Tuesday, February 2, 2021

I Don't Want It, But It's Not Junk!

 by Bacopa Literary Review Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Writers often succumb to this fatal flaw of fiction writing, explaining and telling and summarizing instead of showing action as it's happening. "How Fiction Writers Can Show Emotions in Their Characters in Effective Ways," C.L. Lakin, Live, Write, Thrive.

Our 2020 Fiction Second Prize winner, "Junk," by Siamak Vossoughi, starts out quietly:

About once a week we'd get a call from somebody asking us to haul their junk, and they'd call their junk what anybody with the sense God gave them would call it, which was junk. So I was unprepared when I got a call for some hauling out in Duven and the guy said he had a truckload of stuff but he didn't want to call it junk.
     "It's my parents' stuff," he said. "I don't want it, but it's not junk."
     "Okay, You want us to haul it away?"
     "Yes. But it's not junk . . ."

Then, readers are invited into the ensuing conversation between the speaker, Mike, and his partner in their junk hauling business, Louis, who agrees with the customer that when your parents have died, the things they've left behind are not "junk." What slowly grabs us is how this story shows the action as it's happening, in the conversation between two junk haulers as they consider, first, the customer's potential reaction to their T-shirts with the slogan "Tree Service and Hauling Junk."

     "I'm going to go load the truck," I said.
     I went out back and loaded the truck for the afternoon. We had a tree job over on Greenwood. I thought about all the time I spent designing the shirt. I hadn't half-assed it. It was a good shirt and I liked putting it on in the morning.
     I went back inside.
     "What are  you going to do about the truck?"
     "What about it?"
     "It says We Haul Junk on the side. Because, as I mentioned, that's what we do."
     Louis stared at the side of the truck.
     "He said his mother and father
both died?" . . .

Mike and Louis engage in an almost comic routine as they consider covering the word JUNK on the side of their truck with the word STUFF, Mike kicking all the way with such comments as, "Nobody's going to do this for us when our parents go." 

     . . . I wondered if there was a way I could've told Louis about the job when the guy had first called without mentioning that he didn't want us to call his parents' stuff junk. Who expects a guy to run with it like that?

 Eventually, though, Mike comes around.

     ". . . You win. We have to change the receipts."
     "What?"
     "The receipts say junk on them. If you're going to give him a receipt, you might as well cross out the word junk and write something else there too. . ."
What makes this story a prize winner? Author Vossoughi invites us to observe Mike and Louis grappling with a customer's likely grief and reaction to signs that his parents' belongings might be considered junk, engaging thoughts about their own parents' eventual deaths, without once talking about their feelings. And yet, masterfully, the author brings readers almost to tears with ordinary dialogue between two ordinary guys, in their own way showing compassion for a customer's feelings.

*   *   *

Siamak Vossoughi, a writer living in Seattle, has had stories published in various journals, and his 2015 collection, Better Than War, was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and received a 2014 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. His recent collection, A Sense of the Whole, received the 2019 Orison Fiction Prize, judged by Victor LaValle. From Jane Hu's New York Times review of A Sense of the Whole: "What emerges is the sense that anyone you meet has a story." Click here for Vossoughi's website and follow him on Twitter @siamakvossoughi.

  Read Siamak Vossoughi's prize-winning "Junk" on pages 10-14,
as well as other engaging works of Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Poetry,
Humor, and Short-Short Fiction in Bacopa Literary Review 2020


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