Monday, November 4, 2019

Short Story Swoon

by Bacopa Literary Review Senior Editor/Fiction Editor Mary Bast
The short story should consider staging its own kidnapping and then show up three weeks later in The New Yorker claiming that some things happened that cannot be discussed. [Short stories] are better than the novels I've been reading. They are more daring, more artful, and more original. Yet while I know plenty of people with whom I can discuss novels, there are only two people I know with whom I can swoon over short stories. . . Ann Patchett, foreword, The Best American Short Stories 2006.
Short stories have a special place in literature, not pint-sized or incomplete fiction, but a genre all their own. In calls for submission we've emphasized the construction of a good short story as "tight and concise writing that includes characterization, conflict, change, and draws in readers with its depth, clarity, and powerful, authentic voice." To describe how those components lead to daring, artful, and original work, however, is not an easy task.

Paris Review's "The Art of the Short Story" cites Ernest Hemingway's preface to a student's edition of his short stories:
"There is very little to say about writing short stories . . . If you can do it, you don't have to explain it. If you cannot do it, no explanation will ever help.
        A few things I have found to be true. If you leave out important things or events that you know about, the story is strengthened . . . But it is all there. It is not visible but it is there."
You've probably heard of the shortest short story, often attributed to Hemingway:
"For sale, baby shoes, never worn."
Do you see? Important events have seemingly been left out, yet the story is there.

It is this quality, along with her elegant writing, that drew me to 2019 Fiction First Prize winner Avra Margariti's 890-word story, "The Calligrapher." All is there, though not visible:
"Ink clings to the bristles of Mihiro's brush, hovering over the parchment on top of her varnished heartwood desk. The kanji blossom like flowers in a midnight garden . . ."
We know immediately that Mihiro is not simply a calligrapher, but one whose work is artful. We learn scant details of Mihiro's relationship with boyfriend Robert, that he has a firm handshake, that "his work takes him to the West Coast, where he closes deals and fattens his bank account."

All is not well between Mihiro and Robert, but instead of documenting specifics, Margariti implies the action though the metaphor of calligraphy:
       " . . . her fingers curl around a sturdy brush handle. She begins working on her commissions, only to halt when she glances at her right wrist. An inkblot that looks like a bruise, is her first breathless thought, but no.
        A bruise that looks like an inkblot . . .
      She doesn't remember sleep dragging her eyelids shut, but knows something is different.
        Her hands--those fragile things Robert so likes to swallow in his own strong palms--are stained black and gray. Love, life, fate: every line on her palms stands in relief, so that her hands look like cracked earth, like something powerful and tectonic. . .
        Scrambling to her feet, Mihiro takes in more of her body. . . The still-wet kanji overlap with each other and blend with the now-fading bruises. More words emerge right before her eyes, written in the sure swirls and swipes of an invisible calligraphy brush.
        On her body is a story that Mihiro has yet to read. To her surprise, it's a story she wants to know."
And this is where Margariti's words end, though of course we readers know what is there

*     *     *
Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, The Forge Literary Magazine, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Argot Magazine, Glintmoon, The Arcanist, Flash Fiction Online, Terse Journal, 50-Word Stories, pif Magazine, and other venues.

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