The fiction folio for Drunken Boat #15 has been a particularly collaborative effort as the journal experienced some changes in the editorial staff. We said a very fond farewell to Fiction Editor Deborah Poe and welcomed Sybil Baker to that position, and the resultant fiction section here in issue 15 bridges those transitions.
What marks these pieces—perhaps because these ideas are in the forefront of my mind as I think of the process of this issue—is a sense of play, of fluidity, of change. This manifests itself in a multitude of ways across the stories featured here, from play with the idea of form and expectations for fiction to the play of language itself, the way that language—what things are called, what we do when we have no names by which to call them—defines the world of the work.
In “Duck Variations,” Ron MacLean plays the various meanings of “duck” against each other—noun, verb—as a backbone for a narrative woven of repeated images. Language, even the very concept of storytelling, finds itself at play in Timothy C. Dyke’s “As Dreams of Poets,” a story that constructs and deconstructs the relationship between the work and the writer, the narrator and the narrative. Andrew Cothren’s “My Sister is a Road Map” stretches—but never breaks—the titular trope, creating a scenario both impossible and too concrete to be solely figurative. John S. Cooney braids together two narratives around a young man’s life at a moment of career crisis, a moment of imminent change. The narrative doesn’t close definitively; the focus is on the cusp, the moment of potentiality.
Anne Valente’s “The Gravity Well” starts after that tipping point, starts in the aftermath of a miscarriage, suggesting multiplicity: “Sarah says we are elsewhere, always,” while Suzanne Scanlon’s “People Exactly Like You” interrogates some of that “elsewhere” in an exploration of familial depression that treads the water of naming: depression, heredity, community. Anelise Chen's "Dorothy's Perfection Paradox" demonstrates a character trying to combat the pressure to perform by ordering her internal chaos through the naming of disorder, through identifying the malady of perfection. Dorothy, in Chen's story, lays out options, options she can own where she cannot openly own her conflict. In “Seine,” Jacob Newberry holds up the connection of family gently, mellifluously, in the story of a man spreading his mother’s ashes.
Louise Phillips undoes the trope of reality television in “The Absconding,” lifting the endgame-driven imperative of The Bachelorette from the narrative with the disappearance of the bachelorette and her lover from the framework of the show. What the reader is left with is not the rhinestone shimmer of reality television but a satisfyingly low-key connection between two characters.
The thematics of disappearance continue in Crona Gallagher’s “Ballypuca,” wherein Abacus Ray removes herself from the confines of the Irish recession through resourcefulness, through an unexpected return to nature of sorts. Gallagher’s story also brought forward echoes of October’s exotic animal farm tragedy in Zanesville, Ohio, but Gallager’s Abacus Ray, instead of finding tragedy in a tiger’s death, finds agency in the animal’s waning power.
Peter Barrett’s “A Gathering of Shades” takes the idea of disappearance to a chilling, uncertain end with an allegorical exploration of sexual awakening, while Peter Vilbig’s “Born” approaches the concept of coming of age through transformation, both literal and metaphorical. James Mendelsohn, in “Mercy,” tracks the adolescence of Jerry through a continuance of communicative impasses with his family as Jerry attempts to find a sense of identity or purpose in shoplifting.
The stories featured in this issue confront the idea of change through the instrument of language, through the boundaries and horizons contained therein. This is, of course, one of the traditional hearts of narrative—characters and the events that shape them or that are resisted—but this array of work explores the possibility of narrative through diverse iterations of play, of movement, of form.