Nice, Buster, a CVS clerk, loses his virginity to Eleanor, a sour-smelling girl with one pink eye. A simple enough premise, but Dylan makes the story idiosyncratic, funny, sweet, innocent, and, above all, awkward to the point of cringe. “The Way It Smelled” also serves as proof that a piece can be snortably funny while at the same time artful and crafted, with excellent sentences. Here are the opening lines: “The corduroy of his trousers stretched awkwardly. Eleanor was pressing herself to his body, and she was sweating through her own clothes and into his some. He felt at the fabric of her Pooh Bear T-shirt and looked into her one pink eye.” Great, right?
In addition to loving this story for it’s truly exceptional sentences (my favorite, “Slowly, as they exchanged heat through their mouths, he began to work her T-Shirt farther up her stomach until it bunched uncomfortably at her bra.”) I also adore the characters who are both odd and ordinary, the details that are particular and strange, and the world which is-as it should be for adolescents getting it on for the first time-almost unbearably uncomfortable. I almost want to look away, but I don’t and instead giggle into my palm as Eleanor farts during the make-out session and then again, later, after the condom incident. By the end the whole episode, the characters have somehow retained their innocence and the story its sweetness, even as Buster utters his final words to Eleanor: “Thank you so much for letting me do this to you.”
The first Kathy Fish story I read was in Juked, two-ish years ago, about a naked sleepwalker with a soft spot for the music of Stevie Wonder. I’ve been a major fan of her work ever since. “Swicks Rule!” is one of my very favorite Kathy Fish stories. Reading this piece is like watching a master plate spinner. Every few lines a new character is introduced and the tension builds. How Kathy Fish manages to balance all those wacky characters while nurturing an inner story that’s so honest and intimate is beyond me. A flash like this isn’t supposed to work. But that’s Kathy Fish for you.
Myfanwy Collins is a gifted, poetic writer and I could talk about any one of her pieces with boundless admiration. I’ll focus on her “The Daughters” though, for this is a great example of her soulful generosity and her attention to detail. I love the way Myfanwy came at this story, featuring the daughters as a collective, as it gives the reader a sense of relief, a sense they might be okay in spite of everything because they are like one being and stronger for it. Together they can stand against thoughtless, if unintended, neglect, and against their father’s apt and powerful warning: “I could slip and hurt you.” And together they can bear the humiliation brought down upon them by their unthinking parents.
The details Myfanwy has chosen to show the girls’ life, the scab on the mustard jar, the mother not teaching them to wipe correctly or to brush their teeth, the father jabbing their sensitive ears with “unraveled paper clips” makes the piece a stand out. There’s something so…honest and real about them. They are the things that no one talks about in polite conversation, but they are the truth of lives, of these lives here. That is one of Myfanwy’s greatest gifts as a writer, her willingness to go places most will not, and then to put it all together so beautifully on top of that, every word, every sentence, a not-to-be-missed jewel.
Fictionaut Faves, a series in which Fictionaut members recommend stories on the site, is edited by Marcelle Heath, a fiction writer, freelance editor, and assistant editor for Luna Park. She lives in Portland, Oregon.