I asked for guest posts and got them early and then set them aside and meant to put them up over the weekend and got sidetracked (at least once by a great short story collection!).
Jason Teal was kind enough to contribute the following:
The best stories make the everyday otherworldly, shift our realities from watertight, unflinching expressions to extraordinary backdrops governed by perverse magic. Amelia Gray’s collection, Gutshot, then, is a great indicator for why short stories are thriving and necessary, and why, in general, the story collection is a special format deserving of the highest honors and awards.
Split into five parts, Gutshot repeatedly initiates novel-length maneuvers and uses accessible, matter-of-fact prose that is both composed and rife with insight, compelling us to tear through the text almost violently, at the expense of friends and family, where other books might end up buried under overdue bills, wedding invitations, credit card offers, other books. No stories surpass fifteen pages, yet those that come close earn their mileage definitively. Take, for example, “House Heart,” which adopts a gothic setting that sees a couple “rent [a] girl” and make her live in the air conditioning intake ductwork of the house: “I told her my partner and I have a game we like to play,” the narrator says, “and it’s a special game to us, very special, but we never had had a chance to share it with someone else, and it would mean so much for us to take that step with her help.”
Shorter stories read like parables, such as “The Swan as Metaphor for Love,” which implicates us in a lesson for the ages, adaptable not only in its approaches to swan-rearing but to other parts of life:
If you try to take a swan’s picture he will strike you with his beak. Too much attention enrages a swan. The swan has a long neck and will strike at you. The swan will bite you and tear at your flesh.
Another shorter work delivers a predictable romantic tragedy, preying on our tendency to seek out formulaic narratives, as a list story chronicling “Fifty Ways to Eat Your Lover”:
When he shows up with flowers, nibble the hair from his arms.
When he invites you on a walk, crush his elbow in a vise.
When he asks you if you’ll take him back, tuck your fingers under his lowest rib and pull.
There is something here for everyone—or, as was my case, a rapture that resounds even in the book’s smallest offering, “Flight Log, Chicago/Toledo,” which uses found entries from a failed pilot’s log in order to tell its action tangentially. The approaches to story are engrossing and so disparate, yet totally Gray, a contemporary writer who can and should be read for entertainment and for scholarship. Gray is the author of two collections, AM/PM (Featherproof Books) and Museum of the Weird (FC2), and a novel, THREATS (FSG Originals), and is at work on a second novel. The only thing that rivals reading Gutshot alone in your apartment, disbanding your weekend plans with friends in order to access her very innovative fiction, is hearing Gray perform them, which subscribers to the podcast Daytrotter Sessions now have an opportunity to do, as she, along with two writers, Aaron Burch and Colin Winnette, were invited to record stories for the program last year. Gray’s books are foundational texts that will imprint on my own writing years from now as well as recently. I, for one, cannot wait to see where her unique prose triumphs next.
Jason Teal is a Founding Editor of Heavy Feather Review and is currently pursuing his MFA in Fiction at Northern Michigan University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Mid-American Review, Quarter After Eight, Eleven Eleven, Entropy, Big Other, and Barrelhouse, among other places. Former Managing Editor of Mid-American Review, he is an associate editor for Passages North and lives in Marquette, Michigan.