This Week in Short Fiction

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You can count on One Story as a sort of literary sieve, distilling story-sized servings of up-and-coming writers we should know, and soon enough will know, if we don’t know them already. Next week, One Story will host its annual Literary Debutante Ball, a party thrown in honor of those who’ve published stories with them and whose first books were born this year. This year’s list is impressive, featuring among others, Diane Cook (Man V. Nature), Matt Sumell (Making Nice), and Mia Alvar (In the Country, forthcoming in June). Especially timely is Austin Bunn, a debutante whose debut happened this past week with his story collection, The Brink.

To call The Brink a debut is a bit of a misnomer, as Bunn has been steadily publishing fiction for nearly 10 years since One Story published his first short story, “The Ledge.” Likewise, he wrote nonfiction and magazine pieces well before that, and he co-wrote a script with director John Krokidas that went on to become the 2013 feature-length film Kill Your Darlings starring a post-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg. But still. The Brink is technically his first all-in-one story collection, so debut it is.

You can find several of Bunn’s stories from the collection online, including “How to Win an Unwinnable War” at the Atlantic and part of “Everything, All at Once” at The Sun. For something a little different though, you should really check out “Curious Father” over at Bloom. It’s a great title, the username assumed by the main character Henry after he divorces his wife and starts writing his personals and profiles on sites with names like Manhunt and DaddyCentral. Eventually, in his quest to meet people and “get found” Henry settles for an all-male retreat in the Catskills. And this is where Bunn shows his range of creating characters—all manners of man—from the tender, bird-like Jed to the husky, shipyard hulk Doug to the fastidious and flexible Bodi. Henry stands in the middle of it all, trying to see himself:

He’d never met someone so open. Van was fearless and unencumbered, lobbing provocations out from the passenger seat with his feet up on the dash, like a boy. His talk drove a wedge into Henry’s character, widening him. What Henry truly remembered, in a way that he was only beginning to understand, was the dark prairie of hair on Van’s forearm, the surf at his collar: the places on men that he only now allows himself to see. Henry dances the salt and pepper shakers in his hands for an hour, angling up to his confession. It is difficult to be honest with the people you find beautiful.

And Bunn isn’t the only One Story debutante garnering recent attention. Also well worth a gander is the prolific Matthew Baker. Electric Literature featured Baker’s story, “Goods” on their Recommended Reading Tumblr this week. “Goods” is the story of two brothers who love stores and was originally published at Hayden’s Ferry Review. Seriously. As Electric Literature recommends, you really must read. The ending is so unexpected and true and frighteningly real. And here, just a taste, so you can hear the rhythm that rumbles in Baker’s sentences: 

Once we owned skateboards.
Once we owned backpacks.
Once we owned calculators. My brother and I didn’t like calculators—even if our mother could have bought us calculators, we wouldn’t have wanted our mother to buy us calculators. We thought calculators were boring. But we had never owned calculators, so we carried calculators through a store, once—adding things, subtracting things, multiplying things until the calculators’ displays were maxed at nines—because we felt that that was an experience we needed to have. Felt that if we ever were to understand children who owned calculators, we ourselves would have to have owned calculators. Felt that if we ever were to understand anything about our country, first we would have to understand children who owned calculators.

Baker’s debut book is not a story collection but the young adult novel, If You Find This. You can find more on that here.


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 →