Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Narrative Magazine/Jill McCorkle/Darlin' Neal/Short Story Review
Nominating Editors: Tom Jenks and Rebecca Kaden
Narrative Magazine was founded in 2003 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the literary arts in the digital age and to encouraging readership around the world and across generations. Narrative offers weekly updated contents and an extensive archive, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, visual art, and special features by the best established and emerging talents available anywhere today. Each year Narrative publishes first-run works by more than three hundred authors and artists, and many of those works go on to be included in prominent anthologies. Narrative writers have received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Rea Award, the Rona Jaffe Award, and many other honors.
In selecting works for publication, Narrative editors look for stories with a strong narrative drive, with characters we can respond to as human beings, and with effects of language, situation, and insight that are intense and total. We look for works that have the ambition of enlarging our view of ourselves and the world. In all work, whether written or visual, we watch for originality, intelligence, and sophistication in the handling of the form. And we look for work that will engage our readers’ sense of pleasure.
One recent story we’re very proud of is Jill McCorkle’s “Magic Words,” which appeared in our Fall 2008 issue and was later selected for The Best American Short Stories 2009, New Stories from the South 2009, Best of the Net 2008, and the Million Writers Award Notable Stories 2008. A title such as “Magic Words” promises a lot, and the story delivers, when a middle-aged wife and mother on her way to a tryst is waylaid by a teenager in trouble. In McCorkle’s hands, please and thank you take on raw desire and regret, menace, and, finally, supplicating hope in the face of all that denies it. “Magic Words” embodies mastery and the sheer pleasure of a great story.
Nominated Short Story: “Magic Words” - Jill McCorkle
Reviewed: by Darlin' Neal
Jill McCorkle’s short story, “Magic Words,” opens with Paula Blake sneaking away to meet a coworker who waits in a hotel room. She escapes a husband busily writing the weekly newsletter that warns the neighborhood of dangerous creatures: coyotes, raccoons and bats. She drops off her loud teenagers at the movies. Behind she leaves a house of things untended: laundry, dirty dishes, an unscooped litter box. She is a guilt ridden mother and wife distracted by the feel of her thin panties and fantasies of the man she’s kissed on a stairwell. Once alone in the car she removes her turtleneck to reveal the thin black lace camisole she spent hours that day choosing instead of buying groceries. The story teases us in toward the consummation of the affair, thoughts of the man in the room waiting, ringing her cell phone impatiently.
The story then takes a shift which at first feels off, a point of view shift to kids creepy crawling through the neighborhood, a phrase their rough leader has borrowed from the Manson family after reading Helter Skelter. The leader makes evil plans and terrorizes his followers. The narration hones in on Lauren and the terrifying trap in which she has placed herself by coming along with this group. Paula will think of her later as, “the ‘Don’t’ poster child of this town, the local object lesson in how quickly a child can go bad.”
The narration takes another turn, from these kids outside into another home and point of view, to the recently widowed Agnes Hayes alone and regretting retirement from school teaching. She longs for her son’s forgiveness and companionship. She practices what she will say to him, “It’s your mom. Please talk to me.”
The shifts that at first may make the reader trip now find a rhythm as we go back and forth seamlessly through these stories and stumble upon the connections. Not only does McCorkle grip the reader with tension, she makes us care about these characters, even the cats and dogs. It’s breathtaking how she brings all the separate stories together in the end, all the stories of longing away from and toward home with all the dangers teeming outside. The unexpected and winding journey McCorkle takes the reader on is well worth the read.
Darlin' Neal is the author of the short story collection, Rattlesnakes and The Moon, which Press 53 published in February 2010. Her work has appeared in dozens of magazines including The Southern Review, Puerto del Sol, Shenandoah, The Mississippi Review, Per Contra, and Smokelong Quarterly. She is assistant professor in the MFA program at the University of Central Florida.
Thanks for visiting Five Star Literary Stories and reading about this short story.