Notes on the Fiction Selections

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December 22, 2021 by The Citron Review

When is a person considered “over the hill?” I Googled this question a few days before my fortieth birthday because my husband and I had different opinions on when that would be. He insisted I was facing it now, in a few days, and I was sure it was fifty. Google was not much help—it said it could be either.

A few days after my birthday, I was talking about running with my brother and commented that I was doing speed work and felt it was paying off. I am getting faster. My brother laughed and said, “yeah, of course, you’re on the downhill slope now.” And then I punched him. Not really, but I wanted to.

I have never been particularly excited about any of my birthdays. I have never dreaded any of them, either. I do not even think much of my age, really. So, I was surprised at myself when the thought of turning forty felt—weird—for a lack of a better word. The feeling came upon me suddenly just prior to my actual birthday, but disappeared just as quickly. Despite my husband always reminding me that he is a few months younger than me and my children exclaiming that I am old (which, to my oldest, I have been since my mid-30s), I feel good about turning 40. I am stronger than I was last year, and though my brother refuses to believe it, faster. I am happy and healthy, and perhaps a bit grayer, but is that not just my wisdom showing? Even if it isn’t, in all the chaos of the world, it is nice to embrace this milestone and decide, yeah, I’m good.

Part of that good is always Citron and the work we are lucky to read and publish. The selections for Winter feel especially good to me, not merely in the sense of how well they are written, but also in the goodness they exude. Or, maybe that is me getting more sentimental in my “old age.”

“Pass Once Unknown” by Marvin Shackelford is a playful piece about chickening out and missing opportunities. What drew us to the piece was Shackelford’s effortless voice. We go on a ride with the narrator as he wavers back and forth between making a move and not in an all too familiar tale. We have all experienced unrequited love, and agonized in the details of what if. And for that, Shackelford’s tale became one of our favorites.

“The Owl” by Anne Louise Pepper is ethereal and beautiful and simple all at once. One of our nominations for Pushcart this year, Pepper’s piece flows like a sweet sigh of magical imagery that ignites all of the senses. It is a story of a mother and child (ok, and Clyde the dog, too) that envelopes us in nature and feels like a dream. The strength of the piece stems from this imagery and subtle details that help us all to feel safe.

“The Peaceable Prairie” by Alexander Wolff is a short scene of rebellion. Wolff uses language that feels both antiquated and new at the same time. Whether the story is a glimpse of the past or of a dystopian future, whether rebelling against theocracy or totalitarian, Wolff creates characters to route for in such brevity, that we are invited to read and re-read the piece just for the sweetness of the last line time and time again.

“Apartment Story” by Abbie Barker tells a tale of a shrinking apartment and disappearing possessions. At first, this is a pleasant solution for things never wanted or inherited. Then, the disappearances are stressful as the waiting begins for what else might be taken. On the surface, this piece sounds comical and not the least bit profound, but with each reading, subtle inches are stripped away to show some wonderful metaphors at work. The shrinking could be a reflection of the marriage, our present-day pandemic world, or even just our natural ability to get lost inside ourselves to the point where we often can lose everything around us. Barker does not specify and that is what makes this story work: we can see it means all of it.

“Field of Attention” by Mary Grimm is about a man named Louis who receives a message from his ex-wife that transports him back to his youth and the time when he met and fell in love with the woman who “liked to rewrite the past to make a better story.” The story is clean and simple, and primarily takes place in Louis’ thoughts which Grimm paints so clearly that you are also a teenaged boy mesmerized by the long hair of the girl sitting in front of you in math class. And though the story is simple, it is the way that Grimm shows how the shape of the past still very much molds the direction of the present that caught our attention and ultimately won us over.

Thank you for reading and sharing this goodness with us. I truly hope you enjoy them as much as we have.

Elizabeth De Arcos
Senior Fiction Editor
The Citron Review

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