American Literary Review
2011 Fiction Contest
Here is what Kyle Minor, who judged the fiction contest blindly,
thought of the winning story and the runner up:
Winner: Marc Dickinson, "Smoked"
This story has it all. The alcohol, the smoking, the she who smells
of sweat and
tugs at his ear with her teeth, the air like a tomb, the psych console,
the day when it'd be nice to have some real eggs, the trouble with the
Cubs and the
Classifieds, the Delta camp at Jalalabad, the timed RPG's set in advance
clock radios, the guy at the bar who talks of war but knows not of war,
prayers for forgiveness, the late September day where the campus girls
down to their tank tops, the day the stray hammer got thrown through the
glass, the sea of cornfields, Martinez's grave...
By story's end, we're well acquainted with all the ways there are to be afraid, but we don't know any more than the speaker what to do about the wounds, or what love wants to do with them.
I hope this judge's note passes less for praise and more for an advertisement for "Smoked." Perhaps you are one of those time-strapped literary journal readers who scans the table of contents, looking for the famous name, or the title with the words sex, death, or America in it. I'm here to tell you, this story delivers all three. It's worth your time, and it's worth the time it will take you to call any seven of your friends and say: "Here's a story for you."
Runner Up: Sean Madigan Hoen, "Back is Where You Go"
If anything in the world of "Back is Where You Go" needs sprayed, there will
be a twelve-year-old calico named Mister Little Jeans to spray it. If you
meet a guy named G, the G will be short for Gizzard, and the guy’s real name
will be Ian, "the light-loafered queer they’d suspected." There will be
danger all up and down Highway 27, which isn’t, by the way, the same Highway
27 I used to live beside, although it shares the same ostensible
geolocations. Instead, it will be the Highway 27 particular to Luke, our
speaker, and a good one. Whatever filters he sees the world through, I
wouldn’t want to wear them, but that makes the reader I am a happy reader,
because everything that is bad for life is good for reading.
In "Back is Where You Go," happy readers have traffic with Wicker Park, tobacco-spitters, bikers, Bears fans, beet salads, that scumbag Luke cracked in the forehead, a spaceship silver Camaro, the absence of Morocco, flapjacks, oily cheeks, and a road trip the likes of which I’ve never seen in literature before. What I’ve left out of this paragraph, mostly, is what happens. I leave that pleasure to the reader lucky enough to have their tender skin clawed the same way Luke’s abdomen gets "sliced up where the coon trampled him." That’s the kind of story "Back is Where You Go" is - a story you wear like a wound. Wear it proudly.
MINOR is the author of In the Devil's Territory, a collection of
short fiction. Other stories and essays appear in Best American Mystery
Stories 2008, Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers, Gulf Coast,
and The Southern Review. He lives in Ohio, where he teaches at the
University of Toledo, and finishing a novel titled The Sexual Lives of