Jendi Reiter is the author of the novel Two Natures (Saddle Road Press, 2016), the short story collection An Incomplete List of My Wishes (Sunshot Press, 2018), and four poetry books and chapbooks, most recently Bullies in Love (Little Red Tree, 2015). Awards include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship for Poetry, the New Letters Prize for Fiction, the Wag’s Revue Poetry Prize, the Bayou Magazine Editor’s Prize in Fiction, and two awards from the Poetry Society of America. Two Natures won the Rainbow Award for Best Gay Contemporary Fiction and was a finalist for the Book Excellence Awards and the Lascaux Prize for Fiction. Reiter is the editor of WinningWriters.com, an online resource site with contests and markets for creative writers. Continue reading
Fine writing transcends generic boundaries. Should we call An Incomplete List of My Wishes, Jendi Reiter’s outstanding collection of short stories, Southern fiction? Possibly, but only as long as we permit a Southern sensibility (however defined) to extend as far north as New York and Connecticut. Is it LGBTQ? Assuredly, yet the breadth of human response the book elicits encompasses far more than specific issues of sexual/gender identification. Is it historical? In part, but the 1990s reside still in many living memories and can comfortably coexist with the present. May we even call these prizewinning works short stories? Only if we allow that a short story need not necessarily tell a story, or that it can tell many stories all at once.
‘In these stories from four decades of living and working around the world, corporate nomad Patrick Burns recounts some of his most memorable experiences: from dangerous pyrotechnic liaisons in the Algerian desert to a quest to find the Archbishop of Rangoon after a chance meeting in an English village church. This exploration of the personal landscape of expatriate life is interwoven with a navigation of some of the ties that have bound his unusual Anglo-German family during the past century; a mixture of hardcore Yorkshire eccentricity (including a grandfather whose obsession with installing indoor toilets inadvertently led to a twenty-five year family rift) and a liberal academic, Hanoverian heritage disoriented by Hitler, the events of 1939–1945 and the Cold War.’
The epigraph to Above An Abyss, Ryan Masters’ marvellous collection of two beautiful and stunningly juxtaposed novellas, is from Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: ‘The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.’ ‘Trampoline Games’ and ‘The Moth Orchid’ approach this idea of existential precarity from entirely different directions, yet the two stories complement one another in breathtaking, unexpected ways.
In an era of flash and twitter fiction, we are apt to forget that short is not new, and that literary heritage includes the aphorism and the pensée as much as it does the triple-decker novel and the epic poem. Kafka’s stories, for example, often extend for no more than a paragraph or two, while much Classical myth and fable is similarly concise. Motivations and contexts change with the times, however. The subtitle to Dead Aquarium – ‘i don’t have the stamina for that kind of faith’ – references the lower-case exhaustion and peculiar ennui that overcome contemporary culture when confronted with the grand, upper-case questions about Identity and Destiny, Value and Extinction that stalk us through the wind-strewn detritus of the back alley and the shopping mall.
Satire flourishes in desperate times and is often the last refuge of a desperate writer. If that is so, Jeffrey Perso, the author of Water Bodies, is as accomplished as he is perhaps desperate. If satire can be broadly defined as that which mocks human vice or folly by means of derision, irony or wit, then Water Bodies is satire par excellence. Its targets are specifically American, yet its reach is truly global, for stupidity and wilful ignorance care little for national boundaries.
Somewhere, surely, a psychologist has written at length on the significance and symbolism of humanity’s baggage. In particular, handbags and tote bags can carry us as much as we carry them, and their fetishization as objects of desire and aspiration means we perform our cherished self-identities every time we drape them lovingly over our shoulder or grasp them warily at arm’s length.
The central character in Laurie Levy’s The Stendhal Summer, Alison Miller, carries a lot of baggage on her trip to Europe. She struggles to wrangle her luggage on and off trains, in and out of taxis and hotels, up and down stairs. Alison, 54, is a professional PR writer from Chicago. Her husband George has left her for his latest young conquest, their twins Abbie and Dan are concerned for her happiness, her mother worries Alison will be mugged or worse. Alison has taken the risk of blowing her life savings in pursuit of her great love, the French author Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle, 1783–1842), whose biography she plans to write. Her travels take her from Grenoble to Milan, Civitavecchia, Rome and Paris; along the way, she meets old friends, encounters new ones, and is reawakened to the possibilities of life and love.