Discussion → Fictionaut Selects #1: Up to No Good

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    Jane Hammons
    Feb 01, 04:50pm

    Creepy crime, masterful manipulation, unrequited love and a couple of pockets: writers at Fictionaut get Up To No Good in their excellent writing.

    Not many poems terrify. But Eddie Says by Stephanie Bobo does just that. Eddie’s compulsion—cutting the hair from the heads of unsuspecting women is frightening in itself—but it is the intensity of the language that traps us inside Eddie’s mind as he tells his story. Eddie asks, “Do you think I’m crazy?” Then he answers the question for us: “Sometimes I think / I am. Locked in here at night, I crawl / beneath my cot and lie awake, listening / to the secret gears that turn the lurching world. / And behind the grinding noise of night I hear an endless roar—as if a million people / were crying out in absolute alarm.” Well, yes, Eddie. You and your kind are out there. And understanding why only makes us more afraid.

    We are at the Argo, a drive-in move theater, representing several American traditions in Gita M. Smith’s The Late Show at the Argo. The Argo has “old-fashioned in-car speakers,” but if you think those speakers are there for kitsch or because the managers can’t afford digital ones, think again. The speaker in Slot 23 has a convenient wiring problem that the managers, Marti and Avner, use to profit from the cheating that goes on during the adults-only late show. The masterful suspense structure keeps us guessing about what goes on in Slot 88 until the end.

    If the protagonist of Neil Serven’s Down Cellar weren’t already there, we could yell out, “Down go into the cellar.” You won’t find a monster, or an Eddie, down there—just Dad. A mechanic, an alcoholic recovered from a liver transplant, surrounded by his stash of beer. And the tools that he uses with “a mechanic’s talent for distilling the plain and obvious,” as he humiliates, cajoles, and enjoins his son in the effort to deceive Mom, who gets no further than the stairs as Dad lays claim to his boy.

    Blue Pinto by Mark Reep is mysterious but not in the same way Smith’s story is. As flash fiction, we only get a glimpse of the Quikfill as Sean with his broken nose drives in to fill up and possibly get a smile from Darcy, who works there. The object of their discussion is a “rusty blue Pinto . . . nosed up to a gritty snowbank.” It’s “broken” and “drooping” and “slumps like it’s tired.” The only object of our attention that is not in some way damaged or broken is Darcy. Something makes her smile. But it isn’t Sean.

    In “The Underwear Thing” by Stephanie Austin the self-conscious narrator, Kate, attends a party thrown by her ex-boyfriend. She knows a lot about him: the conditions under which he rents his house, that he doesn’t like people going through his fridge, and where the bottle opener is. What she doesn’t know is why they broke up. So after many, many drinks, she asks. The ex doesn’t remember a lot about her, but he does remember that “There was something crazy going on with [her] underwear.” The pace of the story as Kate works her way up to the question and then reels from the response is created in part by excellent dialog, but also by Kate’s constant stream of observations: “He sees me and nods. Daniel sees me. He also nods. I don’t nod. I feel lame when I nod.” Humor with a twist of pain: no ice.

    Does your right pocket know what your left one is doing? After you read Cynthia Hawkins’ hilarious “Deep Pockets,” you might want to check that out. The story opens with the protagonist asking himself “What the hell have I done?” Much to his astonishment, and ours, his right pocket produces the answer on a little fortune cookie-like piece of paper. “You have made an ass of yourself.” Hearing the truth in his wise pocket’s words, he continues to ask questions and foolishly do as he is told. The surreal elements are a wonderful surprise in this truly inventive story.


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