Jess Row: “Summer Song” from Tin House, Summer 2012

Someone said, the problem with summer is that it goes on too long. It’s an interstice, a pause, a suspended sentence. You want it so desperately, then you can’t wait to get out of it. It gives you the illusion of permanence on earth. No matter what, it always comes back.
Someone else said, if I have to eat another bowl of gazpacho, or drink another glass of sangria, I’m going to fucking kill myself.

More prose poem than narrative, this reminds me of one of those party scenes in a movie – there’s a crowd of voices, the camera focuses on this conversation or that one, zooming in to listen more closely, then flitting away to find another knot of chatters, another party.

If you’ve been to that party – where in one corner someone is earnestly trying to raise a serious issue about current events, the big academic question of the day, or the less-than-admirable behavior of a group of which he’s a part (Americans, or the Middle Class, say), and a bored self-important blowhard (or half-drunk attention-seeker out of his intellectual depth) hijacks the conversation with a clumsy joke to himself become the center of attention again – then you know this story.

They worried about the inchoate, almost unmentionable things you can’t talk about at parties, like the problem of evil in light of God’s omniscience, or the potential for decades-long economic depression following a global credit collapse, or the future of the country, given that, I mean, half the kids in Alexa’s kindergarten class barely even speak English. Was it ok to hang bunting across your porch even if you disagreed with the war in Afghanistan to promote the success of Wallaby’s Organic Market, where red, white, and blue vegan cookies were on sale for $10.99 a pound?
But perhaps all those were forms of avoidance, of eliding the real problems, the intimate problems.

There’s a reference to Ray Bradbury – “A few wondered if Bradbury was still alive, and one or two said, oh yes, I read an interview with him in the Paris Review – made extra-bittersweet by random chance of timing, and the ending paragraph lands a glancing blow on terrorism-ism, but overall it reminds me of Cheever. Or post-9/11 Prufrock.

I love Jess Row’s writing (and forgive him when his character starts pontificating), and again he doesn’t disappoint. He juxtaposes the general and the specific, the thoughtful and inane, in a short (six-page) lyric that’s embarrassing as we maybe see ourselves, and beautiful. It’s kind of strange that the two stories I chose to read because they were very short (I was in a waiting room, not expecting to wait as long as I did, so as it happens I had time for this and Amy Hempel before my name was called) turned out to be more essay than narrative. In fact, I thought that might be the theme for the issue –I hadn’t read the Introduction yet, shame on me – but the “miserabilism” theme fits just as well.

There will never be another summer like this one. There will be another summer like this one. There will be, like, another summer. There will be another summerlike summer. One summer will be like another. A summer will never be like another one.

Jess Row: Nobody Ever Gets Lost – Stories

"This is my cathedral"

"This is my cathedral"

I first thought I might want to read this collection when I read the gripping “Sheep May Safely Graze” in the 2011 Pushcart volume. I ordered it after I read “Call of Blood” in BASS 2011. It’s a smallish collection – only five additional stories – but I had to read them, based on those two.

Christopher Feliciano of The Rumpus puts it well in his introduction to his author interview: “Row grapples with questions of identity, religion, and extremism, exploring how we manage (or fail) to co-exist in a post 9/11 world.” I’d add grief and loss to that list. Row’s interview with Charlotte Boulay of Fiction Writers Review is likewise informative, asking about not only craft but his exploration of fundamentalism and race in these stories.

I found the stories beautifully written, extremely intelligent and thoughtful. My favorites were emotionally engaging, often devastating, with images and metaphors that put complex things in a new light, such as the changing harmony Guruhka speaks of in “Amritsar” or the heartbreaking cathedral image in the title story. I have to admit I was surprised by the use of, well, harangue in “The World in Flames,” “Call of Blood,” and “The Answer.” Each contains extensive monologues in which a character explains his philosophy. I’m fine with this, but it strikes me as old-fashioned (the latter part of The Jungle, Magic Mountain) and no longer condoned, though I can hardly figure out why given the power of those “old-fashioned” books. I guess I need to learn the difference between talking heads and effective use of monologue. While I found “Call of Blood” mesmerizing, I had less connection to “The Answer” and “The World in Flames,” perhaps because in the former, the people doing the lecturing seemed to be wondering aloud rather than dictating, looking for answers instead of insisting they already had them all. In the latter two, they seemed to have their positions firmly entrenched, but I never saw much of the path towards those beliefs.

It’s a collection for someone who wants to think about issues, to see several points of view, not to just nod and agree with what they’ve already decided. Stories to think about. I wonder how some of these stories will look five, ten, twenty years from now.

The World in Flames” (Full text available online at Five Chapters)

She’d always seen herself as a fairly good interpreter of men, their attitudes and postures and elaborately disguised emotional agendas, but here, she thought, these waters just get deeper and stranger.

Samantha – Sam – is a young British woman backpacking through Asia. It’s her “last best chance to see the world” before settling down to all the things in a regular life. In Bangkok, she sees an American man, Foster, who somehow intrigues her, and she pulls a fast one: she tells him she’s lost her money and is waiting for the credit card company to send her a new card. It works, and he invites her to stay at his house overnight. His wife is upcountry. It’s a small dishonesty. She isn’t particularly looking for sex, or for anything; the shower and real bed and private room are extremely welcomed after months of bathing from pots and sleeping in communal rooms. She finds a cross hanging in his bathroom, and the conversation develops around religion; she discovers more than she bargained for about his brand of Christianity. He’s out to speed up the pace of things, to get the Rapture going once and for all. And for him, that means a grenade launcher. Poor Sam’s radar was seriously off with this guy. The evolution of their encounter is the thread that pulls the reader through this story.

I sometimes joke about my misspent youth as a fundamentalist. I know the territory. Though it reads like horror story, everything in the story is pretty much based on truth. The “Left Behind” books are still flying off the shelves. There are organizations that return diasporic Jews to Israel in an attempt to speed up the Rapture. Christianity: it isn’t just for Sundays any more. Foster turns out to be a cross between Pat Robertson and Charles Manson, and I don’t need convincing. Row’s intent was to look at how fundamentalism can lead to violence. None of us need convincing about that, not any more, though some may be surprised to see this setting. This is what I wonder: how can people who truly believe their religion is the difference between eternal paradise and eternal damnation, not be fanatics?

Amritsar” (Full text available online at The Atlantic Monthly)

Having found it only late in my lifetime, you could say I believe strongly in harmony. An outdated concept, you might say. It carries with it a strong whiff of the Beatles and that terrible Coca-Cola commercial I watched with the children when they were young. But, of course, a marriage relies on harmony, a family is composed of nothing but….
I am learning to fish because the components of a harmony change over time. Because the song changes, if you’ll excuse the terrible analogy.

I love stories that teach me about something I didn’t know before. Then again, I get annoyed by stories that are so unfamiliar they require research before I can follow along. It’s a delicate balance, and this one falls right in the sweet spot. It’s not the easiest read – after a magnificent opening scene of the narrator (I didn’t now for most of the story if the narrator was male or female) climbing nervously into a boat with his son, there’s a flashback to his childhood in the Punjab and the first reference to Amritsar, which jumbles the timeline for me; I was no longer sure where the present of the story was, in 1919, fifty years later, or fifty years after that. But, as I’ve learned, I just kept reading, with an open mind, and it came together. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading over my head, it’s that an open mind is crucial.
The short version: This story is about assimilation, but that’s like saying Othello is about jealousy; true, but not sufficient. Gurukha, our first person narrator, doesn’t like boats, but he is learning to fish because his son Ajay is marrying Christine, the girl next door (literally) whose father Tom is an avid fisherman. It wouldn’t do for one father-in-law to teach the other, so Gurukha has asked Ajay – “this son, who has never known a barrier he couldn’t leap, who will never have to do anything in his life he doesn’t want to” – to teach him. And on this day, a lot comes up. Memories of his childhood in India; his childhood friend Gopal, who was always intrigued by the massacre at Amritsar fifty years before, and later became an extremist himself. His emigration to Virginia to become a radiologist. The day his daughter found sand nigger painted on her school locker, and Ajay ended up arrested when things got convoluted and misunderstandings multiplied. His feelings about 9/11, with neighbor Tom parked in his driveway with a shotgun when reports of Sikhs, mistaken for Arabs, being attacked were all over the news (“Don’t be ridiculous, our neighbors know who we are, we’ve lived here for 20 years” says Gurukha when his best friend calls to warn him about the backlash; this reminds me of the line in Diary of Anne Frank, when one of the people hiding in the attic says, “I always thought I was Dutch”), and the terrible fight he had with his wife that night. His feelings about Christine making efforts to be a little bit Indian – watching his wife cook Indian food, asking about wearing a sari for her wedding – “in the way that so many Americans want to be something they aren’t.” So many points of view – the “other,” the ally, the vengeful militant, the concerned father, the kid who thinks it’s all worked out now, the parent who knows it isn’t. I’m still a little hazy on a few points, but along the way, the story wrings a lot out of me; it’s very special, and a beautiful read.

Nobody Ever Gets Lost” (from American Short Fiction)

You have to stop looking, she thinks. You have to stop lying your way into the right metaphor. Nothing works by analogy anymore. The act of comparing is another kind of violence.

This story, maybe the shortest in the collection, is worth the price of the book in itself. Let me take a different approach, and tell you my reactions as I read, because I think Susan, the protagonist, would understand. Despite the numerous references to 9/11 (September again, stores with T-shirts saying “I [heart] NY – More Than Ever”) including the obvious one about her fascination with an elevator accident that killed two children, I believed her when she said her boyfriend died of an aneurism. I was relieved, if a bit surprised and possibly disappointed somewhere I didn’t want to look. Oh, it’s that kind of story, not the kind that means I need to go get more paper towels (I’m a Olympic-level crier; tissues are for wimps). And of course, she lied to me, because that’s part of what the story is all about, glossing over things, getting on with our lives, erasing the scars. “It wouldn’t be fair, she finally decided, to expect them to realize that despite its seeming surface continuity, the world’s underlying chemistry had been permanently altered….Somebody has to remain innocent…” The last page is transcendent.

The Answer” (Full text available online at Granta)

When you come to Yale, you relinquish the right to be a mad prophet…. You take on the humiliation of belonging.

Isaac meets Rafael during Orientation Week at Yale in 1993. Most of the story is monologue: Rafael’s defense of jihadist Islam, and his attempt to lure Isaac to Karachi to study the Quran and convert. Isaac is not Jewish, by the way; he was raised Unitarian, which (to me) is religion in the vaguest sense. There’s a beautiful rhythm to this story; the sections flow perfectly and end on just the right note for the next one to start. The main story covers one night, more or less; four appendices provide additional context. There are no surprises here, really, outside of the unconventional structure of the appendices.

The Lives of the Saints” (from Ploughshares; full text available online at Numéro Cinq)

It’s because you’re a woman that you don’t want me to die, Tayari says.

That’s the first sentence of this story, and I gave up trying to figure out why dying was an issue quite soon; so at the very end, I realized Tayari was referring to the impending crucifixion. In the name of art. I’ve been known to get impatient with people who have pretentious and pseudo-intellectual views about art, but if someone’s going to have nails driven into his palms, I’m thinking he’s suffered enough. It’s the story of a very mixed-up couple. He’s the artist, bordering on famous; they live in a deserted storage shed where he completes his projects such as False Postitive, pinning a year’s worth of pregnancy tests to a board, and videos of martyrdom. The title refers to a book detailing the treasured gory details of persecution throughout history. He’s got some idea about bursting through artifice, to really affect people. Hence the crucifixion. His girlfriend is pretty much led down the garden path by this huckster, abandoning dance and education, and becoming pregnant. I was sorry the collection ended on this note, because it all smacked of pretentious nonsense and left a bad taste in my mouth. And yet – is there something here about the artist’s martyrdom, in comparison with religious and political martyrdom? I’m not sure. For one thing, he crucifies himself, not unwilling bystanders.

Overall, it was quite a collection. Out of the seven stories, I loved four. I generally bat about .500 on collections, but I loved these stories more than usual. It’s interesting how both the first and last stories were titled for books that appeared within them, that gave a character an avenue for “rationally” considered (rather than overtly anger- or hatred-driven) violence. It’s also interesting that I considered those the two stories I responded to the least. I’m assuming they were over my head, which means I have more work to do.

BASS 2011: Jess Row, “The Call of Blood” from Harvard Review and Nobody Ever Gets Lost

Seriously. Try to imagine it. You’re a little girl, and someone pushes you down on the asphalt at recess, and you’ve got a skinned knee and your pants are torn, and you’re crying and wishing your mother was there and not wishing your mother was there and wanting to speak Korean and not wanting to speak it. And nobody else knows what the difference is between you and Connie Choy in the seventh grade, nobody knows what a Korean is, or cares, aren’t those places just all the same anyway? What matters is you’re here. Nobody gives a shit about the Japanese invasion or President Rhee or two thousand years of this dynasty and that dynasty. You learn to hate your own inconvenient self. And then before you know it you’re in high school and you’ve forgotten all about it, you’re just a good girl, a straight-A girl, you have your own little slot, and you ace the APs and the only boys you talk to are the Jewish boys you debate in history and kick the shit out of in calculus. And then one of them asks you to the prom, and you don’t say no, you sneak out of the house through the basement window, and that’s it, a quick sweaty fuck in the back of a rented limo. After that you’re an American teenager for sure. Crying in the bathroom when your period’s late.

Everyone in this story feels like a fish out of water, no matter what ocean they’re in. Kevin’s a half-Jamaican, half-Irish nurse, formerly a medic in the first Gulf war. He’s taking care of Mrs. Kang, an 88-pound Korean mother and grandmother with Alzheimer’s and a stroke. There’s chemistry between him and Mrs. Kang’s daughter Hyunjee, divorced from her Jewish husband. Kevin’s got some baggage of his own: he picked up the kitchen extension, thinking Renee was talking to her mom, only to hear her trading obscene flirtations with some bozo:

He dropped the receiver into its cradle as if it was white smoking iron and stared straight ahead. A head of cabbage, an ice tray left out on the counter to melt. His own keys left casually in the bowl next to the door. The simplest objects had a way of betraying you: all the unpredictable meanings they took on.

That’s what it’s like, reading this story. The simplest things have unpredictable meanings. Dropping the telephone receiver becomes a trope. Removing one peg with another peg, replacing one pain with another.

Hyunjee wonders if all this multiculturalism is really, truly, good for us. Doesn’t it just get a little exhausting after a while, explaining why Korean-Jewish daughter can’t hold her Bat Mitzvah party in a Korean rib joint since no one’s Kosher anyway? And the above quote, Hyunjee summing up her life. Scary stuff, this story. Beautiful, but scary.

I’m not sure I get the title. It’s from the poem “Elizabeth Childress” from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, and it seems to be a woman mourning the child who died stillborn, but assuring her she’s better off than if she’d been born live.

It’s the Contributor’s Notes that really knock me out. This is one of seven stories from Row’s collection Nobody Ever Gets Lost, a collection of stories reacting to 9/11. Not specifically about 9/11, but some of the issues around it, such as, in the case of the Pushcart-winning selection “Sheep May Safely Graze” (which I’ve already admired), how grief mutates into vengeful violence, and here, multiculturalism. He talks about the story being an effort to capture “the multilayered quality, the simultaneity, of every day experience… how New Yorkers returned to daily life after September 11 – to the ordinary enervating flux and unhappiness of getting through the day, as a kind of escape from the cataclysmic grief that followed the event itself.” He quotes Anne Anlin Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race, how “the ideal of ethnic diversity…is a kind of ‘pathological euphoria.'” And Kevin and Hyunjee and the rest of us in the post-9/11 world are in the post-euphoric stage, getting back to the ordinary everyday:

Superficially, we might say this experience of being “at odds” applies only to members of minority groups, but in the twenty-first century, who is not, to some context, a member of a minority? Who, in the twenty-first century, has not experienced some sense of dispossession, homelessness, alienation, self-estrangement? That’s the common bond that unites Kevin and Hyunjee, I think, and in a different world – a better world – could unite all the rest of us.

I’m not nearly done with this story – I want to check out the collection, in which the original, longer version appears, so this is a work in progress. It’s possibly the most intellectually gripping (and intimidating) story I’ve encountered in a while. And I’m wondering why Jess Row, a profoundly intelligent writer with a keen emotional ear, isn’t more widely known. Or maybe I’m the one who hasn’t been paying attention.

Pushcart 2011: Jess Row, “Sheep May Safely Graze” from The Threepenny Review #117

Klas Herbert typographic poster

Portion of typographic poster by Klas Herbert created for this story

I should say – by way of disclaimer? of apology? – that I’ve never held particularly strong political beliefs. In this I take after my father, the postmaster of Sheffield, Connecticut…. I shared with him a special appreciation for the beauty of the impersonal gesture. An old woman in Topeka receives her Social Security check every month not because anyone loves her or even remembers her name. The crossing guard stopping traffic in front of the elementary school need not recognize a single child that scampers past. One’s human inadequacies are not the point. Efficiency, permanence, and careful design, I would have said, are the basis of real human charity and kindness.

Here is another astonishingly good story. And I don’t think I know the half of it. At the most straightforward level, it’s a portrait of a man devastated by loss, without realizing the extent of his devastation until twenty years later. It’s about what any of us might do under the right circumstances. Guilt, innocence, forgiveness. Detachment. Safety. And coming apart. It’s about a lot of things. Including Wittgenstein, an area in which I am very deficient.

The unnamed first person narrator runs the publishing office of the NSA in DC. He’s not a spy, but he deals with highly sensitive information and has “come to appreciate that behind every word on a sheet of paper is a vulnerable human body.” His eight-year-old daughter is killed in a boating accident in 1984 and becomes the focus of the media for a while, until something else happened, he doesn’t remember what: “…the world was full of unexpected calamities. Mercifully, we were forgotten.”

He briefly tries therapy, and approaches it with an intellectual analytic precision that I recognize. Wittgenstein is invoked. I did a quick look at Wittgenstein (logic, language – he revoked his earlier treatise later in life); I think I might find additional depths to this story if I understood Wittgenstein better. Not that I don’t find enough in it as it is. The narrator finds he must always be listening to music. He buys a Walkman, which he wears most of the time, forcing his secretary to slide notes in front of him at work: “It was as if, by degrees, without noticing, I’d become deaf, and everyone around me was too polite to point it out.”

A year and a half later, while Charles Ives plays on the radio, he hears a news report about a homeless man who froze to death on the street.

“I began to think about procedures, systems, chains of command. Whose job it was, for example, to write the rules that dictated to the Capitol Police when they should and should not patrol the streets for the sleeping homeless. I never doubted that there was such a policy. We are extremely good at writing policies in this city.”

He has a vision of faces hiding in the walls of his house, screaming in pain: “If I were given to hyperbole I might say that I had looked through a window into the world’s wounded soul.” But of course he is not. The music shifts to Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze“: “Someone is responsible, I thought. Someone knows why this has happened, and I will punish him.”

He brings some canned goods to a homeless shelter, and watches a girl unpack the items: “Her expressionless competence. Someone had told her that the world could be saved this way.” He asks the director what can be done, and learns about a bill to include funding for homeless shelters in the HUD budget. The Secretary, an Idaho Republican named Frank Murphy, is against it, though, so it’s a lost cause, but he can write a letter if he’d like. This is 1985. Reagonomics. If you’ve read And The Band Played On, you know how the CDC, trying to pinpoint the cause of what would become the AIDS epidemic, couldn’t afford a virology textbook or a simple centrifuge. Don’t get me started on Morning in America.

He comes up with a plan. He buys a gun, and waits for Frank Morris outside his home. He’ll shoot him; if he’s caught, he won’t resist, he won’t plead innocence. This scene is terrific. It’s a combination of goofiness and suspense and tragedy that’s stunning. As a way of getting closer to Morris, he says he’s looking for his dog, makes up a name, and they start calling out, “Trixie! Trixie!” Morris extends a handshake, and the narrator accidentally knocks his gun out of his waistband. Morris keeps his cool, advising him that DC is not the place to carry a concealed weapon. The narrator leaves without consummating his plan. “I drove away feeling, for the first time, defeated, and relieved, by the world’s sheer unrelenting ugliness.” This line is one of the many things I’m unable to fully parse in this story, but it’s tantalizing and beautiful nonetheless.

Flash forward twenty years. Our narrator has retired, and his wife, Rachel, formerly an art librarian, has become in demand as a museum consultant. She’s in Berlin, helping plan the Unification Museum. They talk on the phone.

It’s possible, when you’ve been married for twenty-five or thirty years, when your children have grown up and moved away, to keep coming across the tail ends of conversations you started in a different decade, and to realize that whole areas of existence have lain dormant all that time, like seeds in an envelope.

Rachel tells of walking in Berlin and suddenly thinking, Sorbibor, and bursting into tears in the middle of the city.

Maybe it happens all the time here. Maybe Berliners are used to seeing strangers sobbing on street corners….I just didn’t understand how they do it, how they can look around and not feel everything just steeped in blood.

She tells him a story a colleague told her, about someone whose uncle was in the SS and how he was relieved when the man died. He told her, “It’s a terrible thing, to think of yourself always as innocent. Because you see the world, as it were, from the air. You can’t help it. There are the innocent like you, and then there are the others, the terribly, terribly guilty.”

Rachel tells her husband she was grateful the man didn’t invoke more recent and American outrages, and that of course, she didn’t tell him what her husband had done for a living. He thinks of Wittgenstein again. And again, I wish I understood more. Rachel goes on: “Innocent people commit the most terrible crimes, she said. Sometimes without even lifting a finger. Don’t say you don’t know what I mean. You know exactly what I mean.”

I don’t know what she means. His work, which included publishing reports on El Salvador, Nicaragua, Angola? Or is she referring to the abandoned murder? Or even the death of their daughter, and the withdrawal he experienced afterwards? I’m not sure. But the idea of “none of us are truly innocent” resonates with me tremendously. Everyone demands lower taxes – and homeless shelters (public health, arts and sports in schools, etc etc) go unfunded; news stories about childhood obesity abound while schools invite McDonald’s in to make up budget shortfalls, and the Frozen Food Council gets legislation proposed to make pizza a vegetable. Sally Struthers, as annoying as she is, was right – we’d rather have a latte venti than feed a child in some far-off country; the scary thing is, we’d rather have an iPhone4 than fund real food for school lunches. Where do we draw the line? Probably where our own houses and cars and the lifestyles fall, and everyone with a better house-car-lifestyle is greedy. But maybe I’ve been reading too much Seth Fried lately. Or maybe I haven’t been reading enough until now. And I’m ranting.

None of that is really the narrator’s problem, though. It’s a lot more real than that.

But given the right circumstances, I thought, in those same months, I could have done almost anything. Set off a car bomb. Worn a dynamite belt. I had been, in my own small way, a fanatic….It was one aspect of my life that had evaded all suspicion.

None of us are truly innocent. What would any of us do to protect our child?

He thinks this is the time to tell his wife about the gun, but he’s got a pizza in the oven and a drink poured and she’s half a world away.

This was the converse of history, I thought, the secret unwritten history, of men yawning late at night, too ashamed to tell their wives who said what about the nuclear test or the planned assassination of the prime minister, and dying fo a stroke the next day.

Then comes a little coda I don’t understand. I consulted Ann Graham, who commented on this story, but I still don’t feel like I’ve “got” it. He takes a framed photograph of his daughter, slices open the paper backing with a razor blade, takes out the glass “so no one will be injured,” and throws it away. I’m not even sure what he throws away – the picture? The glass? The frame and paper and mat? I have no idea. I don’t understand why he does this. I get the symbolism of the razor blade, especially since he repeats it. And I think I mostly get the last sentence:

In my life I have been the shepherd from the air, praying, don’t look up, don’t let me see your faces, for who knows what I’ll do to the world if I lose you.

Sort of ties the whole thing together, doesn’t it? The emotional distance, the photograph, the near-shooting, the faces in the walls, the lyrics from “Sheep May Safely Graze” (which might not be what you think; while “the good shepherd” has religious overtones, it’s a secular aria from Bach’s “The Hunt Cantata” and praises the Duke for protecting his constituents). I hope I someday learn enough to fully understand it.

But that may never happen. After all, he had a multi-layered story in mind all along. His comments on the Random House blog (publisher of the PEN/O.Henry volume for which this story was also selected), he explains how the story was conceived and written:

I was in the car, looking for a parking space on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and I began to consciously make up a story, piece by piece—something I’ve never done before. The premise was so strange and outrageous that it didn’t seem like something I would ever bring to the page. And I still think the story, though its tone is so sober and controlled, is deeply, deeply odd. Its layers came together by accretion, over several years, and it was a tremendous effort to find an ending that would cut through and expose all those layers. (If I’ve in fact succeeded in doing that).

I’m always surprised to discover many of these stories were written over years; sometimes failed drafts were tucked away and reworked much later, and other times, as with this, it just took that long to gather all the elements together and find a way to make them work. It gives me hope. Even though I haven’t written fiction for some time, maybe there’s still a chance something will click some day, and I’ll be able to bring an abandoned draft or failed story back to life. In the meantime I keep reading.

Reading stories like this one makes the meantime astonishingly good.