Raves from the Band
Praise for the Winners of the Made Up Words 2016 Short Story Competition
On Bari Lynn Hein’s “A Faint, Cautionary Creee”
Editors’ Choice Winner
I am often drawn to fiction that holds life’s smaller moments up to the light and observes them from all sides like the objects of beauty that they are. So it was with “A Faint, Cautionary Creee.” The action in this story is preceded by a traumatic event that we are not privy to. Instead, we meet the narrator’s young family of four a month after the accident. As they wake up and begin their day, we immediately sense that something is off-kilter—the domestic tableaux feels fragile as glass—and Bari Lynn Hein does a fine job gently unveiling the reality of what has happened. The hushed quality of this story underscores the idea that the narrator is trusting her reader with a truth both delicate and devastating. This piece is a lovely meditation on love, family, and letting go.
“A Faint, Cautionary Creee” is a lovely story of family, of tragedy, and of togetherness. Bari Lynn Hein weaves her tale in a way that enables us to sense the same sort of loss and disorientation that every member of this family must feel in the wake of such a terrible event. As a father of three daughters myself, I could deeply relate to the sadness of the father and the comfort he draws from spending time with his girls in the pool, helping them work through their own experience of grief. Out of sadness we see hope for the future and so are left not with a feeling of despair, but with a tempered sense of joy.
I love stories that make you see things a certain way before exposing all the assumptions you brought to the table with you. “A Faint, Cautionary Creee” is one of those stories. I was intrigued by the main character’s deep connection to the family she loves so dearly and devastated by the tragedy that surrounds her. The author did a great job telling a story that had me thinking about it long after I finished the last sentence.
Keenly observed domestic tales are often my favorites and “A Faint, Cautionary Creee” does not disappoint. This story sneaks up and weaves its magic quietly with lovely, understated language. When reading it for the first time, a hush settled and I was swept along by the clear descriptive voice and the gently unfolding narrative. Bari Lynn Hein deftly begins with a tender reality that soon reveals a twist, sprinkling a layer of magic over the proceedings. In a very short form, she creates recognizable, sympathetic characters and a familiar domestic setting. There is a stately grace in the way she tells this tragic tale of love and loss, of the real and the ethereal. I was moved by its compelling beauty and hold it clearly in my head long after the last reading.
On Eric Van Meter’s “Ride It Out”
Reader’s Vote Winner
There are few things more charming than a certain type of excruciatingly self-aware thirteen-year-old. The wise-beyond-his-years narrator of Ride It Out meets the imminent threat to his physical being and the potential ire of his father head on, reflecting on his clumsy failures as a farm kid, his need for approval, and the heady weight of parental expectations. I love the way his voice captures perfectly the tension between who he is supposed to be and who he actually is. Everything happens in the space of just a few moments, but isn’t that true of so many of life’s turning points? This is a sweet — and bittersweet — read for anyone who’s looking for their place in the world.
I can’t tell if the ending is ambiguous or not. Which adds another layer of ambiguity on top of the satisfying ambiguity the story offers.
Ambiguous is a great word. Etymologically, it means “moving all over the place.” When we apply “ambiguous” to stories we do it because storytelling is an exercise in managing audience expectation. A writer will provide so and so situation, twist it thusly, cause emotion. The audience tries to judge the outcome, but it moves. 1, 2, 4. X, Y, Z. Plug in and play. With this formula, writers strive to accomplish that great and difficult balancing act in their audience: I was surprised, and also satisfied. Surprised satisfaction comes of the most expert application of ambiguity. Not all writers do it all the time. Even though he only took a few hundred words to do it, Eric Van Meter’s story about a boy’s skirmish with some farm equipment used ambiguity with most delightful balance. In practically every word—except the prepositions, which I find fearfully dull as a rule—I find electric surprise and warm satisfaction.
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