This Week in Short Fiction


This week, the online interdisciplinary project 7×7 has new work by Janice Lee, author of The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016).  7×7’s unique format pairs a writer and a visual artist to engage in a two-week long collaboration in the mode of the exquisite corpse games of the Surrealists. In “A Disappearing Landscape,” Lee begins the story, and Melbourne-based illustrator and designer Will Rockel responds with a work of digital illustration, which Lee then builds upon in prose, which Rockel then expands on in visual form, etc., until the story is completed in a set of seven written pieces and seven images. The final product is a wildly creative dialogue between the written and the visual mediums that eschews traditional structures and operates on an intuitive level.

The bird flies south while singing a serenade and doesn’t notice the horses below. It passes laundry hanging on the line and though it may just be a big misunderstanding, decides that life is utterly unfair, as it imagines an asteroid flattening all it sees in front of him, the laundry hanging on the line, a cauterized and flexible landscape.

This is a different kind of storytelling, defying plot. The time limit (no more than two hours per contribution) encourages spontaneity and instinct, and Rockel’s illustrations spur Lee into spaces her narrative would perhaps otherwise not have gone, stretching both writer and artist forward into a more imaginative landscape. The story swerves from the existential musings of a bird and a horse, to a man waking in a desert, to the clinging memories of childhood. The words and images resonate with a feeling of grief, of the struggle to match internal experience and outer reality, of the discordant in-between spaces that can never quite be rectified.

Earlier this morning, the man might have been in a bed, the echoes of dead moths on the windowsill, piles of them, a glance into the large mirror hung at the opposite end of the room, a face he didn’t recognize. Don’t close your eyes, don’t close your eyes. Don’t look away, don’t look away.

Lee’s prose is at once cerebral and visual, redolent with images and phrases that haunt and linger, and Rockel’s digital art feels particularly appropriate for this transcontinental Internet collaboration. The terrain of “A Disappearing Landscape” seems to exist outside of the physical, a loose map that probes at the hard-to-express, shifting nature of existence. Each time your try to put your finger on it, to pin it down, the story—and its landscape—disappears.

How is the air up there? A horse asks a bird, the bird stirring constantly in the wind on the edge of the world, continuous overlappings at the border, its birds flapping and flapping as if mapping internally but unable to combat the wind.


Logo art by Max Winter.

Claire Burgess’s short fiction has appeared in Third Coast, Hunger Mountain, and PANK online, among others. Her stories have received special mentions in the Pushcart Prize and Best American anthologies, but haven’t actually made it into one yet. She’s a graduate of the Vanderbilt University MFA program, where she co-founded Nashville Review. She lives in Pittsburgh by way of the deep South and says things on Twitter @Clairabou_. More from this author →