Shorts - "Boys Go To Jupiter" by Danielle Evans

East Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan

East Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan

I’ve always been a novel reader. I liked short stories, I would read them occasionally in magazines or in a thrifted copy of the Best American Short Stories 1999 I bought a few years back. But I didn’t seek them out.

Then I started trying to write them. I was having trouble with pacing, and a writer friend suggested that I read as many short stories as possible so their texture and the rhythm could get into my subconscious. It sounds obvious - read what you want to write - but it hadn’t occurred to me. I’ve been binging on short stories since then, and I think that it’s working.

Rachel Ball over at Elephantine Blog has been reading one short story a day this year, and sharing what’s she’s learned about craft from one story each week. I’ve been inspired by her practice and I’ve decided to take it up in my own space. So look here about once a week for my breakdown of one of the short stories I’ve read. My first post is below:

I’d never heard of Danielle Evans, but a friend recommended “Boys Go To Jupiter” as a reference after reading a draft I’m working on. Claire is a grief-stricken teenager acting out while visiting her father and his new wife Puppy in Florida. She takes up with Jackson, who buys her a confederate flag bikini and puts a photo of her in it on the internet. By the time she gets back to her small liberal arts college, she’s the center of a small-scale social media scandal. Rather than work to defuse, Claire escalates. Nestled within her hapless navigation of the aftermath, we learn about Claire’s past.

Evans’ characterization of Claire really struck me. She makes terrible and self-involved choices consistently, but somehow you think, “ok, I can see why she did that.” She’s sympathetic even as she is unlikeable. This passage in particular stuck out to me: The girl across the hall doesn’t look like Angela at all. She is lighter-skinned and heavier framed and her hair is wilder, deliberately unkempt in a way that would have made Angela’s mother raise an eyebrow. Her name, Claire eventually remembers, is Carmen. By the time Claire arrives at her dorm room, on the second floor of a row of flat brick buildings that house a third of the small college’s freshman, there are forty-seven responses to and twenty-three retweets of Carmen’s post. Claire is surprised by the level of interest, then annoyed by it. She distrusts collective anger. Claire’s anger has always been her own. Claire prints a photo of the Confederate flag and scrawls in loopy cursive on the back Welcome back! I hope you had a great vacation. When she slips the photo under her door, she means to tell Carmen-the-hallmate to fuck off.

This story also taught me a lot about how to weave backstory and mystery into an already compelling plot. I won’t give away the spoilers here, but suffice to say that I was surprised at the layers of tragedy that Evans wove into Claire’s story. It reminded me as a writer how deep you can make your story go - this was already a story, but by the end the other tidbits from Claire’s past make it complete.

Other stories I read this week:

“The Story Of” by Samantha Hunt, from The Dark Dark

“Show Don’t Tell” by Curtis Sittenfeld

“Daughters of the Animal Kingdom” by Bonnie Jo Campbell

“First Body” by Melanie Rae Thon, from First Body: Stories