Hat tip to Joseph Scapelleto for reviewing and Matt Bell for featuring this write-up of Kevin McIlvoy’s story as part of the Short Story Month 2011 festivities. Excerpt of the review below; click through at the end for the full business. Check out McIlvoy’s story on KRO, here.
“Before reading a short story, I’ll give the work a quick scan–a thumb-through, a scroll-through–mostly to get a feeling for length, but also to snatch a superficial impression of the story’s visible form, of what could be called the story’s “look.” (Prose-poemy bricks? Rapid one-line paragraphs? Imposing page-sized blocks?) A dear friend refers to this scan as “the glance.”
I mention this only because a cursory glance at Kevin McIlvoy’s “The Last Things We Said” (which appears in the Spring 2011 issue of Kenyon Review Online) reveals a short story with an intriguing “look.” The story comes in two unnumbered parts, each of which is likewise divided into two unnumbered sections. The first section of each part is a very lengthy one-sentence paragraph; the second, stripped-down exchanges of dialogue. Visually, it’s energizing.
Here’s how “The Last Things We Said” opens:
The last things we said to each other after hours of calling out, knocking walls, wild thumping around, pointless strategizing, no cell phone reception, laughing, loud chilled laughing, urinating so satisfying we called it The Rapture–lots of urinating against the sealed door, and then The Need to, but drained, nothing, none, and both of us each of us screaming at the sealed door–perfect seal, weak screaming, a session of cell-phone picture-taking, erasing two, keeping three, some loving things said and real beautiful, some things that were not, some weeping, some retracting of the smart hate, shivering, apologizing for the stupid love (this was before the lavaging) (this was before the amputating, way before), no cell reception, no cell reception...
Although this excerpt comprises only 1/5 of the opening sentence/paragraph, I hope it’s enough to show how McIlvoy has invited the reader to boldly wade into his narrator’s wave of words. Stabilizing details surface. The situation the unnamed narrator retrospectively pieces together is a terrifying one: while driving a truck packed with “seventeen tons of crushed three-quarter” down Interstate 40 during a rainstorm, the narrator and his friend pull over to assist a “feeble, silver-dreaded, buggy bitch trucker” whose own rig is “half-on half-off the shoulder.” This strange trucker–whose nametag reads “Al,” who wears “nurse-type black shoes” and “cracked pink driving gloves”–asks the fellows for help with her truck’s refrigeration unit, ostensibly to rescue her cargo (loads of “Pre-mix”). At Al’s request, the narrator and his friend enter the refrigeration unit. While they are admiring a poster of a “stoned Black Jesus,” Al seals the doors behind them. Escape from inside is impossible. They begin to freeze to death.” Read the rest of the review here.