Guest Editor's Intro
Since her first novel, Foreigner, in 1978, Nahid Rachlin has illuminated and defined the Iranian diaspora. Feri, the young woman at the center of that book, mirrors Rachlin in significant ways, most notably in coming to America for her university education and, later, deciding to stay. It is this difficult decision—settling in a country not one's own—that marks so many of Rachlin's characters in fiction as it has marked Rachlin's own life: the kind of decision that few Americans have known. In her four novels, a collection of short stories, and, most recently, Persian Girl in 2006, her highly acclaimed memoir, Rachlin has helped readers understand that, in spite of the repressive politics and cultural policing, one can love one's native land and—nearly every day—regret leaving it.
The power of Rachlin's work lies not only in her subject matter but also in her style: from a most feminine point of view, she sustains elegantly spare prose and unsentimental narration even as she takes on such emotional topics as separation from loved-ones and homeland. Ultimately, her understated style creates a moving argument against oppression and a celebration of individual autonomy and, more specifically, women's rights. We see this subtle power in the story we proudly publish here: "In the Country," which recounts the ongoing adjustments of an Iranian ex-pat as she accommodates the complexities of living with her thoroughly Americanized daughter and her daughter's American husband. These complexities include an infusion of Iranian life in the minutia of America life —the making of a salad of yogurt, cucumber, and mint for lunch, for instance, and the abrupt recollection of the Damavand Mountains when Mina savors a fragrant breeze. "In the Country" comes from Rachlin's new collection-in-progress and suggests a more mature perspective, embodied in Mina's realization that she and her husband can never return to Iran—a prospect that characters in Rachlin's earlier works never quite surrendered.
We have paired Nahid Rachlin with Peter Cameron to create a distinctive contrast, for Cameron is a renowned writer of America's domestic scene. Cameron came to readers' attention in the 1980s as a New Yorker short-story writer of considerable wit and insight. While his prose style seemed in keeping with the minimalistic fashion of that decade, his sensibility seemed of another, more feeling era. Since his debut collection of stories—One Way or Another—in 1986, he has developed that sensibility to a notable degree in a second story collection and five novels, most recently the stunning Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You in 2007.
Cameron is a master of understated humor and wry observation, even as he deals with deadly serious topics. We see this in "The Cure" (excerpted from his forthcoming novella, Certain Persons) as Daniel—in a pique over his wife's seeming rebuff—thinks, "It seemed almost unbearably mean and petty of her, to withhold something as inconsequential as the plot of a book." But then Alice comes around and we learn that she really didn't rebuff him; she was simply distracted. When we read Cameron's fiction, we learn to expect—as Daniel does—that nothing will come out quite as we expect. And so, as you read "The Cure," you will be led to believe that you know what's going to happen, and some part of you will resist the seemingly inevitable but, then, like life, Cameron's fiction will surprise you with this turn and then that turn and then nothing will be what you thought it might be. Cameron is among a select number of American writers who can pull this off consistently and convincingly.
There is also his gift of feeling for his characters and imbuing them with a depth of humanity that makes them vulnerable and flawed and sympathetic and very smart all at once. Illuminated brightly by his elegant prose, Cameron's characters are always good company, even as they make us wince. Most notable about Cameron's approach is that he never takes the issue head-on. Rather, he sneaks up on it, pretty much the way the issue—usually having to do with identity and romantic love—sneaks up on his characters, as it sneaks up on Daniel in "The Cure." One of the issues with which his work is most familiar is homosexuality and, in this realm, Cameron is an important voice, for his many novels and stories have traveled this territory extensively and adroitly.
Our third author in this special Wired triptych is Kathy Flann, a writer of growing acclaim whom we proudly introduce to you, if you have not met her yet. Her story, "The Meteorite Man," takes on American myth and dreaming in a man's headlong pursuit after fame and, perhaps, something more. Not content to let the larger-than-life Meteorite Man stand as a quintessentially American archetype, Flann manages to skewer several targets in this story while also exploring a bit of the human condition—which is to say that the story is a lot of fun, yes, but also a comedy to ponder. Many, if not most, of us are likely chasing after meteorites of our own.
May you read these stories with as much pleasure as we have. Thank you for joining us online.