For this edition of “Editor’s Eye,” I read virtually everything posted on Fictionaut from November 1st through the 15th, not an especially difficult task as it turns out, and in a way pretty rewarding. I found, at a certain point, it was hard to say why some pieces got more or less attention than others, besides, maybe, name recognition. Not to diminish the importance of that factor as guarantee of quality. Everybody follows some writers, I assume, and part of that comes from the belief, probably reliable, that the ones you follow are likely to produce on a regular basis work that appeals to you. I think the only problem is in the assumed corollary, that all the others you don’t read are any the less reliable. The best reward from the exercise of reading everything has been that discovery, that there’s a lot of good stuff here that can be found under any number of signatures, and that it’s well worth looking under those unfamiliar names, from a Fictionaut reader’s viewpoint, the unworked ground where gems can frequently be found.
Since most Fictionaut pieces are comfortable ignoring the strictures that make something “fraught,” in the outer world, I doubt anyone will be outraged by Angela Kubenic’s take on abortion, her depiction of a might-have-been family that exists happily, and comfortably in companionable squalor, copious ingestion of Xanax by the putative mother, and an “anything goes,” attitude toward responsible parenting. Figuring out at whom the irony is directed, society or the narrator, is part of the slippery appeal of this piece. In any event, one cannot help be delighted by a portrait of a family in which all the rules are happily ignored without dire consequences.
If you step back a little from this piece, what comes through strongly is a sense of Smith’s authority over his material, in a laconic piece, dialogue driven in part, that manages to layer comedy over tragedy, without sentiment or bathos. A lot of people try humor, but the number of writers who can bring it off without violating the context of the work, can make you laugh without losing track of where you are is quite small. E.g.: “The EMT’s were drinking in the bar underneath my room. Town like this, of course the EMT’s were trashed.” In a piece of a couple hundred words, there are at least five places where you’ll be laughing. Funny thing, it doesn’t at all mitigate the pain. Read carefully, and don’t let laughs distract you, even as you enjoy them. There’s a lot here.
Okay, Veterans’ Day, and kindred experience may play into my bias. But not enough to occlude judgment, I think. This was a good meaty poem, that uses the immediate experience of a G.I. and barracks life to key into larger points, one where the writer successfully links the particular and general truths, without censure or preaching. You don’t have to have been there to feel the heart in this work.
There’s a particular tone to Mercado’s work, almost an attitude, of belief in love combined with a deep skepticism of its durability, which is reflected in poems that are romantic but never sentimental. Lust and love vie, intertwine, face-off, each dubious of the other, each knowing their deep interdependence. Assignations are by the hour, and eternal. The poems, like this one, are often quite beautiful.
This—admittedly a WIP—is one of those pieces which you can see just developing from a single, simple idea, a question: What would happen if people kept showing up at your door, in costume, on the day after Halloween, the day after that, and on and on? What indeed? In this case, its an elegantly simple question, which leads to complicated and amusing possibilities. I wish I’d thought of it.
These are by no means the end of my choices, and I wanted to mention in addition these others that are well worth your attention before they slide into Fictionaut history: “Eulogy,” by Jowell Tan, “Beelzebub,” by J.A. Pak; “Eulogy is a Night Crawler,” by Dennis Mahagin and “Sock,” by John Olson.
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David Ackley lives and writes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.