I must admit I would find it difficult to talk badly about this story if it deserved it (it doesn’t) as Karen is a friend of mine and, arguably, a large part of the reason life has resulted in me doing story-by-story reviews of a two-decade-old Mormon-short-story collection.
After graduating from BYU I joined the AML-List and took a menial job. With my brain untaxed at work, I aimed my thinking at the AML-List. Which ignored me. Sometimes the email I rewrote three times couldn’t get past the moderators because the day’s volume had already been capped off with a pair of three-sentence witticisms from Richard Dutcher; but I kept trying to get attention, jumping and waving my arms from the back of the room.
Anyway, fastforward a couple years and Karen Rosenbaum, then fiction editor at Dialogue, picked up my short story “The Widower,” and edited it to a new level of excellence. This was an important learning experience for me; plus, it let me feel that maybe the world of Mormon letters had a place for me after all.
Karen was friends with Eugene England and he approached her to write fiction for Dialogue in its early days. The second piece of fiction Dialogue published was one of Karen’s stories and she’s been a staple on the scene ever since. This particular story was published by Dialogue in 1978 and received an honorable mention in short fiction at the AML Awards that year.
The voice is extremely conversational—to the point many details are utterly lost as the speaker clearly assumes you can see what she sees and that you know what she knows. I was worried about this at first, but in the end it proved a sensible choice. The story is very meta (the protagonist is grading creative-writing assignments throughout, to say nothing of the final paragraph or the early discussion of cliches reflected in the title), signaling which tropes could have filled in the gaps had such filling been necessary.
The story might also be somewhat autobiographical (Karen’s husband is named Ben, though I don’t know if they were married in 1978; Karen taught college-level creative writing, though I don’t know if was doing so in 1978), but this too just serves to suggest ways to fill in gaps that don’t need to be filled.
But I was not certain what was going on in those gaps until the story ended unexpectedly and all that was left was for me to smile and say aloud, in genuine surprise, that was just right.
It’s short. Check it out.