Our fall issue is always a privilege to present to our readers because it features the winner of the Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction. Now in its ninth year, this contest was established to honor the memory of writer and literary editor Liza Nelligan, an alumna of and friend to many here at Colorado State University. This year’s winner is Matthew Shaer for his story “Ghosts,” selected by final judge Jane Hamilton. “This story,” says Hamilton, “is tightly packed—it has a great deal of the characters’ history and their private and shared suffering in just eighteen pages—and yet the narrative richness is beautifully contained within the boundaries of the story form. There are so many capably written stories—a lot of writers have the hang of it—but when you come across a story that is nearly as distilled as a poem, where all the parts work together, where the language is precise and lyrical, and when the story has ‘an intense awareness of human loneliness,’ the quality that Frank O’Connor believes defines the short story—you’re likely to say, Here it is. The real thing. As I did with “Ghosts.”
This issue’s other stories also touch on that aspect of loneliness. In Elise Juska’s “Hard Things,” George and Vicky work through the inevitable adjustments of mid-life marriage—merging possessions, negotiating habits and routines, learning to read each other’s emotional cues—and discover that the path to fully knowing each other will be a long one. Charla, the fifteen-year-old narrator of Erin Kasdin’s “Art of Knotting and Splicing,” finds herself in the lonely position of holding things together when her younger sister goes missing from their trailer park home, her father shuts down, and her only friend is a person of interest. And in Edward Porter’s “Tough Little Wife”—selected by Brock Clarke as a winner of awp’s 2012 Intro Journals Project—Tina and Wesley, at a crossroads in their relationship, engage in inventive forms of marital torment, each essentially daring the other to blink first so they can go their solitary ways.
In nonfiction, both of this issue’s essays take on questions of family. Judith Adkins’s “The Tree, The Forest” explores the challenges nontraditional families encounter in the field of genealogy. And Bill Capossere returns to us with “Strange Travelers,” another installment from his astronomy- and space-travel-inflected family memoir, which we have been avidly following here at Colorado Review since 2005.
In the poetry of this issue, there’s something precarious afoot, something, perhaps, eating its foot, as in Emilia Phillips’s “YouTube: Dog Eating a Human Leg on the Ganges.” It’s a kind of off-hand violence that’s all too embedded in our local and global landscapes. Take Adam Day’s “Condensation Cube,” or Peter Balakian’s “Pueblo, Christmas Dance,” or Hadara Bar-Nadav’s “Portrait without a Face.” Not exactly war, but the culture of war. Animals are growling up the show (Eric Baus’s “feral entrails”; Cal Bedient’s “Cheetah”; Joan Naviyuk Kane’s whale “limb and fissure”; John Yau’s argumentative dogs), but the singing’s strong, a powerfully lyric againstness. It’s elegy against ontology: “How slow every life // How every slow life // Shudders forward” (Alex Lemon), and an intense query to the immediate scene: “A dried sea horse / in a bouquet / of chalky shells / on a white shelf / above the clear water / of a stopped sink” (Logan Burns). It’s also something quite tender, art that stops time by close listening: “How surely it moves beneath us, scriptura continuum, our illegible lives” (Siobhán Scarry). Alongside masters of the craft, we also welcome new voices, as in the 2012 awp Intro Journals Project, here presenting James Henry Knippen’s “Scutellaria.” Much to be sung and said in the darkening hours; take heart here.
Featured in This Issue
Judith Adkins, Peter Balakian, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Eric Baus, Calvin Bedient, Victoria Brockmeier, Logan Burns, Bill Capossere, Victoria Chang, Maxine Chernoff, Adam Day, Eric Ellingsen, Sara Gelston, Endi Bogue Hartigan, Alec Hershman, John Fenlon Hogan, Elise Juska, John Naviyuk Kane, Erin Kasdin, Peter Kispert, L. S. Klatt, Matthew Brady Klitsch, James Henry Knippen, Alex Lemon, Sara Renee Marshall, Aaron McCollough, Emilia Phillips, Daniel Poppick, Edward Porter, Matt Reeck, Nick Ripatrazone, Tim Roberts, Tomaz Salamun, Siobhan Scarry, Jonathan Skinner, Matthew Shaer, Chad Sweeney, John Taggart, Angela Narciso Torres, Corey Van Landingham, Joseph Wood, John Yau