A Mixed Bag of Stories

This Southern short story collection is a mixed bag filled with good reading treats.


Getaway by Glen Pourciau. Four Way Books. pp. 176. $19.95


Getaway by Glen Pourciau, like so many bags, is mixed. However, this quirky short-story collection is filled with mostly the good stuff. Pourciau is strongly committed to the modern form—highly stylized prose and aesthetic, focus on deep-character internality, unexpected stopping points, etc. Most of the time, this works quite well. The first story, “Buffalo” succeeds brilliantly, a gradually escalating caper (sort of, in a sense) of housesitting and distant curmudgeonhood. “Tunnel” shines as well, a similarly escalating suburban paranoia, and perhaps a justified one. “Contact” is absolutely divine; a masterfully executed story of rising animosity for the most unexpected reasons.

These pieces make what seems to be a very deliberate point of “ending early” compared to more traditionally structured work; very “beginning, middle, hmmm?” so to speak. Think early George Saunders or Karen Russel’s novella Sleep Donation. And in these stories, this structure functions quite well. We are left with the sort of dangling ambiguity that makes you almost hate Pourciau for getting you so interested. And it is certainly the case that for some readers, this frustration may convert itself into dislike for the stories themselves, but for me—and I imagine for others as well—there is instead an odd magic to be had. However, this same technique does struggle in other places.

Getaway

The second story in Getaway, “Faux Bois” is another tale of neighborly tension (a theme running strongly throughout), but here the early cutoff leaves us unsure of what, exactly, the story was trying to accomplish. The ending is essentially: “That was a story that happened. I hope you liked it.” There isn’t really a sense of purpose or consequence, and the feeling after reading it is a little lost, and while not altogether negative, it is disappointingly neutral. Likewise, “Shepherd” tries to do some interesting things with style and language and internality, but ultimately it twists so much around itself that the reader can do little but shrug at the end. Indeed, the end is rather hard to get to.

“Connect” was one of my favorites. I find Pourciau very capable with his female characters, and “Connect” is from the perspective of a long-suffering wife, sighing her way through her husband’s constant boundaryless and absurdly inappropriate interactions with strangers. Her bitterness towards him is expressed wonderfully, and the little ways she takes back agency are a delight: “He stepped onto an escalator and I watched him go all the way up without showing any interest in whether I was following. So I didn’t. […] He’d driven us to the mall, but I had a key in my purse and I could go to the car and drive home alone.” In general, Pourciau envelopes us in the oddities of cul de sac life, and as someone growing up in a suburb myself, I found myself resonating even with the stories that struggled to land.

“From” is a masterclass in the first-person—another staple of the contemporary style of short fiction, think Lydia Davis. One of the many points of internal brilliance: “My brother sat with his mouth slightly open, his eyes seeming to float in some unknown fluid inside his head.” Moments like these sparkle and sob at the same time. Like how Flannery O’Connor says that a story should not reveal its message at the end and should just be read, “From” also needs reading, not revealing.

All things considered, Getaway is a collection that plays differently for writers and readers. For writers, I can absolutely recommend this. There is a lot to be learned here, both from Pourciau’s many triumphs and occasional shortcomings. As a serious reader, this collection is certainly worth checking out. The quality is literary, and most of the stories are stimulating. For the more casual reader, it’s fifty-fifty. I think there are some who will gobble it right up and others who will simply shrug.


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Matt Cantor attends George Mason University’s MFA program with a concentration in Fiction. He has been writing seriously for seven years and was awarded the Shelley A Marshall Prize in Fiction for his short story “Grab Bag”.

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