By Hilary Plum, Consulting Editor
“I can only make things taut; I have no interest in roundabout or loose,” we’re told in Anne Germanacos’s “Undertaking,” a confession that is at once straightforward and sly, telling us readers just what it is we’ve been experiencing. The word taut is a first step toward describing what’s extraordinary about this piece. How does Germanacos “make things taut” when working with such disparate fragments? “Undertaking” occurs in brief lines that leap one to the next to the next, its form more like a notebook than a “traditional” story—there’s no plot, quite; there are interlocutors but not quite characters; the story lives in the borderland in which fiction and essay clasp hands. Yet these compressed lines are able to do so much, as though simply: confess, observe, describe, propose, meditate, accuse, query, seduce, grieve. The shards of everyday life—shopping for a handbag, cooking, packing, going for a walk with a friend (“touch[ing]” the muzzles of frantic puppies”)—are here. Alongside them are lines born of elemental philosophical struggle and mourning at the loss of one’s mother. Throughout, it’s impressively hard to take a breath and know just what we’re feeling; we’re caught up in the interplay of these lines, rapt.
“Undertaking” would stand out among any of the stacks of stories editors contend with. One is struck immediately by the force of its motion and emotion. The story is agile and yet somehow raw; yes, somehow the emotion feels raw even within the rigorous arrangement of these lines. These are the accomplishments—raw, yet agile; taut, yet ever expansive—that astonish me and bring me back continually to Germanacos’s work. “To go for the jugular: just another way of talking about a harvest?” she wonders, and we know that in these pages we won’t get off easy. Nothing loose, nothing roundabout: there will be blood. Here the most elusive instants of daily life and consciousness will be faced fully. One has the sense that Germanacos just won’t shy from any risk as she writes; the stories that result may be made up of everyday moments, but they are never for the faint of heart.