In mid-July, I was contacted by the wonderful Michelle Elvy, who asked if I would like to participate in the return of Editor’s Eye, seeing as how I had reached out about the feature almost exactly a year ago when I discovered a masterful short story that had been almost completely skipped over by the masses: “The Artist’s Conk” by Sara Catterall.
Let me tell you something about that story. I read it for the first time in August 2012, and again in August 2013 (and several times in between). To this day, “The Artist’s Conk” remains among the best short stories that have ever appeared on this website. It’s ~2,500 words of pure literature. It’s entertaining, there’s not a wasted word, perfectly paced, scintillating prose, a wholly profound tale of family and the detachment that is sometimes (intrinsically?) matched with love. And that ending? I’ll never forget it.
While there was no particular method to my selections—I clicked and read as many pieces posted over the last few weeks as I could—I know I missed some good ones, probably great ones. But I suppose the point of Editor’s Eye isn’t to show you all of the overlooked stories. That’s what the unending backlog of recent stories is for. My eight selections mainly were chosen for their ability to pierce my armor, to forcibly restrain me from clicking the back button after a few lines, to show me the world through the eyes of old souls, to make me jealous in a good way, in a way that tells me, “You have work to do.”
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the twenty-five words comprising of Landry’s prose experiment is worth twenty-five thousand unsaid words. The subtext here is tremendous, immediately setting fire to the imagination. Who did he leave in the waiting room? Did he leave anyone in the waiting room? Why was he/were they in the waiting room? What does it mean to leave a waiting room? Could you leave your ailment behind, if you wanted? Would you care?
When it comes to the writing of Chris Okum, either you know or you don’t know. What I know: this guy is one of the most consistently under-read writers on this website (most of his stories at the time of this post’s composition have between 60-80 views—should be ten times that). He regularly posts strange, hilarious, dark, excellent stories. He’s been doing it for a long time, and only recently have I caught on. This is a brilliant example of what he likes to do:
I never once thought for a moment to not go along with what he was telling us to do, because he was Father, and Father knew best. But then he mentioned moving to the jungle, and that’s when I knew I had to leave. Because nothing good ever happens when a bunch of white people move to the jungle. You don’t have to be a genius to know that. All you have to have done is paid the smallest bit of attention. So when he said we were moving to the jungle the first thing I did was take my wife aside and tell her that we needed to grab our kids and make a run for it. But my wife wasn’t interested in leaving. All she was interested in doing was continuing her tantric sex lessons with Father.
I don’t even know how to begin to break that down. Like, what? It’s just so damn good.
Another thing about Chris Okum: his stories don’t live on this site for long, probably because they’re being published in big huge literary magazines that are paying him a gazillion dollars a word, at least, that’s what they deserve. So, get reading. Get wise.
Full disclosure: I knew of Steve Edwards before Fictionaut. In fact, I invited him to Fictionaut. I first picked up his scent on Twitter, where he frequently dispenses wisdom of amusing, humorous, profound, or of wrenching sorts. He has a memoir about living in solitude, writing, and lots of other important things. That said, I’ve never met him in person and wouldn’t profess to know him personally, and although it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider him a friend, I know him through his work first. And so should the rest of you, because he is a damn talented man.
“Long Winter” is a bit lengthy by Fictionaut standards, clocking in at about 4,300 words, though it doesn’t feel that long at all. It feels like a twenty minute dream in which the reader is transported to Lafayette, Indiana, into the lives of two brothers—one divorced, the other caring for his mentally unstable wife. The reader sees them in the narrator’s new apartment; the reader sees them driving through the town they knew as kids; the reader is permitted to a statement of the conscious and unconscious desires of men who want to make a difference but just don’t know how, damnit. So, for you lengthists out there: this story is more like a beautiful hammer to the chest than a chore for the eyes. It really is literature.
This brief but packed story of yearning made me a little warm under the collar with its last few lines, set up perfectly by its lustful narrator. It’s the familiar premise of a friend who wants more, only setting herself up for disappointment, told with a refreshing perspective and wryness. I admire the frankness and self-aware tone that doesn’t play the games that she oh so wants to play.
More overtly sexual and existential (are those two not inseparable?) than the previous piece, this poem, as Matt Dennison (don’t let his aliases fool you) notes in the comments, sort of culminates from Mercado’s more recent work. He strips bare the anguish, presents it without frills or a shred of dishonesty. This poem dares you to look it in the eyes, in the soul, and smiles a bloody smile when you can’t.
This story, to me, demonstrates the power potential of flash fiction as well as any. Again, in straightforward language, dealing with the things with which we do not know how to deal, cannot be prepared for how to deal, and suggesting more beneath the surface without overtly stating it. This is what flash fiction can do, at its best.
You can always tell a language maven. They don’t stay covert for long, but they’re not so obvious, either: revealing themselves gradually like a tiger in the grass.
Sentences like this: “She was a magic gold piece in my pocket, a talisman against the blue solitary hours of being thirteen and not yet pretty.”
and this: “At school, Lorna was with Adam, too much older, with unfocused stone-washed eyes that left us feeling deflowered with a look.”
are written by people who understand it is actions that best describe characters, that it is the defamiliarization of what the eye sees so plainly it may not otherwise see that differentiates the ordinary from the extra-. Carol Reid is one of those writers, and “Sweet Caporal” is proof.
This piece blew me away. What we have here is flat-out storytelling, a writer who knows his subject, and delivers the goods. The prose in “Scouter” is taut and vivid, each word guiding you not only to the next word, but the next happening. Things happen in this story; they happen fast and they happen true. “Scouter” is a work of utter efficiency. At about 1,300 words, here is a war story that does what the best war stories do: it contains far deeper context beyond what is presented on the page. It’s quite a remarkable feat, really.
Matthew Robinson’s writing has appeared in numerous journals such as >kill author, JMWW, The Rusty Nail, Dinosaur Bees, and others. He lives in Seattle, which is much friendlier than people give it credit for, works in theatre, and stacks his spare change in odd configurations throughout the house. He tweets @mtthw_rbnsn. Editor’s Eye is edited by Michelle Elvy.