As some of you already know, mainly because I mentioned it in my last review, mid-July I graduated from University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing. Come next January, when it’s time for yet another Stonecoast residency up in Freeport, Maine, I won’t be there, and neither will the rest of my class, or the classes that graduated before me, with the exception of some lucky students close enough to visit. I will miss my Stonecoast friends immensely, though I hope to make certain that July will not be the last time I ever see them.
There is a lot of talent in the Stonecoast community. For this week’s Short Story Review, I will highlight four stories published by either current Stonecoast students or Stonecoast alums. There are, of course, far more than four, and more, certainly, to come. If you’re a Stonecoast student, current or past, feel free to post a link to one of your published stories in the comments below.
“Paradigm Shift” by Julie Day
Free read in Electric Velocipede, Issue 26
I met Julie my first residency at Stonecoast, and she graduated my third. We are, I will admit, part of the same writer’s critique group, and this short flash story was, in fact, penned as part of my Art & Words Show. It was one of my favorites, written in response to a painting of the same title by artist Trayce Cochran. It’s no wonder that after the show, it was accepted for publication by Electric Velocipede.
A little girl is forced into the pageant life by her overbearing mother. Despite her hard work, she never wins a trophy. At sixteen, the girl undergoes an operation to turn herself into a cyborg. This flash fiction is short, but it packs a punch; powerful writing here from a master of weird stories. “Paradigm Shift” is an intense piece of fiction, and captivating until the last sentence. The mother is a genuinely creepy presence who invades even the parts of the story in which she is absent. There are suggestions of an interesting and complex world outside of the story’s parameters, a world in which these elective cyborg surgeries are somewhat common, that enhance the weirdness even further.
“The Taste of Salt” by Rachel Halpern
Free read in Daily Science Fiction
Rachel Halpern’s “The Taste of Salt” is a flash fiction about Aina, a young woman in a small town where a cult’s attempt at summoning a demon actually worked. The demon now requires sacrifices, and sorcerers make sure that the demon gets them. The background sounds kooky, but Halpern’s crisp writing makes certain that it’s taken seriously. Aina even recognizes the cliché of the robed sorcerer masters making sure the surviving humans don’t escape, a self-awareness that saves the setting. Besides, the story isn’t about this takeover. It’s about Aina and her relationship to the world, specifically her relationship with the next sacrifice, Evan, who is waiting to be consumed. The story is surprisingly both hopeful and dark, a combination of moods that I greatly admire.
“Dirty Dishes” by Cristina Perachio
Free read in Apiary
Cristina’s fiction is not speculative; it’s about as real as you can get. Though Short Story Review mostly focuses on realistic stories, I feel that I have to include Cristina because of just how talented she is, and how good this story is.
“Dirty Dishes” is about a young girl working in a restaurant. Actually, “Dirty Dishes” is about being a young girl working in a restaurant, and it’s all refreshingly true-to-heart. Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant can identify with this story. Any woman can identify with this story. Anyone who’s ever known a woman can identify with this story. It’s a story about being young. A story about the often fucked-up dichotomy between men and women. And it’s both hilarious and heartbreaking.
“Failsafe” by Karen Bovenmyer
Karen Bovenmyer read part of “Failsafe” for her graduating student reading; we were partnered together, and so she read it after I read my own story, “The Wanderers.” I’m glad that she went second, as I was able to get my nerves out of the way so that I could fully engage with Karen’s story, as it’s extremely creepy and compelling, with a main character, Kira, whose voice is one of the most distinctive I have ever read.
Kira’s the captain of a salvage ship, the Recovery. She lives a lonely life, her only company the Recovery’s emotionless AI. When she receives a message from the terraforming ship, the Queen – a little girl’s voice says that everyone is dead – she is obliged to board, as the little girl is still alive, and Kira’s contract states that she is required to rescue any survivors. What she finds aboard the Queen is her worst fear: bodies. And beyond her worst fear, too, something she never would have thought up: a demon that inhabits those bodies. “Failsafe” is not a light story; it’s gory, and the trials that Kira and the little girl, Walkabout, face are long and frightening. It is well-told, thoroughly engaging, and memorable. Especially that ending.