I chose these three stories because I love the way they sit next to each other, how each story answers worthy narrative questions very differently: how should I pace a story? how should I shape one? how do I create a sensation of loneliness on the page? how can I use non-narrative elements-such as images-to put pressure on a narrative?

In answer to this last question, Anya Yurchyshyn's "Floating" centers on a single, lovely, idealized image-a boy floating in the air-and the rest of the story builds to that image and then circles around it, blows around it with the constant presence of wind. This gentle image of the floating boy is counterbalanced by the dispirited narrator, a boy who can't float, who feels stupid and left out, deflated under his floating friend rising over the trashcans.

Chloé Cooper Jones's "Laundry Day," on the other hand, creates its melancholy conflict through a succession of images of clothing: a shirt that has been resewn at the seams, a broken zipper on a pair of brown pants, the least favorite shirt, taken out only on laundry day. These images work as signposts of a former, now-vanished intimacy and are much more vivid than the characters themselves, who don't even have names beyond bland anonymous labels.

Tristan Meinecke wrote "Sherwood Walks Straight" in 1943 and revised it in 1946, before going on to become a formidable painter, architect, and clarinetist in the Chicago art scene of the 1950s. I've chosen to reprint the story here, having published it myself as editor of Parakeet in 2004. This percussive rant story, discovered among his papers by the curator John Corbett, is deceptive in that it initially seems as if it will be about one image-of a young boy walking, rod-stiff-but instead opens up to accumulate other images, and you have a sense of images piling up, of an overload as the pile grows outward to include an entire nation's experience of a certain decade. The narrator's ironic eye cast over this landscape, a decade of immense patriotism in America, feels fresh and strange. At the end of the story, the junk pile is speedily cleared away and we're left with the opening image of this boy with the weight of America inside and around him.

—Deb Olin Unferth

 

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