Monday, October 22, 2012
From the University of Iowa Press comes another winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award; this time it’s Tell Everyone I Said Hi by Chad Simpson. For being a slim volume, it has a wide variety of effects, in a wide variety of lengths and treatment. Throughout, however, Mr. Simpson shows such insight into people’s mental states, in the oblique way people react to strife, and the way they seek company on their lonely journeys – even the snippets pack a wallop out of all proportion to their length.
The collection, in fact, leads off with Miracle, a mere seven paragraphs long, including one of one sentence. In it, a man responds to his addled brother’s phone call about an accident, and cannot keep from laughing, although at night, he dreams the worst. In a very few short, matter-of-fact sentences, Mr. Simpson sets the tone for this collection: harrowed, highly personal, thought-provoking, and even uplifting. In Potential an exceptional young athlete stares millions of dollars in the face, as he tries to get past his conflict about being the first overall draft choice and moving on to the next phase of his life. In this story, we get a glimpse of the closeness between the son and his father who never pressured him on the field of play. It is a touching, superb piece. Let x rises very nearly to poetry, even though its subject includes thoughtless deeds by junior high-schoolers, deeds which change two young lives.
In this collection, people work momentously to fend for themselves, usually because of some mistake or unavoidable tendency which drove loved ones off. There are two stories that reprise one set of characters. Eponymous Peloma is twelve years old in the first one, over six feet tall, orange-haired, and heavy. She and her dad try to muddle through respective challenges in the wake of the mother/wife’s fatal auto accident. Peloma tries half-heartedly a couple of times to kill herself, but her father, telling the stories in the first person, finds the path they can travel together. The first story leaves us on a cliffhanger, almost literally. The second story with these characters concludes the collection. In it, Dad chides himself when he hears of Peloma’s almost disastrous first day of driving at driver’s ed. He acknowledges that he should have given Peloma some practice behind the wheel, and so takes her out. The final sequence of their experience together in his pickup truck forms a lovely climax to this sometimes haunting collection. It’s worth the price of admission by itself.
This is a remarkable, distinctive collection, and proves what the folks in Iowa City know so well: short fiction is in exceedingly capable hands. Kudos once again on this selection for the prize!