Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Our Stories/Jo Page/Donald Capone/Short Story Review

Nominating Editor: Alexis Enrico Santi

Our Stories Literary Journal
publishes some of the best short stories found on the web and engaging interviews with prize winning authors such as TC Boyle and Junot Díaz. Numerous stories have been short listed for storySouth award and published in the Dzanc Best of the Web. Central to Our Stories is a unique submission process, for every submission they receive year round, they provide personalized feedback; hence their credo "Don't just submit. Learn to receive." They are the sponsors of the Emerging Writer Award and the Richard Bausch short fiction prize and during these contests every writer whose story isn't chosen for publication receives a page by page analysis of their story. The journal was founded in 2006 by Alexis Enrico Santí who serves as editor in chief.

What struck me about this story was the slow methodical way that Jo Page begins her story and introduces a normal point of tension: the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. She then takes the story and patiently builds terror through tiny actions and dialogue. It's probably a more "print" story than I usually find these days and I attribute this to Page's training, having worked with one of the masters of prose George Garrett, who recently passed away. Simply put: it's a story that takes your breath away.

Nominated Short Story: "AAA" – Jo Page

Reviewed: by Donald Capone


From the opening sentence, the reader is plopped smack down into Jane's predicament, which soon gets much worse. Author Jo Page's smooth, easy, no-nonsense writing style and dialogue grabs you and doesn't let go; you feel the tension almost immediately. In fact, I can't properly review this story without including spoilers. Seriously, major spoilers ahead. So my suggestion is to read the story first, then return to this review. Go ahead, I'll wait. I'll have a cup of tea in the meantime.

Welcome back. Now, as I was saying. From the moment good Samaritan Tom pulls up in his pick-up truck and offers a ride, red flags go up for both Jane and the reader. We're conditioned to be scared of strangers. Don't get in a car with strangers! Of course she gets in the truck, and of course Tom has intentions that aren't all pure. Otherwise there wouldn't be a conflict in the story—Jane would get to his mobile home, use his phone to call AAA, and wait for a tow truck. So we know what's coming. Still, you hope Tom doesn't go down the road that he seems intent on traveling.

Later, back at his trailer, when he asks Jane to take off her shirt, you're right there with her, and realize what you (and she) feared has now begun. You want Jane to make a break for it. Just run, get out of there, leg it back to her car if she has to. But she doesn't. She fears for her life, and goes along with his suggestion in the hope that it will end there, and then he'll take her back to her car as promised. But Tom keeps upping the ante. First her shirt, then her bra, then her pants. She's one step ahead of him at this point and takes her panties off without his asking. Here she does consider making a break for it, but doesn't think she'll make it, and worries it would anger him. Her survival instinct kicks in, as she tries to numb herself for what will come next.

We learn Jane and Tom have a similar recent history: they both have ex-spouses who cheated on them and left them for someone else. The sting of this is there for both characters, but how each deals with it is different. We don't know much of Jane's personal situation until later, but Page gives us Tom's up front: he's the father of two small children, his wife has left him for another man. Jane, along with the reader, wonders if Tom has picked up and attacked women before, or if this is the first time. We never learn this for sure, but rape clearly is his revenge on his wife, and women in general, even if he isn't aware of it. The rape scene itself is an uncomfortable read. Page doesn't let you off the hook here; she shows how it happens in detail, the dialogue between the characters, and how Jane feels immediately afterward.

Page offers us layered, complex characters—both the victim and the attacker. The rapist isn't a stereotypical violent angry brute. We get his story, too, and see how he probably does believe he's "normal" and is not doing anything to hurt Jane; in fact he believes he is gentle with her. Jane is more complex. She understands a crime is being committed against her, yet a part of her needs human touch (we later learn of her husband's infidelity), needs to be wanted, needs something, anything. But not this. Yet her body responds, and it feels good: "It felt good. It felt so good. Her hands reached for his ass, his back...This wasn’t rape. This was rape. She didn’t know." (I wonder if a male author could have gotten away with writing this without coming off as a cad.)

Later, Tom drives her back to her car, and she asks him to wait with her for the tow truck to arrive, and tries to make small talk with him. Jane then gets in the tow truck with the driver, and wonders if she is putting herself in the same situation as before. She actually thanks Tom for his help, her eyes tearing up as the truck pulls away and leaves Tom standing alone and sad on the side of the road. The Gentle Rapist. This is a case of accelerated Stockholm Syndrome here; the tow truck driver may be a new threat, but Tom is the devil she knows, who helped her on some level. She sighs and shuts her eyes, and lets "the rough ride and the vertigo of the curving roads swat her this way and that," her life a road of which she has no map.

This story will stick with its readers for a long time. It will for me; I still wish she had kicked him where it counts and made a run for it, though.

Reviewer's Bio:

Donald Capone's stories have appeared in Edgar Literary Magazine, Word Riot, Weekly Reader's READ magazine, Thieves Jargon, and Ampersand Review (forthcoming), as well as the anthologies See You Next Tuesday, Skive Quarterly 6, and Rebellion: New Voices of Fiction, which he also edited, and which was a finalist in the 2006 USA Book News awards. His comic novel, Into the Sunset, is available on Amazon and other places. He works in publishing as a designer of children's novelty books. He blogs here.

Thanks for visiting Five Star Literary Stories and reading about this short story.


Anonymous said...

Jeanette Cheezum

congrats to all.

SusanD said...

Most excellent review of a riveting story.