Ysobel Gallo reviews a piece from upstreet’s most recent issue.
We’ve been talking a lot about place lately. As a setting, as a conflict, even as a character. In Kelly Morris’s “The Bearded Loon,” published in last year’s issue thirteen of upstreet, a random pub, never even seen by the narrator, takes on the significance of an entire affair, the jealousy of it, the fear, the love.
“I stood there,” says the narrator’s lover, “staring at that photo…. And suddenly I knew…That I was in love with you. I even said it aloud in the bathroom that day. I’m in love with Ada.”
Why? Why should this tiny strange bar and the unexpected photograph of a thirteen year old former self make that much difference? That’s the whole point. As we question why this transient stop on a business trip should be so meaningful, we realize that the affair itself is a transient stop, (the lover moves away not long after), so that the bar in question becomes synecdoche for the whole relationship.
That’s what I love about this piece. It assumes a reader that is actively reading, engaging us with the easy specificity of the language and what George Saunders calls “ambient intelligence,” letting the reader ponder and put the pieces together from little hints and clues scattered through the story.
A love story. A mystery. And that’s another amazing thing about this piece: Morris’s ability to turn something as undignified as adultery, and make us sympathetic. There are no quotation marks in the piece, though much of the story takes place through dialogue. The diction is conversational, spattered with fragments, and rhetorical questions, the way you write to a well known friend. The piece is even addressed to the reader, or the reader as the lover, “you said,” “you laughed,” “you were a good storyteller.”
Why, thank you.
In conclusion, the story draws us in and keeps us there by tantalizing clues it leaves us to put together. It takes something commonly maligned, – cheating, adultery- and lets us react to that in a completely different setting. Notice, the word ‘adultery’ is never once used in the entire piece. Neither is the word, ‘affair,’ and nothing physical is described beyond an imagined kiss on a park bench. But it’s there. Oh, it’s there.
On the upstreet website, Vivian Dorsel is very specific about what she wants in a submission. “I like to see work that deals with an unusual topic, or with a familiar topic in an unusual way,” she says, and Kelly Morris’ story is a perfect example.