- Short Fiction Contest Introduction
Did you get a good view of the eclipse last year? In Gambier, hundreds of us gathered on the lawn in front of the library, sharing the special flimsy glasses and making jokes as we gazed up into the gray sky. We could see the outline of the sun in the very beginning, but the clouds grew thick, and we lost sight before any real sign of a cosmic event. It became something of a joke, how little we were able to see. The students dispersed. Others I talked to, who traveled to Kansas City or Nashville—Laura Maylene Walter wrote a blog post about this—had almost life-changing views as the sky grew dark, and those watching together felt an enormous happening.
Every year we open for the Short Fiction Contest, we're on the lookout for that feeling, that shift, one that will shake something inside of a reader. It can sneak up on you. Take "Lionel, for Worse," David Greendonner's winning story in this year's contest. While the plot is very simple—a couple practices spreading ashes as the husband grapples with his friend Stan's death—the most dumbfounding part of the story is the couple's love for one another, which is never articulated outright. In fact, they're both pretty sarcastic all the way through.
But who would suggest that they go through the exercise of spreading fake ashes, if not to console their partner, who is vulnerable in his grief? What are they processing, if not their own age and the short time they have left together? Moreover, humor is a tough thing to master in fiction, and almost every line in Greendonner's story is bursting with wit.
Kimberly King Parsons's "When Do We Worry" is set during the Altadenta Fire of 1993 but feels immediate in a year of California wildfires. Lorain Urban's "Canto," too, is about grief, and sharing the expanse of it in a small space like an elevator.
Whether it's cloudy or clear where you are, we hope you enjoy these stories. [End Page 1]
Judge Lee K. Abbott writes:
I chose "Lionel, for Worse" because of the writer's obvious command of material that in other hands would be merely maudlin and because the writer fully exploited the virtues peculiar to short fiction, especially compression and brevity. Moreover, I found something to treasure—a turn of phrase, a word choice, an image—in virtually every sentence. The dialogue was life-like and revealing of character. Finally, I think the appearance of the two teenage girls who offer their condolences when our narrator and her husband are leaving the beach is a stroke of story genius. Would that more of us could make the mistake they do.
"When Do We Worry" had many of the same virtues as our winner, namely efficiency and a fine feel for the dynamics of a marriage in collapse. Its pacing was felicitous, as was its structure.
"Canto" had verve and drive and a fetchingly bittersweet tone. I loved the point of view, which captured the consciousness of the focal character. [End Page 2]