With the year at its end, Vol.1 Brooklyn’s editors are looking back on the year, and on a couple of notable works that we published. Maybe you’d like to revisit 2017’s Sunday Stories and essays as well.
We all needed to hold on in 2017. It was a bumpy, horrifying ride that I’d like to believe won’t be replicated in 2018 and beyond. Wishful thinking, I know. It’s hard to imagine things getting better before they get worse, but I keep holding out that what we’ve dealt with was the worst, and we can start to move on now.
Terrifying times lead people to reflect. Writers were looking back at the things they might have overlooked or maybe took for granted, and it produced a number of my favorite reads. More specifically, the bars and restaurants that might have low health score grades or don’t get written up by food blogs, from Olive Garden to New York City diners.
The first of these pieces I fell in love with was Megan Kirby’s beautiful, funny, moving ode to Chili’s. Megan read this piece at my book launch in Chicago, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. So it was to my surprise and great pleasure when she asked if we wanted to publish it here. For so many reasons I consider it a perfect personal essay, with the Tex-Mex-style bar and grill chain at the center.
As both a reader and a writer, I try to maintain a diet of both realism and the uncanny. Some days you crave a window into the life of someone else; on others, it’s essential to take in a work that eschews the quotidian and instead ventures into the unreal. For a while, these reading habits generally fell along pragmatic and escapist lines–not all the time, but frequently enough, the equivalent of sitting down in front of Fast 7 after a dose of experimental cinema. Both are enjoyable, but each in a distinct way.
This year’s been different. Increasingly, the uncanny has been a valid way of processing the outside world–both in terms of the general feel of dizziness that can come when processing the news of the day and of the general sense that society is moving towards a point where a commonly agreed-upon reality is no longer possible. (I read Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie late in the year, and it’s nestled in my brain, periodically rising to the surface to make connections between disparate events.) I’m not sure I’m alone in feeling like this: consider the fact that Carmen Maria Machado’s fantastic collection Her Body and Other Parties, which brings together several decades’ worth of aspects of the uncanny in fiction, was shortlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction.
Among the stories that we published this year that tapped into something similar was Zack Graham’s “The Most Important Night of Their Lives.” It begins in a realistic mode, and gradually becomes something stranger, something harder to place. It’s a difficult task that Graham set for himself in telling this story, and he pulls it off impressively. And in doing so, he provides a window into how we can write about the world around us, of a way to bring the strange and the realistic together into one mode.