Friday, September 28, 2007

"October", by Scott Wolven

From: Demolition, Fall 2007.

John Thorn and his partner Greg are driving south through Idaho, on the track of a missing girl with only her journal for a guide. As they drive, John thinks back to another time when he searched for clues in the journal of a young woman, hoping to find out why she'd disappeared.

He was much younger then, living in upstate New York, and his uncle Jim had been an officer with the Department of Environmental Protection, responsible for keeping the peace in East Catskill Park. That fall a young woman named Jennifer Flint disappeared. The state cops had given up, and since she'd been known to stay at her parent's vacation home in the park, they turned all their evidence over to Jim.

He and John used dogs, flyers, and shoe leather, but after a couple of months with no leads they moved on.

A month later, Patricia Fineman disappeared. She left a diary, too. And Jim and John went looking for her.

In a just world, Scott Wolven would be rich and famous. He tells stories that cover a lot of traditional noir ground, but he avoids the posturing that so many writers in the feel seem to think makes their stuff deep. Instead, his writing is full of genuine feelings of despair and regret. His stories don't always have a neat arc; they tend to be messy, like real life. And they're not always about what you think they're about. Read "October" and consider the last few lines, and ask yourself whose story this is.

As an aspiring writer, Wolven always makes me feel like a piker. I read one of his stories and think to myself, "No need to write about that, then," because he's already covered it. At the same time it's hard not to be inspired by the possibilities he shows you. If you like great writing, I urge you to read his collection Controlled Burn. You won't be disappointed.


Anonymous said...

While a fan of Wolven's work and while generally in agreement with your assessment, I was a little puzzled by the nature of the universe paragraphs. As a device, I think I know what he was going for - probable publication in a literary mag - but those paragraphs seemed a bit forced.
What was your take on those paragraphs?

Graham Powell said...

I'm not quite sure to what to make of those section, except that parts of the story deal with diaries, presumably "forbidden" knowledge, and of course the narrator learns a few things about himslf.

The sun's illumination in those sections is like John Thorn's own self-knowledge - it exposes all, and doesn't leave him a place to hide.

I can't make up my mind if that imagery really does much for the story - I think it would work fine without it. But I don't think I'll start telling Wolven how to write.