“The Way of the Rider”
Dzanc Books’s online lit mag, The Collagist, has a keen eye for inventive and somewhat experimental fiction. At the very least, it feels like a safe place for authors to try new things.
Bull editor Haley’s story is actually so old-school, it may come back around and read as experimental. The titular “rider” is a horseman traveling “western” in a contemporary America still replete with the architecture of the Old West (a ghost town, a saloon, tense negotiations among cowboys, Mexicans and Native Americans). The rider runs into a showman who performs during a Native American harvest festival, and who takes the rider under his wing, replacing his surly riding partner.
The reality of the story is tweaked just enough to keep readers on their toes, and the way the rider’s innocence reveals his ignorance of Old West clichés, it almost made me wonder if the whole story was set in an open-world video game. There’s both a lack of control and a circuitry to the story that distinguishes it from a typical Western, and a little of the clumsy brutality that we find in Coen Brothers movies . Still, there’s something familiar and beautiful among all the trappings. Read it here: bit.ly/hwl3he.
Harper Perennial’s Fifty-two Stories republishes a story from Shapiro’s 2010 collection, Bummer (Soft Skull, $14.95). The narrator remembers her girlhood against the backdrop of Richard Speck’s serial killing of eight student nurses. The story progresses in the manner of most remembrances: The narrator can’t help but winsomely reflect on the odd beauty of her childhood surroundings.
But there’s also a sense of menace lingering throughout, augured by the opening line: “It was the summer of the dead nurses and that sniper in Texas and we were not allowed to walk on my grandparents’ lawn because of the frogs.” Family tension plays out as the narrator and her sister momentarily convince their father to purchase a backyard pool, and their baby-sitter’s teenage psyche slowly unravels.
Shapiro moves subtly through the story. The pain in the background is only hinted at (as it would be for a nine-year-old): The baby-sitter’s problems may go beyond typical teen strife, her father’s interest in buying a pool may be simple manipulation. Shapiro expertly captures the way kids fantasize themselves into any story—the narrator was convinced a Speck-like killer would come for her—and the way the imagination opens a door to hidden emotions. Read it here: http://bit.ly/drIXNB.