What I crave as a reader is what I crave as a writer: surprise. I want the characters to lead me in a direction I couldn't travel on my own; I want the language to throw a new light on the ways we wound and love each other, and I want unexpected shadows to fall over what we've long believed to be unassailably true, inarguably right. I don't want the characters to change—my secret suspicion is that characters never actually change—but I want the so-called real world to look and feel different after I finish reading the story. That is, I want the stories to change me. The fiction I admire most is marked by emotional momentum and narrative discovery, fiction that exacts relentless consideration on the glory and consequence of being human. When a story surprises me, when it opens up the world in a manner I wouldn't predict, I feel altered and emboldened, humbled and grateful. I feel alive in a highly concentrated way, as if the world had turned its every attention to the words I'm reading on the page.
The two stories that follow, Ryan Mecklenberg's "Pumps" and Eliza Hornig's "Dear Eva," do all of these things. Reading each of them, I had the sense of a lock opening—I could almost hear the intricate mechanisms clicking into place—and the stories were themselves the keys. The surprise was what the authors had hidden inside: Me. And you.
Bret Anthony Johnston is the author of Corpus Christi: Stories, and the editor of Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer. He also wrote the documentary Waiting for Lightning. www.bretanthonyjohnston.com