This Week in Short Fiction

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On Tuesday, Guernica published “Walking on Water,” an excerpt from Payem Faeli’s 2010 novella, I Will Grow, I Will Bear Fruit… Figs. In this excerpt, translated into English by Sarah Khalili, Faeli provides a meditative taste of the novella’s wandering narrator, a young boy in search of a name. You can see Faeli’s impulse toward the lyricism and the poetic line here:

I walk on water.
I learned this from my mother.
I see a pack of gypsies in the distance. They are singing and walking on water.
My mother learned to walk from them.

Faeli’s language resonates even more strongly when you learn more of his own story, which thankfully Nina Strochlic from The Daily Beast reported on this past July. The Iranian poet and writer, now 29, has suffered a number of indignities under the regime in Tehran, including losing his job, having family members threatened, being detained multiple times for as long as 44 days in a shipping container, and ultimately being forced into exile from his native country. The regime initially put him on their banned author list in 2005 for what they saw as overly political and anti-religious statements in The Sun’s Platform, his first book of poems and only book published in Iran. But it was his explorations of his sexuality in I Will Grow that made life dangerous for him and his family. Of that work, Faeli said, “It was like introducing me to myself. By writing this story I created an image of my life and through that image I could get to know myself.”

Though he misses his home country dearly, Faeli and his sister now live in Turkey for safety reasons. He is seeking an English translator for I Will Grow and working on his third novel, The Sad Whales.

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On Thursday, we collectively trudged up the stairs to our individual mental attics and dust off the memories of where and who we were that unsuspecting morning when we watched the towers fall. Thirteen years now.

In the way that trauma cannot be immediately processed and with the complexity of political strings attached to September 11th, it is probably not surprising that even now in 2014 it feels like fictional writers are still in an early stage of teasing out truths within and around the territory of that paradigm-shifting event. But in 2004, Deborah Eisenberg, a New Yorker since the 1960s, created one fictional exploration in her story “Twilight of the Superheroes.” The story led off her 2006 collection of the same name and was published initially in Final Edition, a one-time publication spearheaded by her husband Wallace Shawn. Here, in a 2013 interview with Catherine Steindler at the Paris Review, she explains how she found herself writing such a story: 

It was a very defining, very altering event, and a shared experience. It would have been highly artificial, and in fact programmatic, to set a story in the United States—particularly in New York—at that time without at least acknowledging it.

Fiction is an excellent way to explore the relationships between people and their contexts. But any real exploration of those relationships is not going to be at all doctrinaire. It’s not the purpose or practice of fiction writers to polemicize. On the contrary, fiction might be the most unfettered way to go excavating for evidence of real human behavior and feeling.

And if it is, then “Twilight of the Superheroes” is one of the stronger ones out there on the outward rippling effects of what it meant for those who lived in New York that September. As a tale of The City, the story necessarily contains many characters and strands. Eisenberg contains the characters in neat sections with headers in all capitals: FROGBOIL, THE HALF-LIFE OF PASSIVITY, REUNION, HOME, INNOCENCE, BACK TO NORMAL, WAITING. In the story, recent college grads share a pet-sitting multi-year sublet on a luxury apartment in a high-rise through one of their uncles, a middle-aged man named Lucien mourning the loss of his wife. One morning before work, the friends are sipping coffee on the balcony when they witness “the sky igniting” as the first plane hit. Later, Lucien reflects on the future for his nephew’s generation:

The terrible day that pointed them toward that future had been prepared for a long, long time, though it had been prepared behind a curtain… a curtain painted with the map of the earth, its oceans and continents, with Lucien’s delightful city. The planes struck, tearing through the curtain of that blue September morning, exposing the dark world that lay right behind it, of populations ruthlessly exploited, inflamed with hatred, and tired of waiting for change to happen by.

While not available online, it’s worth hunting down a copy of Eisenberg’s “Twilight of the Superheroes,” a time capsule of those first moments when many of us in the U.S. began to learn about life behind that curtain.


Jill Schepmann's stories have been read on NPR and have appeared in Parcel and Midwestern Gothic, among others. She worked as a fiction and nonfiction editor at Nashville Review while getting her MFA at Vanderbilt. She lives in San Francisco and tweets @jillypants. More from this author →