Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

Editor’s Dive into the Archives: Reid Wegner’s Testudo By Emma Boggs

Sometimes the best thing in fiction, especially in its shorter forms, is simplicity. In Reid Wegner’s (very) short story “Testudo,” the premise is just that: simple. There is a tortoise, living in captivity, who suffers. There’s much to admire about this piece, but what I first noticed was its refreshingly basic formula, of an animal who suffers by the hands of its oblivious human antagonists. This is also a familiar formula—in reading it, one can’t help but think of Black Beauty or Watership Down, and of countless other stories one often encounters in childhood. And yet while “Testudo” is certainly a story that’s been told before, like all fiction’s been told before—it simultaneously stands apart, like all fiction will do if it’s any good.

One of the most obvious differences in “Testudo” is its unusual characterization of the tortoise, Nikolai. The story is written from his perspective, and while animals in fiction are often merited more intelligence than they realistically possess, Nikolai has a believable level of intelligence for a tortoise. Unlike Sewell’s Black Beauty or Adams’s Hazel, Wegner has written Nikolai to have a level of thinking that is not on par with a human’s thoughts. Nikolai is dumb, and he gets dumber as the story advances because his continued captivity. I like that “Testudo” then works to subvert the fairy-tale conception that tortoises are these reverenced, sage creatures. Nikolai is not well-respected by his owner, who forgets to change the lighting in his habitat to simulate day and night, thus subjecting him to “a bewildering string of days beneath an insomniac sun, or…an endless Scandinavian night” [84]. His owner’s forgetfulness, along with the fact that Nikolai is native to Afghanistan but was ousted to icy Russia, create a confusion in the tortoise that only worsens with his age. There is much longsuffering. He declines, scrabbling at the bottom of his plastic bin every day although it gets him nowhere; this makes for a dismal story.

Nikolai’s decline makes for another interesting dynamic in “Testudo.” While a tortoise’s shell is typically depicted as a helpful and unique asset, Nikolai slowly begins to see his shell as a mocking burden. In his sterile but safe captivity, where he doesn’t need his shell to protect him from predators, the shell begins to weigh on him. He’s always tired. He thinks about what sort of creature he might have been had he not been given such a colossal mass to shoulder. And then, of course, there’s the fact that the shell will outlive him—even though it’s inanimate.

While Nikolai’s decline is certainly tragic, what’s most tragic about this story (in a good way) is the ending. At the story’s close, after all of his struggles in captivity, Nikolai symbolically retreats back into his shell, where he says he’ll stay “for the rest of the season, or for the year, or, if need be, for the rest of his life” [90]. (As an aside, the ending is satisfyingly circular, since the story began with Nikolai’s cautious emergence from his shell.) In his final gesture, what once was an object of torment to Nikolai has again become his tool of self-protection—as it should be—only the self-protection’s now from his own artificial habitat and unfeeling human captor. So what I like about this final move—and the piece in summation—is that it’s a tragic tale about a protagonist who doesn’t realize that his story is a tragedy. Throughout, Nikolai lives ‘in the dark’ about the twisted darkness of his life, always expressing confusion but never resentment. This makes the tortoise’s final gesture ironic: As he retreats into his shell, Nikolai experiences a physical darkness and yet still doesn’t comprehend the larger darkness and tragedy of his own existence.

“Testudo” by Reid Wegner can be found in Issue 90 of The Greensboro Review.

Emma Boggs is a first-year MFA candidate in fiction at UNC Greensboro and an Editorial Assistant forThe Greensboro Review.

Editor’s Dive into the Archives: Michael Springer on Pleasure Hotel by Carine Topal

In the absence of in-person poetry readings, I’ve been seeking out surrogates for the sensation of really being there when a poem echoes around the room. I’ve favored chapbooks for their scope—transporting me for a few hours under a poet’s controlled intention. Zoom readings have provided some of the immediacy and kick of a real human voice (when the internet’s digital gremlins don’t degrade the reader into a kind of glitched-out android). Still, I haven’t found a way to feel like I’m sharing the experience with others, and in missing out on that, I’ve been missing out on one of my favorite experiences: that subtle hypnosis that takes over when a poem completely fills up a room and everybody in it.

I say, forget the mere suspension of disbelief. A really good reading suspends the listeners’ self-control, leading them where the poem wants to go, getting them lost for a while, leaving them someplace they’re not sure how they’ve arrived. It’s part of the magic of live readings, and occasionally a version of that effect manages to manifest on the printed page. Poets who make expert use of mantric language and lists or who lead readers down a slope of sly dissociation might just steal the reader’s very will.

Carine Topal’s “Pleasure Hotel” took over my entire sense of readerly direction in just this way. As the limited, repeating set of words in this poem made their paces through one deft transformation after another, I found myself far outside of my own head, seamlessly pulled wherever the poem wanted me. The poem’s imagery of smoke, rose, and moonless night shift with dreamlike logic from the concrete, “Smoke rose from the pleasure hotel” to the analogous, “burning hotel pleasure rose like smoke” to the surreal, “we face-to-face in the moonless pleasure hotel of smoke, yes, we rose and rose.”

The poem’s compelling imagery pulls a reader immediately into a minimalist but evocative scene. The rhythmic beat of the poem’s mantric language hypnotizes. All the while, the shifting semantics and syntax press intention and movement into that pulsing cadence without resorting to exposition. The cumulative effect is perfectly encapsulated in a prose-poem block that lets each sentence speak for itself while relying on juxtaposition to do the heavy lifting of propelling the reader from one frame of mind to the next.

Whether or not you’re trying to make up for missed readings, the entrancing drift of “Pleasure Hotel” provides a brief but haunting escape from the here and now. Give up a few minutes (and a bit of your self control) and let the poem take you where it will.

“Pleasure Hotel” can be found in Issue 84 of The Greensboro Review.

Michael Springer is a second-year MFA candidate in poetry at UNC Greensboro and Poetry Editor for The Greensboro Review.

Editor’s Dive into the Archives: Matt Coz on Dummy by Derek Updegraffe

Subtext. Charles Baxter describes it as the “subterranean realm” of a story. It’s what fuels character’s emotions and motivations. It’s a technique not of showing or telling but implying. The very nature of subtext, when executed correctly, allows the reader to fill in the blanks, to become an active participant in the story: subtext allows writer and reader to join forces.

“This all happened back when I divorced Tom and moved me and Jimmy out to California,” reads the first line of Derek Updegraffe’s story “Dummy,” published in the 104th issue of The Greensboro Review. It’s an intriguing and captivating line, one that establishes the narrative distance, the weight of the past, and a progression forward (something some writers call the “narrative now”). But this line is effective not because of what Updegraffe does with it, but rather, what he doesn’t do with it.

We learn in the next paragraph of the story’s obscure external conflict, a young son, Jimmy, who unknowingly sleepwalks into his mother’s room every night and attempts to beat her up: “Anyway, things were settling in fine, but then one night Jimmy comes into my room and he starts wailing on me, like really hitting me, his little fists tight like avocados still on the branch” (35). It’s a conflict that lives in a plausible reality, straddling the absurd. As the narrator reckons with this strange conundrum, we begin to see Jimmy as the gateway to the past. What does he know about his parent’s past relationship? Is his sleepwalking and punching some form of repression? The narrator hypothesizes: “My boy swinging at me because of his father’s wrongdoings” (36).

The obvious temptation is to explore the past and backstory through a lens that assigns reason to Jimmy’s behavior. Short stories often do this. They set the scene, introduce character and conflict, and then seek to explain through flashback or backstory—in this case, assigning reason as to why mother and son moved away from the boy’s father. But Updegraffe resists this temptation. He actively chooses not to fill in the blanks, which forces the reader to engage and explore that “subterranean realm” of the story, the unseen, the unspoken.

And while we’re engaging with the potential realities of the past—mainly, why this mother and son duo uprooted their old life—Updegraffe advances the narrative now. Bewildered about her violent sleepwalking son, the narrator drops her son off at daycare, takes the day off from work, and finds herself walking around town, pondering a solution to her problem. When she stumbles into a costume store, she unearths a solution: “The idea, it just hit me” (36). (Note the rhyming action taking place here. She is “hit” by both her son and ideas.) “There was this dummy slouching against a wall. It was heavy looking, and sure enough when I touched it and then pulled up on it, I felt that this thing was heavy, durable” (36).

She buys the dummy, clothes, and accessories from the costume store and proceeds to make the dummy appear as much like her ex-husband as possible. She glues on eyeballs, draws a goatee, dresses it in a pilot’s uniform (the father, we later learn, is an airline pilot), places the dummy in bed, and watches as her son sleepwalks in and wails on the dummy that looks like his father.

“Once, during those dummy months, my boy visited his father for a week in the summer” (37), the story concludes. The boy’s parents make arrangements to drop him off and pick him up at the airport (“I imagined Jimmy in our old house, Jimmy in our pool, Jimmy in his bedroom” [37]). The week comes and goes, and what does the narrator see on her husband when she picks her son up from the airport? A dark bruise under his eye.

“Dummy” can be found in Issue 104 of The Greensboro Review.

Matt Coz is a second-year MFA candidate in fiction at UNC Greensboro and current Fiction Editor for The Greensboro Review.

Editor’s Dive into the Archives: Emma Boggs on Shark Fishers by Marlowe Moore

While flipping randomly through an older edition of the Greensboro Review, I came across Marlowe Moore’s “Shark Fishers.” Its prose is what first caught my eye. Simplistic but beautiful—the mark of any skilled writer—the language here shines with its clear and clean conveyance, with its truthful rendering of the narrative at hand. Like any great tale will do, it swept me into its setting, into a place where a couple of drab houses line a drab North Carolinian beach on a drab day. I could nearly smell the saltwater. There are so many visceral images; I watched as a character “blew [cigarette] smoke out to the waiting sea oats,” as a car rolled up with “dead barracuda strapped with thick twine to the top . . . like Christmas trees” [93-94].

And yet what I liked even more about this story is what happens within it. At the heart of this tale are two women who are both belittled and suppressed by their male partners. Told in a third-person perspective that comes closest to Chavis’s point of view, we quickly learn that he constantly judges and berates his partner, Emmaline, for continuing to mourn the death of their young child. The other couple is an unnamed shark-fishing duo referred to as the “man” and “fisher-woman,” and here this man also condemns his partner for dwelling on her past, telling her abrasively that nobody wants to hear what she has to say. It becomes clear, too, that the women are also both traumatized: Emmaline over her deceased child, and the fisher-woman for reasons unknown. But it’s clear that the fisher-woman is dealing with her own vein of PTSD because as time progresses, she begins muttering to herself and pasting loose fish scales on her skin. And yet the men are both uncaring and insensitive to them; in fact, they appear to bond over this fact—after one says “Shut up” to the two women, the other echoes it. Moore does a great job with setting up the two problematic relationships, with swiftly swaying my concern and devotion to the two women, despite being told the events (almost) from Chavis’s point of view. And then, after establishing their very serious trials and tribulations, Moore mirrors the men’s bond by bringing the women together in a far more beautiful moment of connection and solidarity.

What I love most about this short story is that it reveals a turning point for the two women. While we don’t get to know what happens after the lovely moment in which they both literally and metaphorically hold one another—by embracing and sharing their painful stories—it’s clear that there has been a reprieve from their typical way of being in the world, if not a shift. And this story leaves you hoping for that shift, hoping the women will eventually choose to stand up for themselves, speak out about their traumas, and perhaps leave their cruel partners to reclaim their own agencies and freedoms.

That being said, as unlikeable and indifferent as the men are, Moore writes in such a way in which the men both still retain some semblance of their humanity. They are strangers but are kind to each other. They enjoy a moment of fishing together. And Chavis even holds Emmaline for a brief moment when she’s crying—until the other man tells him to “get up here and help me” reel in a shark. With the story being written closest to Chavis’s perspective, it serves the dual function of showing that the women are less heard in the world of this story, but also that Chavis isn’t a complete monster. Yes, the men in “Shark Fishers” are terrible, but they are not inhuman supervillains. And ultimately, the story is not about fostering a hatred for the two men, it’s about that pivotal moment of brightness and connection for the two women, about their potential unfettering. If anything, by the end I feel sorry for the two men in their cluelessness. They are living in a sad and “careless” world of their own; as Moore writes in her beautiful closing line, “Chavis and the man kept their backs to the sound of the women’s voices and watched the dark shadow circle in the careless sea amid the mutilated bodies of spot, mullet, and barracuda” [97]. I would highly recommend this short story to anybody looking for a quick but weighty read.

“Shark Fishers” can be found in the 35th Anniversary Issue (Number 70) of The Greensboro Review.

Emma Boggs is a first-year MFA candidate in fiction at UNC Greensboro and an Editorial Assistant for The Greensboro Review.

Editor’s Dive into the Archives: Cortney Esco on First Comes Love by Sean Bernard

“First Comes Love” by Sean Bernard is a story that completely surprised me with its careful mixture of aching questions and fresh humor. It follows the married life of Kevin and Kate, who have just found out that they are unable to have children. Kevin spontaneously surprises Kate with a kitten right before they take off to Philly to visit his stepbrother and his stepbrother’s wife and daughter.

The hope for the trip seems to be that the change of scenery and the time with family will help distract the couple from the reality that their year of intense and exhausting efforts to conceive with medical assistance have failed. In many wonderfully quirky scenes we see Kevin and Kate attempting to be, and being, happy together. They receive well intended advice from Kevin’s family and through different new experiences smartly reveal to readers their unique personalities and chemistry.

One of the most interesting activities they do is tour a coal mine. When the lights go out underground, the divide between Kevin and Kate is suddenly thrown into stark light. Under the earth in total black they think they can hear all of existence. Kevin’s reaction to this is to wonder what it means to be. In that moment, he is both grateful and comfortable and finds that comfort holding the hand of his stepbrother’s daughter. Kate instead spends the time thinking there is too much life in the world and how she doesn’t really care about children. In the dark, she feels totally alone. This way that Bernard has chosen to reveal the characters’ sharp contrast to each other feels both real and raw and is altogether moving.

This is ultimately a story of emotional pain and healing. The sudden tensions over things like tick bites and Lyme disease all serve to help Kevin and Kate better understand themselves and their life together. The story reaches painful depths at times, like when Kevin comes to the conclusion that worry is a strange thing that easily vanishes, “Sort of, he thought, like hope.” But it is the balance and the range of the emotions reached that is really so compelling.

In the end, Kevin tells Kate his idea for a novel that never ends, that when its characters die it just switches to someone else and goes on and on. Through these kinds of moments in the story, Kevin’s view of life and his answers for what it means to live and be a family are shown beautifully. Readers are invited as well to ponder their own answers.

Somehow Bernard has found a way to pose huge questions of life and love through his characters without making them feel overt and heavy. I think this is achieved in no small part by the truly engaging narrative voice at work throughout this story. It is altogether a delightful mix of humor and heartbreak. It is a story about nature and hardship and loss, but it is also a story about making the best and about persevering in love through adversity. It is a story of failure, yes, but through failure, hope. These poignant and powerful ideas truly leave an enjoyable and lasting impression on readers long after the story is over.

“First Comes Love” can be found in Issue 104 of The Greensboro Review.

Cortney Esco is a second-year MFA candidate in fiction at UNC Greensboro and Managing Editor for The Greensboro Review.

Editor’s Dive into the Archives: Michael Springer on Brief Eden by Lois Beebe Hayna

“For part of one strange year we lived,” reads the opening line of Lois Beebe Hayna’s “Brief Eden.” The declaration, with its loaded qualifier, is intriguing. Perhaps I’m projecting too much of 2020 to this poem published in our Fall 2009 issue, but at the mention of such a year I can’t help but begin asking slightly anxious questions: strange how? why only part? what about that we—strange to whom?  Yet we’re left hanging on “lived,” and I find the enjambment (the second line continues “in a small house at the edge of a wood”) gently reassuring. The incomplete thought becomes almost an affirmation. We lived. Together, these effects bring us into the poem on a note of tension, walking a line between the anxiety of strange times and surety life’s larger cycles.

That tension runs through the entire poem in a way I find especially compelling from the vantage of this socially isolated year. Hayna’s verse often moved between the rhythms of human activity and those of the natural world. “Brief Eden”features a speaker transported to unfamiliar territory, where her human rhythms are interrupted:

 

“No neighbors, which suited us. Nobody

to ask questions. Except

for the one big question we went on

asking ourselves.”

 

In lieu of neighbors, birds arrive to fill the lines of Hayna’s verse with their own rhythms, “Myriads of birds,” “birds we’d never seen before,” “birds/ brilliant or dull, with sharp beaks/ or crossed bills.” The birds may alight on the feeder or pass without so much as a downward glance, but the poem’s speaker has the time and the room to watch each of these creatures move with an intention and destination she can only guess at as that “big question” continues to hang overhead.

The poem doesn’t wind up to anything as tidy as epiphany. The tension between disruption and the world’s persistent cycles does not resolve; no answer arrives to clear up the big question. But Hayna manages to provide a little hedged comfort to readers, all the same. She performs a little bit of temporal magic; “Brief Eden” takes us through the bulk of a slow and scrutinizing year in a mere twenty-two lines.  The quiet, meditative focus of the speaker brings us in close to the birds, seeing them the way one only sees them with drawn out and diligent attention. Yet, circling around those stretched moments of observation, a year makes its usual rotation in no time at all.

The effect is haunting, walking an uneasy line between sentiments of stop to smell the roses and this too shall pass. Hayna’s dynamic cadence reinforces the effect, passing between staccato impressions and legato summary like the long sentence leading us out of the poem and out of the strange year:

 

“By the time we’d watched them

wing north in spring, then make

an anxious autumn return,

we too had pulled it together and we too moved

into what seemed to be our lives.”

 

“Brief Eden” can be found in Issue 86 of The Greensboro Review.

 

Michael Springer is a second-year MFA candidate in poetry at UNC Greensboro and Poetry Editor for The Greensboro Review

Editor’s Dive into the Archives: Cortney Esco on New Work in New China by Michael X. Wang

“New Work in New China” by Michael X. Wang, is a remarkable story that follows the difficult decision of Pei Pei, a poor man from the country, who is offered the chance to become a gong-gong, a manservant to the Chinese emperor, a position he must become a eunuch to accept.

The vivid Chinese landscape Wang has created through lasting images serves as a poignant backdrop for the struggles Pei Pei endures as he tries to weigh his deep love for his wife and his desire for children, against the money and power a position close to the emperor can provide him. Beyond being just a manservant, gong-gongs, like concubines, make up a kind of sexual senate for the emperor. The reality is that although they do not hold official power, public intrigue gives them power nonetheless, so much so that it is possible for them to create great change in New China, even possibly usurp the throne someday.

Complex cultural considerations press on the story throughout as everyone around Pei Pei, including his own family (except for his wife who does not know about the offer until the end of the story), considers it a great honor that he should be given the opportunity to become a gong-gong and sees it as his responsibility to his family, and his duty as a man, to accept.

The intricately intersected paths of Wang’s incredible characters really push the story forward from beginning to end with their ever-developing and shifting power dynamics. The strong desires of Pei Pei’s family who want him to serve the emperor with honor, of Pei Pei’s cousin Zhang Mei who is already a gong-gong and wants to be the future of New China, of Lady Xiu who is an educated concubine that wants to overthrow the emperor with the growing rebellion, as well those of Pei Pei himself and his wife, continuously raise tensions, pulling readers deeper and deeper into the harsh realities of Pei Pei’s world. Only when Pei Pei observes Lady Xiu using her position to help those less fortunate, does he start to truly understand the possibilities open to him if he chooses to join her.

As the story progresses, Pei Pei begins to understand the state of his country and government in ways that he never has before. He is, for the first time in his life, in a position to play a real role in the future of his people, all depending on one difficult personal choice he must make. Though Pei Pei has never wanted to be a gong-gong, he recognizes the rare opportunity to be able to elevate himself and his family—at the cost of having his own children and family—and also to act on behalf of the Chinese people and use his position to truly benefit New China.

The universal human struggles explored in this story, the desires for power, safety, and love, are age old, but told in ways both unique and surprising. The story deals with nothing less than some of the greatest questions human beings have always asked themselves, questions of duty and moral responsibility and the greater good. The stakes of Pei Pei’s choice go beyond a sense of family and manhood and respect, and grow to encompass his country and all his people and his world. In the end, this is a story of choice that is both heart-breaking and thought provoking that leaves readers asking themselves important questions, as all great stories should.

“New Work in New China” can be found in Issue 106 of The Greensboro Review.

 

Cortney Esco is a second-year MFA candidate in fiction at UNC Greensboro and Managing Editor for The Greensboro Review

Editor’s Dive into the Archives: Matt Coz on Drunk At The Zoo by Brad Vice

You may be wondering how I stumbled upon Brad Vice’s story “Drunk At The Zoo,” first published in the 68th issue of The Greensboro Review in fall 2000, and I will tell you with complete honesty:

About a week ago, I stood before one of the many, many bookcases in The Greensboro Review office, and for no reason in particular, I pulled the 68th issue off the shelf. I brought the issue back to my desk and, avoiding work, thumbed through it. I read a few poems—one by alumna Julianna Baggott, another by Gillian Kiley—and somehow or another I flipped to page 47 and read the first line of “Drunk At The Zoo” by Brad Vice. It reads: “It is the smells Jim remembers first when he remembers Prague: boiled cabbage in the halls of his apartment building, the yeast of pilsners, the fumes of unrefined petroleum that accompanied the boxy Eastern European sedans” (47). And for a moment, I wasn’t at my desk procrastinating. I was with this stranger, Jim, in Prague.

We often talk about the transformative effect of stories, and the good ones can transform you in the matter of a sentence. Suddenly I’m immersed in this strange world with Jim as the story presses pause on mine, as my computer screen darkens and goes to sleep. I will emerge from this story a bit later, wiggle the mouse to awaken my computer, and get back to my day, but for now I’m with Jim in Prague.

“Jim and Tereza fell out of love at a puppet show” (47), the story continues—yet another sentence that further immerses me into the story. Who is Tereza? I’m thinking, and why did they break up? To answer these questions, Vice shoots us back to the beginning, the day when Jim and Tereza met, and from there he depicts the fractures and differences that led to their relationship breakdown.

We learn that Tereza writes scripts for a boutique pornographic company. When she invites Jim along to see one of their shoots, we’re introduced to an almost absurdist ensemble: the director, Rolfe (“a failed art student, a refugee from Berlin coffeehouses, a pretentious gopher” [53]), Gregor, the male talent (“even more muscular than in the movie” [53]), Illena (the semi famous star of “Teacher’s Pet” and “Love Paint”), Gretchen and Sabina (“feline looking twins” [54]), and Bobo (“a clean-shaven dwarf” [54]). The story takes a detour when the shoot gets cancelled and Jim and the unlikely employees of the pornographic company wind up instead drinking rum and going to a local zoo.

While the story takes an almost absurdist turn that embodies the essence of precarious situations in a foreign country (“no one back home will ever believe this happened” [57]), it never fails to fulfill the promise that Vice made to the reader at the beginning of the story: the promise of showing how the relationship between Jim and Tereza breaks down. We see this most prominently when Jim analyzes a note Tereza writes him later that night:

Jim,

Gone to dinner.

Be back soon.

Love,

Tereza” (58).

Vice writes: “He studied the note for almost a full minute, attempting to interpret whether the word love on the note referred to their declaration, or was it merely the kind of love that always appears on notes” (58). And it’s within these subtle details, these nuanced train of thoughts where the heart of the story lies, the lines that force the reader to be right there alongside Jim, hoping this “Love” isn’t what it really seems.

 

Matt Coz is a second-year MFA candidate in fiction at UNC Greensboro and current Fiction Editor for The Greensboro Review

Editor’s Dive into the Archives: Chris Swensen on Dixie Whistle by Neil Serven

If you are a reader like me, you may have a deep abiding skepticism of 1980s nostalgia and the well-worn tropes of coming-of-age stories. Yet despite this the Neil Serven story “Dixie Whistle” maddeningly blends these exact elements and masterfully makes a touching and funny portrait of adolescent loneliness. Sure, there’s your 10-year-old protagonist and her obsession with CB radios, there’s collecting The Empire Strikes Back commemorative cups from Burger King, and there are even the last vestiges of a romantic trucker lifestyle of a bygone era. Yet at its heart, “Dixie Whistle” manages to gracefully and subtly balance these elements enough to be a compelling story about a young unwitting nomad finding much-needed connection and escape by calling out over the radio waves like B.J. and the Bear. It’s exactly the kind of story you want to discover in a journal; the story that exceeds expectations and elevates the use of those elements you thought you were more than done with. In this case those are elements you had your fill of since the last time you dared read Look Homeward, Angel or watched Netflix’s Stranger Things. Yet, writer Neil Serven takes those elements and makes something oddly beautiful and charming here. These elements are brought together with more subtly and grace in this piece than is found in today’s Nostalgia Industrial Complex or typical coming-of-age stories.

The story follows 10-year-old Candy who fled with her mom from an abusive household in Connecticut. They share a small house in Georgia with Candy’s aunt Vicki and older cousin Maxine. Despite this crowded arrangement the story perfectly captures a kind of helpless loneliness that comes with being younger than those intertwined with the complexities and desires of adult life. When Candy was younger her cousin Maxine was like a sister “but Maxine’s got boyfriends now, wears tank tops and has boobs, and is hardly ever home” (74). Her mom spends all her time working at Upton’s, or later on in the story, with her new boyfriend Philip. Even her mother is made unfamiliar by the pursuits of adulthood; “When they go out, it’s often the three of them packed in a row in the cab of Philip’s truck with Candy on the hump, the radio playing the twangy music they like down here that Ma was never into before she met Philip but suddenly she knows the words to, sings along to sometimes” (86). What is Candy to do with this lonely restlessness? She takes to the CB Radio, giving herself the titular moniker “Dixie Whistle.”

Before the COPS born infamy of “lot lizards” and the near corporate consolidation of the trucking industry by companies like C.R. England, there was still a nomadic romanticism in the idea of the trucker lifestyle in the 1980s. That romanticism enthralls our protagonist, who being an unwitting nomad herself can’t help but live vicariously through a hardy and charming lady trucker called “Sandstorm.” Something of a relationship develops between Candy and Sandstorm, at first over the airwaves, and then in person as Candy makes a daring outing to the local truck stop. There she meets Sandstorm and the prose in this charming moment perfectly captures the way that just being close to Sandstorm has a surreal and empowering effect that is shown in heightened physicality; Sandstorm buys Candy a Coca-Cola “which Candy sips from a glass bottle that feels cold and substantial in her hand” (81). This desire to live vicariously through a figure like Sandstorm speaks to Candy’s desire to seek out a restless lifestyle on her own terms; a restless lifestyle where fellow nomads are charming, rugged, and most importantly, just one radio squawk away.

“Dixie Whistle” can be found in Issue 107 of The Greensboro Review.

 

Chris Swensen is from the radioactive mountains and valleys of southern Idaho. He is a second-year MFA candidate in fiction at UNC Greensboro and current Fiction Editor for The Greensboro Review