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Fiction Southeast – 2017

Fiction Southeast has a tagline that reads, “An online journal dedicated to short fiction.” The dedication is readily apparent with one look at their site; there are loads of stories stacked as far down as you can scroll. Short fiction almost literally as far as the eye can see! The more recent fiction pieces have a lot to offer in terms of subject matter and character.

Fiction Southeast has a tagline that reads, “An online journal dedicated to short fiction.” The dedication is readily apparent with one look at their site; there are loads of stories stacked as far down as you can scroll. Short fiction almost literally as far as the eye can see! The more recent fiction pieces have a lot to offer in terms of subject matter and character.

Daniel Sutter’s “Guilt and Matter” gives us an extremely compelling setup: a man—the narrator—listens to another man try to apologize for causing the terrible car accident that took the life of the narrator’s cousin. Sutter does a good job of conveying the sense of resignation the narrator feels throughout; nothing that’s said by the other man—the apology, the references to God and religion—can bring back the narrator’s cousin. The story turns into an incisive mini-commentary on the idea of fate and God, best encapsulated by this fantastically wrought sentence:

She spent only a part of one day as an adult, and now her casket rests high in an above-ground mausoleum, stacked on top of other enclosed bones—a giant filing cabinet waiting for a spiteful God to one day open and finger through.

Sutter presents the reader with a serious theme and handles it with the appropriate tone.

“When the Boys Went” by Heidi Espenscheid Nibbelink also tackles a serious theme with the utmost deftness. Meri, Gina, and Trish (the narrator) are longtime friends who commiserate with each other about how disconnected they feel from their kids. The narrative unfolds as Trish recalls moments from the past involving not only her boy, but those of her friends too, and how little moments that don’t seem like much can carry bigger weight in retrospect. With each passing paragraph, we see how all the mothers’ kids have had moments of “drifting” and “absence,” both physical and emotional.

One of the things I really liked about this story was the characterizations—whether it’s Gina trying to save face in a mall when her boy acts up by taking a “picture of his ADHD diagnosis with her cell phone to brandish at strangers,” or Trish drinking Chardonnay and watching a muted HGTV show with Meri, frowning at the couple on the TV for making a poor choice in their renovation project—Nibbelink does a marvelous job showing us the personalities of these women. “When the Boys Went” is a captivating story of mothers trying to come to terms with the lives of their children who’ve grown up too fast, too distant, too displaced in a world that can’t quite understand them, and it’s all told with a strong authorial voice.

I think my favorite story of this recent bunch has to be “Murder Ballad” by Jessica B. Weisenfels. This is a very well-done story about one woman’s response to being surrounded by death. The narrator, Joanne, starts the story off recalling how many of her relatives and how many townsfolk have died of cancer. Suddenly, on a whim, Joanne leaves her husband in the middle of the night to drive down to the train bridge that crosses a small creek, a notoriously dangerous place when it’s pouring rain. Over the years, several teenagers lost their lives there. And yet, Joanne finds herself drawn to this place at this particular moment in her life. Saying any more would ruin the tension at the heart of the pacing here because there’s a good sense of drive to the narrative. Weisenfels does a wonderful job of world-building too. The portrayal of the little Arkansas community feels authentic, and is best represented by this passage:

But the old timers had reached a consensus about it, and it didn’t have to do with carcinogens. They all thought the cancer was God’s wrath sent to punish those who’d sold their land and allowed the state of Arkansas to break the mountains. They’d gather in small groups on front porches, shelling peas and spitting chaw into the flowerbeds, saying, “And every single one of us deserve it.” Until one by one they died too, their deaths littering a decade, another thing the highway seemed to bring us.

“Murder Ballad” is a somber mediation on the different and unpredictable ways people respond to death, grief, and loss.

Many of the stories in this recent batch of short fiction from Fiction Southeast are a treat to read, interesting tales well told. They exhibit, in one way or another, the different aspects of fiction that make stories engaging. From the intriguing structure of Erin Armstrong’s “Pulse,” an extended metaphor of a relationship personified as a human, with all the major stages of life that being a human entails, to the strong authorial voice employed in David Galef’s playful and breezy “Date,” there are many choice examples of short fiction in these latest stories from Fiction Southeast.
[www.fictionsoutheast.com]

 

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