We’re proud to have Laura van den Berg judge our 2015 Fiction Prize. Her story in IR, “Where We Must Be,” is one of our favorites and was recently republished in the always-excellent Electric Literature‘s Recommended Reading. Here, some of our staff weighs in on only a few of van den Berg’s many exquisite and unforgettable short stories.
Peter (Editor): I started reading The Isle of Youth while waiting to board a plane. I’m a naturally anxious person, and the first story, ‘I Looked for You, I Called Your Name,’ sent me into a sort of hyper frenzy as we backed out from the gate onto the tarmac. I won’t forget my plane lifting into the air in what suddenly seemed like the most dangerous stunt ever performed just as the narrator in van den Berg’s story moves from a crash landing of her own plane. A truly stunning story that is as willing to punch as it is to be hurt, and that I now usually read before boarding a plane whenever I travel.
Victoria (Fiction Editor): I’ve always been fascinated by the cold poles of our planet, and in Laura van den Berg’s “Antarctica,” I finally got to read a story set in one. One thing I love about Laura van den Berg’s stories is how their landscapes seem to always accentuate their ideas. In “Antarctica,” the emptiness of the ice surrounding the research station makes every person there unmissable, every spoken word that much more resonant. It’s a place that makes hiding very difficult, a fitting setting for a story that deals with secrets.
Maggie (Web Editor): I read Laura Van Den Berg’s “The Greatest Escape,” the richly layered story of a mother-daughter magician act, and found myself asking the question all magicians hate: “How did she do it?” Laura Van Den Berg’s stories often feel like magic. They pull you into a familiar world, but show you things you’ve never seen before. “The Greatest Escape” speaks to how we navigate the lies our parents tell us, and how ultimately these fictions can become a part of our identity. Revisiting this story I read a year ago, I find myself just as mystified and dazzled.
Sarah (Contracts & Subscriptions Intern): In “Acrobat,” Laura van den Berg takes her reader on an unusual but compelling journey. Her protagonist has been left by her husband in Paris, and has decided to follow a trio of acrobats around the city. What follows is a truly enchanting tale filled with twirling performers, late night parties, and warm city lights. The voice of the protagonist is unique and consistent, woven into every line; her numb but curious thoughts come across as honest in the wake of her recent breakup. It is a strong tale from the first line to the last, and the final scene involving a warm Paris canal at night will surely stick with readers long after they finish the piece.
Dimana (Prize Intern): I’ve always liked the distanced voice of a character not entirely present in their surroundings. That’s probably one reason why “I Looked for You, I Called Your Name” resonated with me as much as it did. The main character, a woman who doesn’t quite understand herself, has a complex relationship with her husband as they go on a honeymoon that’s far less than ideal. I was interested in all of the ways in which distance and time played a role in this story. The main character not only distanced herself from what was happening in her presence but she also distanced herself from her husband. Their relationship lacked a closeness one would expect in a newlywed couple and I was fascinated by how it played out during a moment that’s supposed to be filled with love and closeness. I was just as interested in the way Laura van den Berg played with time, taking me from present to future to past in a seamless flow of beautiful narrative.