I am incredibly proud to feature the winner of our 2nd annual Story Foundation Prize, Karl Taro Greenfield, who’s remarkable story “Womanly Words” opens our summer issue. Set in imperial Japan, the young protagonist is the fifth and youngest son, and in a time of growing nationalism, he struggles with issues of masculinity, strength, and culture. I don’t want to give too much away, but the restraint in which he states his suffering and brutality are described make them all the more haunting, and the dynamics between siblings is unforgettable.
A young boy belonging to a wealthy family in imperial Japan struggles with his identity and with his culture’s conceptions of masculinity and strength, putting up a great deal of abuse in pursuit of those ideals. The theme of denial of self and the main character placing his family’s and country’s ideals before his own talents made this piece stand out. (~16-ish) The themes of masculinity, colonialism, and nationhood are woven through this story that is, at times, exceptionally subtle — the dance scene to jazz music, Fumiko’s subtle resistances to her father’s will. The first half of the story compresses time, moving to an extended moment in the 2nd half when the unnamed narrator is at the military academy, can’t keep up, is beaten for his failures, and ultimately is enlisted by his older step-brother to become a military assassin. I appreciate how the writer draws and re-draws the expectations of the setting through character interactions and scene. The narrator’s own self-denials is well-done. In many ways, this feels like an excerpt from a much longer piece. (15?) The familial expectations and nationalistic expectations working in contrast to the narrator’s struggles with his masculinity was compelling in this piece. The emphasis on the relationship with the sister being further estranged until he ends up in the hospital worked nicely. The ending was a little unexpected, but it also fits with the consistency of the narrator’s desire to please both his brother and his country. (3) A mini epic in which the narrator squelches his natural femininity/sensitivity and forsakes his loving sister to (presumably) commit murder at the behest of his heartless brother. This is a rangy but strong contender that does sometimes feel like an excerpt from a novel, in which scene follows scene rather than coming to a deciding conclusion. (1) The fifth son of an imperial Japanese family struggles with issues of masculinity and culture. Beautiful prose, complex characters, and a rich sense of time and place. Love this one. Potential winner. (4) This story is quiet and slow-moving, but a powerful indictment of Japanese ideals of masculinity. The restrained, understated way in which brutal incidents are described makes them all the more powerful.
We are also thrilled to feature two stories that are Story Foundation Prize finalists: “Diedrick Dodge” by Eric Roe and “Story Problem Problem” by Heather Aronson.
One of the nicest things I have recently heard about Story in the past three years was from a contributor. She said that one of the reasons she was happy to be published in Story was because we are a literary magazine she actually reads. I laughed (she phrased it better than I just paraphrased it) because I knew exactly what she meant. When I was a graduate student learning about literary magazines, I would often just look at the stack of magazines, frown at the cover, and then read the table of contents, just to see who was published where. I often didn’t read much more than that. It wasn’t until I started working at River Styx that I began to read the issues of other magazines we received in our office.
To read this Editor’s Note, please purchase a copy of issue #11. Photo courtesy of the editor and his handheld parallelogram.