Frances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, named one of five “Best Memoirs of 2010” by SheKnows.com. It’s a true story of growing up poor in San Francisco in the 1970s, getting a scholarship to an Ivy League college, and discovering what it really means to have and have not. Her essays, and articles and short fiction have appeared in Tin House, Blip, Superstition Review, GlimmerTrain Stories, Fiction, The Sun, Utne Reader, Whole Living, Health, and more. She has earned special mentions twice for the Pushcart Prize and once for Best American Essays, among other honors. The book reviewer for Good Housekeeping, Frances is the former Senior Editor of Body+Soul magazine (now Whole Living). She lives and surfs in Northern California.
Anything but the usual, please. Twists in language or plot or attitude. A thin, sharp line between forms or toes dipping into several at once. Economy and understatement, brush strokes that imply so much more. These are the qualities that get me excited about a piece of writing. Three things that rub me the wrong way: snark; gratuitous sex or swearing; wordiness. I’m no poet, though I care very much about each word. And I don’t feel right recommending friends here, so I’ve had to overlook the fine stories of James Claffey and the incredible twisty work of Meg Pokrass. Now that you know my biases, I offer you my favorite pieces from the past few weeks of Fictionaut posts:
A story or a poem or a storypoem told in a succinct but oh, so revealing list of explanations, or are they excuses? If I told you more I’d ruin it, and I’d use more words than the piece itself. Delicate but not at all fragile.
In exactly 500 words, we get a glimpse into the intricate and heartbreaking dynamics of a culture, a marriage, a family, a neighborhood, and a mother-daughter relationship, all from the very tactile and convincing point of view of a little girl. This story masters the trick of telling big truths through small, sensory details (a priest’s turquoise ring; a dusty ceiling fan) that catch the narrator’s eye. I can definitely smell that rind, and it makes me sad.
One of the baseball greats, or maybe all of them, used to say you had no choice but to “just keep swinging,” especially when you’re in a slump, and sooner or later you’ll start connecting again. As Mr. Bellamy shows in this potent storypoem, the advice applies for all sports, maybe for all of life. And it’s no metaphor even if it is one. Such a solid sense of flesh and impact here.
OK, I’m a native San Franciscan from a pro-labor family, but those aren’t the only reasons I fell for this compact story about a steelworker who lost his life building the Golden Gate Bridge. The images of people doing the impossible; the descriptions of how they did it; the details (600,000 rivets!) of what went into it: these are the real attractions here. And the emotional heft that underlies them all. This story reads like a series of sepia photographs, lofty and weighty at the same time.
“I see the little girl my son punched in the face” is one of the worst things a mother could ever have to say. But he’s your son, he must have learned it from somewhere. But he’s your son, you can’t abandon him. But he’s your son, he’s hurting and you want to make him feel better. This little story tracks all the nuances, including the older teacher who calms the furious other mother down “by just nodding her gray head.” Oomph & swerve.
An act of violence has a public and a private side, though what was yours about your life suddenly becomes open for gawking. This poemstory does a fine job illustrating the lingering rawness, the feelings and the acts of exposure. But what I most admire here are the holes, what isn’t said.
The title hooked me. The “knuckled money” reeled me in. The looming but unspoken questions—what makes a ‘fair’ fight? what won’t we do for money?—kept me there. Like most stories about fights, this one is also about families, and it feels ancient and mythological despite the hip Che Guevara tattoo “moving like a reflection across the skin” of the younger challenger. After the pow, the moment slows down and opens up enough for a whole history to emerge. Then it’s time to stand up and face the crowd.
Almost too slumming-it romantic for me, with the kissing and blushing and cackling against a backdrop of desert heat and colors. But then there’s this: “until the Jesus salesmen knocked on the front door.” And this: “the snarling face of chaos.” Just enough fresh to make this doomed micro-love-story breathe and thump.
Editor’s Eye is a blog series that aims to highlight noteworthy work that might have slipped through the cracks of Fictionaut’s automated list of recommendations. Every two weeks, a distinguished visiting editor scours the site for lost treasures and picks outstanding stories.