Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pia Z. Ehrhardt's "Famous Fathers & Other Stories"

Pia Z. Ehrhardt's stories have been widely published in magazines including McSweeney’s Quarterly, the Mississippi Review, and Narrative Magazine, and anthologized in A Cast of Characters and Other Stories and the 2006 Norton Anthology Sudden Fiction: Short-Shorts from America and Beyond. She is the recipient of the 2005 Narrative Prize.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Famous Fathers & Other Stories, and reported the following:
Page 99 in the hardcover edition (MacAdam/Cage did a simultaneous release of both hardcover and paperback) of Famous Fathers & Other Stories deposits me into the middle of a story called "The Longest Part of the Day." On the page are two scenes: one involved a young girl, Jilly, who's taken to the road with the guy who bags groceries at Piggly Wiggly; the other involves her mother, who's just had sex with her ex-husband's (Jilly's dad's) brother. Jilly has decided that she's not going back home any time soon so her mother will worry. Her mother, meanwhile, doesn't yet know that her daughter's truant from school. Jilly's enjoying riding a shopping cart across an empty parking lot, (akin to sex?), and her mother, post-coital, stands in her driveway, wanting to know when David will be back.

This kind of counterpoint is something I like to play with in my stories. Parallel or inverse behaviors between characters, especially characters who are related. Both women have a lot of play in them, and they're sizing up the men they're with, wanting to trust that they will take them somewhere they haven't yet been, but keeping one hand on the doorknob just in case.

Page 69:

wants to ride. The lot is almost empty. She steps on one, racing to catch up to Jimmy, and it must be downhill to the store because she's flying. She hits his line of carts from the side, and he jumps off, laughing.

"You're not going to run away, are you?" he says.

Jilly thinks about it, how her mom will suffer when she doesn't get off the bus, how even when she's back home safe her mom will never stop being thankful. "I'll wait in the truck and make sure no one dings it."

When he walks back out he's got a bag in each arm. Thumb-sized Snickers, double-stuffed Oreos, a liter of orange Fanta, a six-pack of beer, and a three-foot bag of Sam's Club potato chips. Jilly's mom buys those too, and they aren't as good as Lay's.
David is in the driveway, kissing Cam good-bye with both hands on her face.

"When are you coming back?" she says, never trusting that he will unless they set the next date.

"Thursday is good," he says.

"I'm going to need to find a job," Cam says. "We're living on the dole."

David digs in his pocket for the car keys. He doesn't talk bad about his brother.

She pulls his hand out of his pocket, kisses him. His hands lock low on her back and she settles down, trusts him when he holds her close like that. Bodies after sex don't lie.
Read more about Famous Fathers & Other Stories at the publisher's website, and visit Pia Z. Ehrhardt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue