New Ohio Review Issue 17 (Originally printed Spring 2015) is archiving previous editions as they originally appeared. We are pairing the pieces with curated art work, as well as select audio recordings. In collaboration with our past contributors, we are happy to (re)-present this outstanding work.

New Ohio Review: Issue 17 (Originally Published Spring 2015) is archiving previous editions as they originally appeared. We are pairing the pieces with curated art work, as well as select audio recordings. In collaboration with our past contributors, we are happy to (re)-present this outstanding work. 

Issue 17 compiled by Benjamin Ervin. 

Chandler Brossard

By Kevin Prufer

Feature Image: First Snow at Veneux-Nadon by Alfred Sisley, 1878
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

When I was twenty years old
and desperate and broke,
I worked part-time in a used bookstore
in Middletown, CT.
I hated my job, hated the cramped store,
hated the paperbacks
that came there as if to die


and more than anything,
I wanted to write something lasting,

a novel I scrawled in notebooks
called “Black Wing”
about a dark-haired girl,
prized during the day for her beauty and intellect,
who by night
killed off poseurs, the ill-read, the clumsy-of-mind,
the bombastic, thick-fingered, and mean.

Read More

Ground Swell

Featured Image: Ground Swell by Edward Hopper, 1939 Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Big Media

By Kevin Prufer

Just a glass of water for me, thank you.
One ice cube. Thanks. Just one.
But you should order what you want. Don’t be shy.
And don’t worry about me. Water is all I eat.
That ribeye looks promising, doesn’t it?
The charcuterie platter? The bay shrimp in a nest of deconstructed kale,
drizzled with truffle oil?
Get what you want and I’ll watch you eat, sipping from my glass of water
like a brilliant bird whose plumage once adorned ladies’ hats, but is now
available only on the black market,
please don’t mind me.
Did you read about how they beheaded another captured soldier?
Cut his head right off, clean as you like. I know, it’s
terrible. Awful, really. It ought to be a crime,
but the water flushes me out, gives me an inner clean. A kind of peace.
All this war must have been hard on you, the bodies and IEDs and the
music. It certainly was hard on our nation, and we weren’t even
there. Broccolini, yes. That’s for him. And the foie gras on toast with foraged
mushroom and lemon foam,
he’ll take that. I love the look of those cauliflower florets, like petite puffs of
The raviolini afloat in broth like misfired paratroopers!
You’re sweet, but much too thin. You should eat.
They’ll send you back and you’ll be nothing but bones
beneath skin. Did you see how they sliced his head right off?
What do you think of my hat?

Read More

Love You Excavation Work

By Donald Platt

Featured Image: Diana and Actaeon (Diana Surprised in her Bath) by Camille Corot, 1836


I am texting you

some trivial message like “Am at grocery. Where are you?”

using Siri,


the intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator,

oracle inside

my iPhone. But when I sign off, saying “Love you


exclamation point,”

Siri translates it as “Love you excavation work.” I send the message


Read More

In Flight

By Lloyd Schwartz

Featured Image: Haystack [colon] Autumn by Jean-François Millet 1874

“Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?”
“I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.”
—The Importance of Being Earnest

A big, hefty guy next to me, an even bigger guy
already squeezed into the window seat. Big, pleasant
fellows. Strangers before this three-hour non-stop

domestic flight. But they’ve been talking away non-stop
since before take-off. Talking business. Talking sports.
China. India (my next-seat neighbor might have been

from India). Talking Cubs and Red Sox (they both love
them both). Google. The Euro. Leverage. Banks. Bailouts.
Masters of Money (“It will change the way you think”).

Read More

Tuesday Night

By Corrie Lynn White

Featured Image: Madison Square, Snow by Allen Tucker, 1904
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

I lay the sweet potatoes on
the roasting pan on their backs
or bellies—I can’t tell. The oven
is heating and the cat box

needs cleaning so I dip the plastic
shovel into the litter and grieve
that Frankie doesn’t go outside—
sit high in a tree or roll in

a lush patch of clover. I stare
out the window at the neighbor’s
raised beds and convince myself
he’d eat all their basil, puncture

Read More

There’ll Be an Enormous Party

By Patrick Ryan Frank

Featured Image: Merrymakers at Shrovetide by Frans Hals, 1616-7

Tumbling down that wide Niagara of laughter,
the blonde girls and the gray-haired men beside them
swirl away through picture after picture.
If there’s champagne, there’ll be a waiter’s smirk.
If there’s an ice sculpture, it will be a swan
weeping for its flaws. If there’s a pool,
a horrible beautiful woman will end up pushed
and the garden will quiet just to hear her thrash
within the weird slick of her ruined silk—
and then the jokes and it all begins again.
Oh vanity, why won’t you leave me home?
Why must you pull me by the elbow down
that crowded hallway then leave me by the wall,
awkward as an interrupted joke,
adrift in the back of half the photographs:
a face turned too far left, mouth spread too wide
to grin, gaping as if to gulp back breath?

Read More


By David Yezzi

Featured Image: The Battle of Love by Paul Cézanne, 1880
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

She’s a friend I take some nights for pain.
Dosage is an issue. We maintain

an equilibrium, but it is hard:
the IV drip of texts, the memory card

of photos we filled one fall by the sea.
What’s good for her is mostly good for me,

but pressure-points that ease her nerves today
may frazzle them tomorrow. Tough to say;

Read More


By David Yezzi

Featured Image: Pink Roses by Fidelia Bridges, 1875
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Across the net,
she wilts and falls
behind, so I let
a few balls

slide by
in the midgy air
and drawn sky
of late summer.

Is this
letting her win
a Judas kiss,
the warm sin

Read More

The Abandoned

By Chaitali Sen

Featured Image: [Landscape with Cottage] by Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat, 1844

The husband is still explaining it on the day of the parent-teacher conference, and the wife still carries on as if she doesn’t understand. The twins will be home early, their school day shortened so their teacher can meet with parents all afternoon.

“Is the school too difficult?” she asks.

“How do I know? That’s why we talk to the teacher.”

Their appointment is at three o’clock, and it will take almost an hour to get there. He will be away from the shop too long. When is she supposed to start dinner? She can carry on for as long as she wants, he says, but on this he has to be insistent. This reversal of roles must reverse back. She is the mother, the one who should know the details of her children’s schooling.

Read More

By a Car Door

By Mark Belair

Featured Image: Interior of the Colosseum by Ippolito Caffi
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

A little boy
in superhero underpants
is made to change clothes
by the open door
of a battered family car
parked on a busy street, his gaunt
mom managing the maneuver
though not quite bothering
to block him from view,

Read More

Three Sacraments

By Brooke Champagne

Featured Image: The Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute, Venice by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1843; Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of
sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but
a powerful medicine and nourishment for the
weak . . . Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace
rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a
tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there
is a place for everyone, with all their problems.

—Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel”

The true vision and knowledge of what we seek
consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness
that our goal transcends all knowledge and is
everywhere cut from us by the darkness of

—Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses

Holy Unction

I’m nine years old the day my mother dies and comes back to life and, if I ever believed at all, it’s the day I give up on Christ.

The reverse might be expected—miracles, the power of prayer—but when I make my final judgment, I don’t know yet, won’t know for a long time that she has died and returned. At that point, I’m only told she is pregnant and there are complications. The baby, my would-be half-sister, is gestating at twenty-three weeks and because my mother is sick, must be delivered. Everyone waits and prays. Doctors work and pray.  At school, my teacher’s hand on my shoulder  a few seconds too long in that comforting way, her eyes say: I’ll pray for you. Before bed I press my hands into a teepee and try earnestly at first, then only pretend to pray.

My mother’s singular death-day memory, she recalls later, is the moment when according to Scripture, she might have seen the light, though here the primary sense was smell:  a priest with severe halitosis read her the last rites.

Read More

At the Narrows

By Meredith Davies Hadaway

Featured Image: The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer, 1899

Now, when even midday sun holds shadows,
and only the wooden boats are left, bless
scarred hulls and splintered pilings.

Bless the hands that still twist eel into lines
of hard commerce. Bless the motor’s stutter
declaring, yes, we will go out. Bless the foul

mud that peppers the gunnel, the ascent
of the bait, its twitch as it goes over the roller.
Bless the slow crab, too greedy for stink to see

the net coming and the basket, slats leaking
a scrabble of claws. Wanda J, Alice Rose,
Edna—grubby river angels, decks swollen

with rain, smelling of brine and rot, all divot
and slop—bless your deadrise, your hard
chine, your rudder. In the morning, all will

blur into mist. Crabs will begin their exodus
to deeper waters. We tell ourselves they will
be back. May this, too, be true.

Read More

We Buy, Sell, Trade

By Betsy Sholl

Featured Image: A Farm in the Sunlight by Meindert Hobbema, 1668
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Ideas are one thing and what happens is another.
—John Cage

Weather or axe—who neglected or hacked
to make this bag of piano keys, this

clatter of loose scales in a paper sack,
fifty-two whites, the yellow of stained teeth,

a few of them chipped: some upright or grand,
its music collapsed in a racket of chainsaws

cutting up belly and legs for scrap.
Warped wood, the thunk of stuck notes—

Read More

One Solid Chassis Among Us

By Susan Blackwell Ramsey

Featured Image: Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth by Martin Johnson Heade, 1890
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

We praised the gray car for being a good little mule
the day before it roared demands. The labs
for my sister’s knee surgery came back showing dual
heart chambers out of whack. And right-left jabs
of exploding joints and breast removal for me
came one year after both my husband’s eyes
lost cataracts, gained corneas. The knee
still needs to be replaced, of course. So why
not buy a new car? Certainly we could
transport our patchwork selves in our patchwork car,
all very apt, and prudently get the good
of what’s left. Or, while granting how things are,
we could fling cash, climb in with gleeful smiles,
and ride shiny the remaining miles.

Read More

Looney Tunes

By Nathan Anderson

Featured Image: Summer Morning by David Lucas, 1830

Nah, it’s not that, I wouldn’t call it that, I mean molested
that’s like TV stuff, and Brenna
she’d be real nice sometimes like flesh and blood should.
Bring me back a chocolate frosty just because.
Anyway, I’d just as soon say we’re done,
or you want I should go through it all like I did in June
with the last one? Twice now—and this just goes to show
the system’s jacked—twice I’ve waited, asked the front desk ladies
and waited, I said people I need a little help and you’re telling me two hours?
In all this hospital you’re telling me there’s no one I can talk to now?
I said what about the dude mopping floors? Is he around?
Can I talk to him? Or do I go ahead and slit my wrists right here?
So they hauled me up to you, another white coat
working the psych ward. A woman. What’s up with that?
No offense or nothing. That’s just how they do me
down on first-floor, where everyone else on earth is. You ever one of those
ER docs I see running around? The way I figure it, a woman like you
doesn’t need to run. You’re all put together—you know, like a car
that’s just come off the line . . . . But okay, this isn’t about you.

Read More


By Mark Kraushaar

Featured Image: Mountain Landscape with Bridge by Thomas Gainsborough, 1783/1784
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Intellectual: Anyone who can listen to
Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture
without thinking of the Lone Ranger.

—Laurie Taylor, sociologist

Sometimes I picture that foppish, fat Gioachino Rossini—
with his brocade shoes, his velvet-collared jacket and his satin vest.
But mostly I think of him stepping over the ocean, smiling
and rubbing his chubby palms and then, inexplicably,
standing on the porch of a modest family farm
and looking out at Bald Rock Dome or Sugar Pine Peak.
Beside him a poorish, but kindly, but cowardly widower
explains that just that morning a band of filthy varmints
burned his barn and shook him down for the last of his cash
and his only cow. Rossini listens but begins to hum

Read More

That’s Me Smiling in the Back Row

By Elton Glaser

Featured Image: The Parthenon by Frederic Edwin church, 1871

The day warms up fast,
Like leftovers in a microwave, odors of dawn
Still rising from the dead lilies,
From dry grass bleached to blonde and now
Heading toward platinum.
In the slow burn of midsummer,
The nose takes you where the mind won’t go.

There’s bad juju all over the place.
Light clings like cellophane
To the limp leaves. Nothing will budge
That carpet of shadows on the back porch.
I’m watching a spider
Rappel from the blades of a broken fan.
Somebody needs to fix it soon,
Somebody who knows how to work a miracle
With Juicy Fruit and a steak knife.

Read More

May B

By Lois Taylor

Featured Image: Young Ladies of the Village by Gustave Courbet, 1851-2

The last thing May B ever wanted was to be stuck with Tweety, who is standing there in her halter top and shorts, frowning at the yowling cat.

“Run that by me again, where you got her?” says Tweety.

May B explains how the stray came to the door just before her mom got sick and the aid car had to take her away again, and her mom said the cat was pregnant but way too young to have kittens.

Now the cat begins to twitch. “She’s going to die,” says May B. “She doesn’t even have a name.”

“Who’s talking about dying,” says Tweety. “Help me get that baby ready.”

Read More

Venus Out on the Town

By Shakira Croce

Featured Image: Charlotte, Lady Watkin Williams-Wynne by Daniel Gardner, 1775
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Yes, you may buy me
A drink

It has been a long week for me too
At work trading, you said?

No, you haven’t had much?
Experience in social enterprise

Isn’t it great we live in a country
Where you and your partners can pull such fine bootstraps

Read More

The Tenants of Feminism

By Denise Duhamel

Featured Image: The Valley of the Seine, from the Hills of Giverny by Theodore Robinson, 1892

When the interviewer mishears “tenets”
I know my gals are not in a villa,
never mind the United States Senate.

My heroines crowd in drab tenements,
their image scaring even Attila
the Hun. The interviewer hears “tenants”—

bad asses, public housing. Bob Bennett
wakes sweaty from a nightmare, Guerrilla
Girls rushing the United States Senate;

Read More

We Are All Beyond Disgusting

By Jill Kato

Featured Image: Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) by Winslw Homer, 1876
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

I like to get to the ship early. You’ll usually find a couple of old-timers waiting by the bar, itching to sip a Tom Collins or a whiskey sour on the rocks and get their vacation started right. This is the best time to build rapport and I’m their gal. At this point, they’re still excited about their trip and have a thick wad of cash in their billfolds. Their wives are in their cabins getting settled or making appointments at the spa or booking excursions for when we dock. The bar is quiet and they have me all to themselves. They can pour out all their troubles, and I can pour them all the liquor they need, at heavily marked-up prices. I haven’t even finished restocking the tabasco and maraschino cherries when a salty dog of a guy walks in. His name is Jerry and he’s on board to celebrate his wife’s sixty-fifth birthday. I ask him what he does, and he says he used to own a manufacturing company in the fashion district but now he’s retired. Left the business to his son. He says he built his company from scratch. Even though his shirt is ugly and has hula girls on it, I tell him I like it. I tell all men I like their shirts. I garnish his glass with an orange slice and tell him I admire men like him, self-made men who do things like run their own companies. And I do.

Read More

The Lake

By Billy Collins

Featured Image: Lumber Schooners at Evening on Penobscot Bay by Fitz Henry Lane, 1863
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

As usual, it was easy to accept the lake
and its surroundings,
to take at face value the colonies of reeds
along the shore, a little platoon of ducks,
a turtle sunning itself on a limb half submerged,
and the big surface of the lake itself,
the water sometimes glassy, other times ruffled.

Why, Henry David Thoreau or anyone
even vaguely familiar with the role
of the picturesque in American
landscape painting of the 19th century
would feel perfectly at home in its presence.

And that is why I felt so relieved
to discover in the midst of all this
a note of skepticism,
a touch of whimsy,
or call it a bit of Dadaist playfulness;
and if not a remark worthy of Oscar Wilde
then surely a sign of the human was apparent

in the casual fuck-you attitude
so perfectly expressed by the anhinga
that was drying its extended wings
in the morning breeze
while perched on a decoy of a Canada goose.

Read More

Regarding Isabelle Huppert

By Tom Whalen

Featured Image: The Unicorn Rests in a Garden (from the Unicorn Tapestries), 1495-1505

Yesterday as I reread Hubert Hoskin’s translation of C. A. van Peursen’s Leibniz (1966/69), I couldn’t help but think of Isabelle Huppert. As with Leibniz, experience alone cannot account for her performances, but I don’t think, regarding Isabelle Huppert, I need concern myself with eternal truths residing in the mind of God. Judge advocate, nun, prostitute, mother, dressmaker, postal clerk, piano teacher, scientist, abortionist, war bride, writer, hostage, thief—whatever the role or source (Euripides, Diderot, Goethe, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Maupassant, Conrad, James, Zamyatin, Crnjanski, Genet, Bataille, Duras, Highsmith, Bachmann, Rendell, Jim Thompson), energies feed the performances of Isabelle Huppert from without and within.

Have you seen many of her over one hundred films? Retour à la bien-aimée, for example, or Eaux profondes, Pas de scandale, Sans queue ni tête, La séparation? Are you older or younger than Isabelle Huppert?

Read More

The Ends of Stories

By Karen Loeb

Featured Image: Soir d’hiver à Montmartre (Winter Evening in Montmartre) by Jean-Alexis-Joseph Morin-Jean, 1910; Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

At the finish of the meal, your father left. And that was that.

I led a reckless life, but when the accident happened, I reformed.

So I discovered that the bananas had to be really ripe.

The bouquet was a wet bathing suit moldering in a gym bag
tossed in the corner last month.

The lost earring with the green stone turned up years later
when they moved the dresser. She’d thrown out the matching one
a decade earlier.

The smell was a casserole forgotten on the counter. Something with tuna
and onions. It greeted them when they returned from vacation.

I plan to beat the odds and live forever, he declared.

The cat was hiding in the top drawer of the bureau, flattened
as thin as a comic book, eyes peering up, blinking, when we
finally found him.

Turned out it was a moth as big as a bat making those shadows
on the cabin wall.

She went shopping for a jacket covered in feathers, just as it had
appeared in her dream.

Read More


By Mike Wright

Featured Image: View of Toledo by El Greco, 1599-1600

I leave the World Service
on at night, snoozing through
the British iteration of gang rape
and kidnapping. I’ll stir sometimes
to hear a few moments of economic
collapse, but it’s really white noise,
blanching the laughter of drunks outside.
Sleeping to tragedy helps tamp down
my father’s last days, his morphine speech,
how my mother sent me to Kentucky
Fried Chicken with a coupon
for his last meal, and how shame
drove me to throw the coupon out.
If his death were broadcast in the night,
his of thousands of dying fathers,
and you slept well, how could
I begrudge you a night of rest?

Read More

Where My Father Went

By Sandy Gingras
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

When the funeral director hands my father’s ashes to my mother, she puts the little cardboard box into her pocketbook—the one with all the zippers and buckles. My mother says she’ll hold off on scattering the ashes until maybe the next time my brother comes down from his farm and we’re all together. Maybe we’ll scatter them in the ocean.

“But, for now,” I ask, “Where are you going to put him?”

“In my bedroom closet,” she says.

My parents never shared a bedroom. My father’s room was the converted attic, my mother’s, the converted garage. As far away as they could get from each other within the same house. Putting him in her bedroom closet seems, at once, too remote and too intimate, but I don’t say anything.

Read More

Someone Else

By Sandy Gingras

Featured Image: Roses by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

When my mother was dying, we started calling her “Grammy” as if she’d become someone else. She was eighty-five pounds. She looked like a shrinkydink of herself. She wore a diaper and a hospital gown. The diaper looked enormous on her. It was one of those pull-up ones. If you yanked up her diaper when she was trying to stand, you could lift her right off her feet. “Whoa,” she’d say to you. “Whoa there.” Grammy was a good sport. She was nothing like my mother.

She was on morphine, so a lot of the time, she made no sense. “You know,” she’d tell me earnestly, “I gotta get me a Louie-Louie.”

“Okay,” I’d tell her, but I didn’t have a clue what she meant. “I’ll buy you one.”

“Don’t get it too small,” she’d say. “Oooh,” she’d kind of shiver with excitement, “That will be lovely.” Lovely. As if my mother would ever say a word like that.

Read More

My Mother Comes to Dinner

By Sally Bliumis-Dunn

Featured Image: Green Plums by Joseph Decker, 1885
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

We leave the dining room and she remains
alone at the table; the plates need washing,
we prepare dessert. I still wait for her

questions, half-buried in dish-clatter,
her broken tones in the hot kitchen air,
though these days she sits mostly silent.

And larger than the room and yellow walls, her silence—
as though it were strung to the sky,
to the air that too has been washed and washed

like a bed sheet in the relentless sun,
colors and patterns mostly faded

like all the meals enjoyed then washed
from these brown earthenware plates.

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Jester’s Cap

By Brandon Amico

Featured Image: Corridor in the Asylum by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

Three rabbits walk into a bar. The third rabbit carries a shotgun.

Three rabbits walk into a bar. The third rabbit carries a shotgun and the first
rabbit a vase of imported flowers.

One of the rabbits is already drunk.

Three rabbits walk into an orgy but only for the pre-orgy hors d’oeuvres.

Three rabbits walk into a bar with masks on but their ears give them away.

Read More


By Gregory Djanikian

Featured Image: Tullichewan Castle, Vale of Leven, Scotland by Sir James Campbell of Strathro, 1855
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

There’s something to be said for banality,
the way it keeps everything on a level plane,
one cliché blithely following another
like cows heading toward the pasture.

How lovely sometimes not to think
about Russian Futurism, or the second law
of thermodynamics, or how thinking itself
requires some thoughtfulness.

I’d like to ask if Machiavelli
ever owned a dog named “Prince.”
I’d like to imagine Rosalind Franklin
lounging pleasantly by a wood stove.

Read More


By Judy Rowe Michaels

Featured Image: A Basket of Clams by Winslow Homer, 1873

And is that everything
since you? Since meaning
Here melancholy’s
interrupted by brief flirt
with dictionary: originally
postumas, no hint
of burial in living earth.

Read More


By Judy Rowe Michaels

Featured Image: Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds by Martin Johnson Heade, 1871
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

While most of us are grieving

something—cold spring lost child dead-end
lyrics that won’t resolve,

the spadefoot toad, who bears
a gold lyre-mark on her back,
is crazy-busy with what science calls

explosive breeding. Rain says Go,
and up from culvert cistern over porch and patio across roads
the fraught migration of spadefeet slowly breaches
our borders to breed in our ponds.

Read More

Feature: Uses & Abuses of Dialogue

The following is a collection of essays and writings on the subject of dialogue within fiction. Including an essay from author Rebecca Makkai (Music for Wartime, The Hundred-Year House) about a college assignment of eavesdropping to craft realistic dialogue. As well, audio of Robert Anthony Siegel reading “I Deserve Two Firing Squads: Dialogue and Conflict in Fiction.”

A Trompe L’Oeil for the Mind’s Ear

By J. Robert Lennon

Featured Image: Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1867

The key to writing realistic dialogue in fiction is to abandon all presumption of authenticity and acknowledge the necessity of total fakeness in achieving the illusion of truth.

Human speech is not simple. The words we say in conversation convey, at best, 25% of what we mean,1 with the remaining 75% taken up by body language, volume and tone, facial expression, and prior understanding between parties. The fiction writer has access to these conversational elements, of course, and may fill in back story, provide stage direction, and apply (judiciously, lord help us) descriptive dialogue tags to convey the intended meaning. But a good writer can evoke the character of a speaker, his or her intended and actual meaning, and even very subtle contextual clues, using only the words within quotation marks.

Read More

Inside the Cave-Speak of Saunders

By Leslie Daniels

Featured Image: Still Life by Henri Fantin-Latour, 1866
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

The setting in George Saunders’ story “Pastoralia” is a theme park where two characters—the narrator and Janet—live and work in a simulated cave. Their job is to perform for the occasional tourist the skinning and roasting of a goat. Theme park rules dictate that employees must not speak English at any time so as not to destroy the illusion of being cave people. The narrator abides by the rule, but Janet flouts it, which is a major concern of the narrator’s. On this occasion the freshly dead goat has not been delivered. There are no tourists present.

Janet comes in from her Separate Area and her eyebrows go up.

“No freaking goat?” she says.

I make some guttural sounds and some motions meaning: Big rain come down, and boom, make goats run, goats now away, away in high hills, and as my fear was great, I did not follow.

Janet scratches under her armpit and makes a sound like a monkey, then lights a cigarette.

Read More

I Deserve Two Firing Squads: Dialogue and Conflict in Fiction

By Robert Anthony Siegel

Featured Image: Landscape with Trees and Water by James Bulwer
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

The world I grew up in was full of hyper-verbal people for whom talk was the medium of both ambition and feeling, the tool they used to try to shape the world around their desires. For that reason, when I began writing fiction, I found that characters were never completely real to me until they spoke: when they started talking I finally knew what they wanted. So I started writing the dialogue first. I would get two characters talking to each other and then build the scene out from their conversation. The dialogue was the trunk, and everything else branched out from it: thought, feeling, memory, sense perception, action.

In those days, when a scene worked, I thought it was because the dialogue was good. It took years for me to realize that it was the other way around, that dialogue was just helping me to uncover the underlying conflict that actually drove the story. What I know now is that dialogue doesn’t have to be fancy or quirky or unusual in order to do its job effectively. It just has to arise freely and naturally from the characters’ experience of conflict.

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A Brief Personal History of Dialogue

By Kelly Luce

Featured Image: The Great Statue of Amida Buddha at Kamakura, Known as the Daibutsu, from the Priest’s Garden by John La Farge, 1887

Not everyone says what they mean. But they do
always say something designed to get what they
—David Mamet

1987: Ms. Voyeur, my first-grade teacher, tells my mom I’m too quiet and should be seen by a psychiatrist. But I prefer listening! Other people are interesting. They tell you more secrets when you’re quiet.

1992: My Language Arts teacher accuses me of plagiarizing a short story  I wrote about volleyball tryouts. Why? “The dialogue is too realistic.” When I tell her that’s because I just tried out for volleyball myself and remembered how the girls sounded, she says, “No one learns to write dialogue by listening to real people talk.”

1997: I read Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” for the first time. Remember the conversation between returned soldier Seymour Glass and the young girl, Sybil, on the beach? Sybil is being perfectly herself, still possesses her childlike ability to say just what she means. Seymour is a couple hours away from—. Their chatter is innocent. Or is it terrifying? Take this exchange about a rubber raft:

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The Dialogue of Gesture and Silence

By Alyce Miller

Featured Image: Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight by Claude Monet, 1894
Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

What people don’t say is often as important as, or even more important than, what they do say. Too much exposition, or what I call “soap opera dialogue” (e.g. “You remember my brother John who tried to murder Tiffany, before she was caught stealing from Marsha’s cousin who changed her name….”), or its opposite, too little, as is often found in the “generic social glue” of the how’sthe-weather variety, can undermine the progression of story and essential character development (unless, of course, weather is key to the story).

We often think we learn about people through what they say and how they say it, but other forms of communication are just as crucial. Dialogue can happen without speech. Words can fail. Gesture can summon meaning beyond language.

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Dialogue: The Footfall of Its Wandering

By Darrell Spencer

Featured Image: The Card Players by Paul Cézanne, 1890-2

You might not have it in mind to go a particular
direction and you might end up going that way.
—tapper Jimmy Slyde

Well, that ain’t what art does. It makes things.
—Stanley Elkin

1.  Full Disclosure

For my entry into a discussion of dialogue I can’t think of a worthier writer to cite than Amy Hempel. The magician and maestro. Hempel’s narrator of Tumble Home opens the novella as one ought: “I begin this letter to you, then, in the western tradition. If I understand it, the western tradition is: Put your cards on the table” (69). Here are my cards: I like fiction that feels off-shot and shaggy, that seems to have fallen from the sky and is banged up thanks to re-entry. I like my fiction jerry-rigged and clumsy. Stanley Elkin uses the word baggy to describe his novels. Perfect.

Screw Poe: “A skillful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents—he then combines such events as may best aid him establishing this preconceived effect.” Oy. Rube Goldberg schooled me; he’s my guy. I want, as I read, to experience the acrobatics, to hear the pop and the hiss and the whiz-bang of the performance. A Goldberg contraption might get you somewhere but you will most likely be too dizzy to appreciate your arrival. You’ve seen those spaceships wobble across the screen in the crackly black-andwhite Flash Gordon flicks. That’s what I’m talking about. Look closely and you see the wires.

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That Dialogue Assignment

By Rebecca Makkai

Featured Image: la Orana Maria (Hail Mary) by Paul Gauguin, 1891

I first got The Assignment in a college playwriting class. You might have gotten it in high school, or picked it up from a writing exercise book (somewhere between Keep a Dream Journal and What Color Is Your Character’s Toothbrush?): Eavesdrop on strangers, and write down everything they say. The idea is that this will help you write better dialogue, more realistic dialogue. Because realistic must equal better.

To be honest, I fudged the college assignment somewhat. I listened in on two campus maintenance workers, thinking they’d say hilarious and off-color things. Mostly, they grunted about paneling. I cherry-picked my hour of listening for the best phrases, crunching them together into what sounded like three minutes of witty banter, adding a few lines of my own. I did this partly to make my classmates laugh (I knew we’d be reading this aloud the next day) but also because I sensed that there was something deeply unsatisfying about actual dialogue—uninspired, disorganized, mundane dialogue.

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