Wendy J. Fox’s debut The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories won the Press 53 award for short fiction, and her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Washington Square, The Pinch, ZYZZYVA, The Tusculum Review, The Puritan, and many other literary journals. She lives in Denver. You can find out more about Wendy on her website and Twitter.
I’m a bad bedtime reader—I get started and then wake up later with the light still on and my glasses mashed against my face, the book open to the same page, now dented and drooled on. Still, I like the bedtime stack because it’s the last thing I see before sleep and the first thing I see when waking up. If I am going to really read it, the book needs to migrate out to daylight. Here are the ones that have recently made it:
Midge Raymond, Forgetting English (Eastern Washington University) — This was a re-read. Forgetting English came out from Press 53 in 2011, and just after it hit, a friend (the poet and essayist Janée J. Baugher) scanned one of the stories and emailed it to me with a note that implored me to read the rest. I took her advice, and recently, when I was working through some new stories of my own, I revisited this collection. Raymond’s writing is so clean, and I admire how she weaves elements of corporate life into elements of the natural world. In particular, “The Ecstatic Cry”—the story my friend first scanned—is a standout; I mean, how do you set something in Antarctica and have it ring true? Raymond handles the setting and the characters so deftly, you feel like you too could learn to love the cold.
Polly Buckingham, A Year of Silence (University of Central Florida College of Arts & Humanities English Department) — This fiction chapbook is 60-ish pages from The Florida Review. What I admire about Buckingham’s prose is the extreme attention to detail, and that the detail is always doing (at least) double duty. Here’s one of my favorite passages because so much happens and we learn so much in the space of a few sentences:
When he’d first visited his parents after her death, his father had given him a box full of his old tools. There were well cared for antiques, their wood handles worn from use, and they worked with greater precision than most pricey new tools. He’d wept in his father’s workshop, the most orderly room he’d ever known, surrounded by the sweet smell of sawdust, the metal table with forty tiny labeled drawers, and the old wooden paper cutter Charlie had loved as a child. His father held up gracefully against his tears. He put another log in the woodstove, handed Charlie a cup of black coffee, and they sat in silence listening to the crackling of the fire.”
Maybe it’s not fair to make these four sentences speak for the whole work—which is why it is worth reading the rest of it.
Gregory Spatz, Inukshuk (Bellevue Literary Press) — I didn’t read this when it first came out in 2012, but I read it on a long plane ride after I saw in the news that one of the ships from a mid-1800s expedition in the Northwest Passage had been discovered by the Canadian government. The HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, caught in the arctic ice along with the men who sailed them, are the backdrop for the novel. I loved this book because Spatz is able to ground a desperate, terrifying journey with contemporary characters, and it successfully balances a very fine line between commercial and literary fiction. Since finishing it, I keep waiting to hear news of someone selling the screenplay. The images from the discovered shipwreck are haunting, but Spatz’s novel is just as visual, paired with spot-on dialogue and a family with just the right amount of mess.
John Keeble, The Shadows of Owls (University of Washington Press)— I’ve hardly cracked this book, but so far it reads like vintage Keeble—I feel like his characters are always set at the scalding point, in the sense of how the word is used in cooking: that controlled space just before a boil. In the opening, we meet Kate, and I suspect she may keep me up all night.
How important is setting to your enjoyment of fiction? What’s the most setting-centric novel or story you’ve re-read?