University of Georgia Press

Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

Nancy Zafris, Series Editor

Published by: University of Georgia Press

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Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction

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Stories by Sandra Thompson

Sandra Thompson takes us inside the lives of women struggling to find their places among lovers, husbands and ex-husbands, mothers, and children in relationships where old rules do not apply and new rules have not yet been set.

Thompson’s characters live in a world where dreams often supersede reality and things are not as they seem. Her style is sophisticated and subtle, and we experience her stories almost by osmosis. They stay with us afterwards to question their own realities.

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Compression Scars

Stories by Kellie Wells

The eleven stories in Kellie Wells's debut collection cover a wide range of eccentric characters--from a young girl experiencing her friend's strange demise to a set of opposite-sex conjoined twins. Forced to deal with the debilitating confines of the physical world--usually manifest in some kind of deformity or affliction, from compression scars to mysterious blue skin--Wells's characters struggle to transcend their existential disappointments and find some way and someone to love.

In the title story, Ivy and her best friend Duncan struggle to understand their mortality as Ivy learns of his potentially fatal internal scarring caused by a moped accident. As Ivy says, "Things can get so strange so fast," and they frequently do in Wells's stories. But Ivy and Duncan help each other escape their frightening, difficult world, if only momentarily, through imagination, good humor, and closeness.

"Godlight" addresses most specifically the questions that are evident in all the stories: Do you believe in God, and do you believe in reincarnation? Jonas, the Hyatt Regency Hotel's live-in light bulb replacement man, encounters two different characters--a child who lives in the hotel and a woman who claims that her identity has been altered for the Witness Protection Program--who ponder these questions. Meanwhile, Jonas is left wondering what has really become of his missing daughter, Emma.

The physical world is brought into question frequently in this collection, and in "My Guardian, Claire," we see what can happen when someone tries to transcend it--and succeeds. During a séance to reach the narrator's late mother, Claire reaches the spirit world and never truly returns. The narrator tries desperately to retrieve Claire through a hilarious trip to the Exotic Animal Drive-Thru Paradise.

Compression Scars is an eloquent and original collection that vibrantly captures the oddities of both the everyday and the out-of-this-world.

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Consequences of Desire

Dennis Hathaway

The stories collected in The Consequences of Desire describe a modern urban society in its extraordinary complexity, its often apparent absence of fixed values, and its resistance to easy understanding.

In "Counting Mercedes-Benzes," Marshall is a directionless young man who believes he can escape his parents' Beverly Hills lifestyle by marrying for love. He fails to realize, however, that the woman he thinks he loves, his mother's Hispanic maid Geneveva, has little in common with the person he imagines her to be.

The title story concerns a corporate lawyer who was a radical at Berkeley in the sixties. By chance he runs into his lover from that time and discovers how far the two have traveled in the intervening years. In "Lost in Rancho Mirage," Denton is a young man who might "have been picking up garbage or digging ditches if his grandfather hadn't left his (Denton's) father a piece of real estate that turned out to be directly in the path of a freeway". He must come to terms with the fact that he can never fully possess his beautiful girlfriend: "The imaginary sunlight bathing Jill, he realized, was a microcosm of a world in which she would always be the center; he would always be standing a little off, in a shadow, where he belonged".

The need to overcome reality often becomes an obsession for these characters. In "Space and Light," an architect's realization that a former protege has surpassed him both financially and artistically prompts him to attempt something wholly original for the first time, a project that leads him down an inexorable path to madness, to a darkness from which there is literally no escape. In "The Girl Detective," Justine's disappointment over her first sexual experience is juxtaposed to her resentment at being born a girl. To her, being a girl means "always wanting to be something different, someone else, unable to accept the facts that some of her friends seemed to consider, amazingly, a stroke of the utmost fortune." In the aftermath of her surrender to passion on the grass of the municipal golf course, she indulges her childish fantasy of being a private eye--"not Nancy Drew but Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, even the virulent, violent Mike Hammer."

Set mainly in California, these stories portray a world where dreams come into conflict with reality, where perception fills the space between truth and fiction, logic and emotion, fantasy and disaster.

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Copy Cats

Stories by David Crouse

Featuring seven stories and a novella, David Crouse's powerful debut collection depicts people staring down the complicated mysteries of their own identities. “Who are you?” a homeless man asks his would-be benefactor in the title story. On the surface it's a simple question, but one that would stump many of the characters who inhabit these carefully rendered tales.

In the edgy novella “Click” Jonathan's ongoing photo-documentary of a prostitute exposes how little intensity remains between him and his fiancée, Margaret. While Jonathan is plagued with doubts about his motivations and abilities as an artist, Margaret is worn out by her obligations not just to her needy husband-to-be but to all the men in her life. In “The Ugliest Boy,” Justin develops an odd friendship with Steven, his girlfriend's brother. Steven was disfigured by fire in a childhood accident. Justin bears wounds more deeply hidden. The two forge a strange bond based on their anger and pain.

Crouse's stories often involve people trapped on the margins of society, confronted by diminishing possibilities and various forms of mental illness. The junior executive in “Code” worries about his job--and his sanity--amid a sudden and wide-sweeping corporate layoff. A manic-depressive father and his teenage daughter dress as vampires and embark on a strange Halloween journey through their suburban neighborhood in the darkly humorous “Morte Infinita.” In “Swimming in the Dark” a family gives up on itself. Shredded slowly over the years since the accidental drowning of the eldest son, the remaining family members seek their own separate peace, however imperfect.

The men and women in Copy Cats are unwilling and often unable to differentiate reality from fantasy. Cursed with what one of them calls “a pollution of ideas,” these are people at war with their own imaginations.

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Curled in the Bed of Love

Stories by Catherine Brady

To read Curled in the Bed of Love is to feel the incessant tug between devotion and desire that can unmake even the closest couple. These eleven stories are set in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in true Left Coast style, Catherine Brady's characters are as resolute in evading middle-class conformity as they are in clinging to their illusions about love. And while they never shy from paying their dues, they can't help but wonder sometimes if their choices have at last accrued too high a cost. What lies in the bed of love, with women and men curled sometimes in repose, sometimes in a defensive knot, are failed dreams, reproofs, ambitions, and stubborn beliefs.

Always, mortality threatens the lovers' embrace. In the title story, Jim and his HIV-positive partner contend with an illness that has fueled their love but also threatens to consume it. In some stories, an outsider exposes the frailty of a relationship. Claire, who's opted for a steady marriage in "The Loss of Green," is both stirred and repelled by the advances of her former mate Sam, a radical environmentalist with a predatory need to reassert his claim on her. And in "Behold the Handmaid of the Lord," Debbie, compelled to translate a brief affair with her cousin's fiancé into a profound transgression, comes clean on a sleazy national talk show.

All of Brady's stories are gritty and unflinching in their gaze, yet lyrical and rich in the imagery of stasis and change--an empty house too long on the market, a pair of kayakers riding out a patch of rough sea, a greenhouse in which the orchid blooms only suggest the darting vitality of butterflies and birds. There is much to learn in these tales of flawed but good people working hard to hold their lives together.

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Dance Boots

Linda LeGarde Grover

In this stirring collection of linked stories, Linda LeGarde Grover portrays an Ojibwe community struggling to follow traditional ways of life in the face of a relentlessly changing world.
 
In the title story an aunt recounts the harsh legacy of Indian boarding schools that tried to break the indigenous culture. In doing so she passes on to her niece the Ojibwe tradition of honoring elders through their stories. In “Refugees Living and Dying in the West End of Duluth,” this same niece comes of age in the 1970s against the backdrop of her forcibly dispersed family. A cycle of boarding schools, alcoholism, and violence haunts these stories even as the characters find beauty and solace in their large extended families.
 
With its attention to the Ojibwe language, customs, and history, this unique collection of riveting stories illuminates the very nature of storytelling. The Dance Boots narrates a century’s evolution of Native Americans making choices and compromises, often dictated by a white majority, as they try to balance survival, tribal traditions, and obligations to future generations.

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Drowning Lessons

Peter Selgin

The stories in Drowning Lessons engage water as both a vital and a potentially hazardous presence in our lives. "You can touch water," says Peter Selgin, "you can taste it and feel its temperature, you can even hold it in your hands. Still it remains elusive, ill-defined, shaped only by what surrounds or contains it."

With empathy and wit Selgin introduces us to characters navigating the choppy waters of human relationships. In "Swimming" an avid swimmer fights the stasis in his marriage by prodding his out-of-shape but contented wife to take up the sport--with near-disastrous results. A pond is the setting of "The Wolf House," which tells of the reunion and dissolution of a group of high school friends brought together for a funeral. "The Sinking Ship Man" chronicles a day in the life of an African American caretaker in charge of the only remaining survivor of the Titanic disaster. In "El Malecón" a toothless old Dominican tries to recapture his lost dignity by "borrowing" a shiny Cadillac convertible and aiming it down the coastal highway toward his childhood village. In "The Sea Cure" two travelers in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula confront death in the form of a mysterious woman living in an abandoned beachfront apartment complex.

In all thirteen tales in Drowning Lessons, Selgin exhibits a keen eye for the forces that push people toward--and sometimes beyond--their very human limits, forces as intrinsic, elemental, and elusive as the liquid that makes up two-thirds of their bodies. These stories remind us that of all bodies of water, none is deeper or more dangerous than our own.

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The Evening News

Tony Ardizzone

Tony Ardizzone writes of the moments in our lives that shine, that burn in the dim expanse of memory with the intensity and vivid light of the evening news. The men and women in these stories tend to arrange their days, order their pasts, plan their futures in the light of such moments, finding epiphanies in the glowing memory of a father’s laugh or a mother’s repeated story, in a broken date or a rained-out ball game.

Set mostly in Chicago’s blue-collar neighborhoods, these stories focus on subjects that concern us all: disease and death, vandalism and sacrilege, rape and infidelity, lost love. The husband and wife in the title story look at their pasts—his as an activist in the sixties and hers as a believer in reincarnation and the tarot—in light of the news stories they watch on television each evening and question whether they should bring a child into the world. And in “The Walk-On,” a bartender and former varsity pitcher for the University of Illinois Fighting Illini finds the actual events of the most cataclysmic day in his past unequal to their impact on his life and so rewrites them in his mind, adding an ill-placed banana peel, a falling meteor, and a careening truck in order to create a more fitting climax and finally to leave those memories behind him.

Searching their pasts for clues to the present, searching the horizons of their days for love, the characters in The Evening News seek, and sometimes find, redemption in a world of uncertainty and brightly burning emotions.

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Eyesores

Eric Shade

These eleven interrelated stories follow strands of hope and nostalgia that bind together, or fence off, the people of Windfall. Eric Shade's fictional western Pennsylvania community is a place we all know: a town bypassed by the interstate, its rail line clogged with coal cars that haven't moved an inch in years. The men of Windfall still vie on the time-honored fields of contest--from bars to bedrooms to football fields--but none is sure any longer what is won or lost. Few certainties linger: the jobs are going fast and the best women are already taken.

In the title story, a group of unskilled laborers rerun memories of youth as they race against the dark to demolish the town's drive-in theater. A chain restaurant will take its place. Naomi dumps Dwight at the altar in "Hoops, Wires, and Plugs," but then Dwight fritters away the shamed agitation that could have propelled him beyond Windfall's stunting gravitational pull. In the final story, "Souvenirs," small-time hoods Paxson and Gus do what so many in Windfall can't: get out of town. They're off to Pittsburgh and a contract killing they hope will kick off a more rewarding life of crime.

In hands less able than Eric Shade's, Windfall's men would be caricatures, screw-ups with all-too-easy access to the makings of tragedy: pills, booze, fast cars, guns, chain saws. Instead their stories give us new ways to ponder change and its consequences. Windfall stakes out a gritty quarter of the literary map shared by Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg and Thornton Wilder's Grover's Corners.

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Faulty Predictions

Karin Lin-Greenberg

In Karin Lin-Greenberg’s Faulty Predictions, young characters try to find their way in the world and older characters confront regrets. In “Editorial Decisions,� members of the editorial board of a high school literary magazine are witnesses to an unspeakable act of violence. Two grandmothers, both immigrants from China, argue over the value of their treasures at a filming of Antiques Roadshow in “Prized Possessions.� In “A Good Brother,� asister forces her brother to accompany her to the Running of the Brides at Filene’s Basement. A city bus driver adopts a pig that has been brought onto the bus by rowdy college students in “Designated Driver.�

The stories in Faulty Predictions take place in locales as diverse as small-town Ohio, the mountains of western North Carolina, and the plains of Kansas. Lin-Greenberg provides insight into the human condition over a variedcross section of geography, age, and culture. Although the characters are often faced with obstacles and challenges, the stories also capture moments of optimism and hope.

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