New Fiction 2

Vol. 4, No. 2

One mission of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing is to offer a forum for the publication of writing by emerging authors whose work has not otherwise gained the attention of many Mennonite readers.

This issue, “New Fiction 2,” extends the work of the “New Fiction” issue of January 2010 by publishing the work of six “new” writers. Only one author, Katherine Arnoldi, has already had a book of stories published, All Things Are Labor, by the University of Massachusetts (2007). In fact, her story published here, “Sewer,” serves as a kind of prequel to that collection, since it depicts the early life of the woman whose voice dominates the first and final narratives in All Things Are Labor.

Kirsten Beachy has become a leader of young Mennonite writers in the eastern United States, especially with her excellent and expeditious work in gathering and editing the contributions to the anthology, Tongue Screws and Testimonies (Herald Press 2010). Her story, “His Wife,” is the most experimental in this issue, since Kirsten writes minimalist, rather than expansive, narratives. As she explains, “Forty gallons of maple sap distills to a gallon of syrup. In my reduced stories, I try to save the essence and let the steam blow away.” Considering the complexities of her story, you may need to read between the lines. Kirsten contributed a memoir on Martyrs Mirror to the “Personal Writing” issue of this journal (September 2009).

Kirsten is also a main organizer of the Mennonite/s Writing conference scheduled for later this month at Eastern Mennonite University. (See the link on the CMW homepage.) In fact, all of the contributors to the issue—except for Matt Kauffman Smith in faraway Oregon—plan to attend the conference, and new writings by Arnoldi and Sears will be featured in public readings. Kirsten’s writing group Inkslingers are also on the program. Selections from their writings will constitute the May 2012 issue of the CMW Journal.

Five of the six stories are told from a woman’s point of view. Chad Gusler even uses the voice of a blunt-speaking woman who is a Mennonite former pastor addressing a Jewish former husband. Kirsten’s story and Jennifer Sears’ chapter for a novel depict cross-cultural situations, from Egypt and Pakistan. It is tempting to assume that some or most of the narratives, especially those told in first-person, come from the authors’ own lives. However, Kirsten has never been to Pakistan and Beth Lehman’s story was inspired by a submerged bicycle that she noticed during her recent years in Indianapolis. The story by Matt Kauffman Smith, who also has a memoir in our January 2012 issue, contributes his sly, laconic humor to an otherwise rather sober issue.

As editor, I am pleased that, without planning, all of these short stories were written by Mennonite writers living and working in the United States. It remains true that, although poetry has been well cultivated by U.S. Mennonites, fiction has remained less well developed among them. Perhaps issues like this will help improve that situation.

I am very sorry that it was not possible to include new fiction by Stephen Raleigh Byler, whose recent serious injuries from an automobile accident made it impossible for him to follow through with our plans. I expect to read a paper on his book, Searching for Intruders: A Novel in Stories, at the upcoming Mennonite/s Writing VI conference at Eastern Mennonite University. In preparing the paper, I also wrote the essay that concludes this issue, “The Mennonite Novel-in-Stories: A Survey.” Besides briefly describing the sub-genre and its history, the essay offers an annotated critical bibliography of collections of short fiction with novelistic tendencies, written by Mennonites. I hope the essay will both enhance our appreciation of writings by Byler, Rudy Wiebe, Armin Wiebe, Sandra Birdsell, Rosemary Nixon and others and lead to further study of their linked short stories.

In this issue:

  • 0 read more Sewer

    Sewer

    by Katherine Arnoldi

    First I heard the meow. Loud. Frantic.

    I walked around and around each tree, looking up, trying to check every branch, behind every leaf. I circled all the houses, lifting up piles of wood, searching under porches, crawling under steps, overturning buckets, opening trash can lids, squinting at rooftops. Where could a kitten be so trapped? I checked the trees again. Then, when I stepped off the curb, I realized the sound was below me.

    Not down there, I hoped, but when I put my face next to the sewer grate, I knew I had found the kitten. I cupped ...

  • 1 read more His Wife

    His Wife

    by Kirsten Beachy

    On the counter is the new toy that Donald accidentally delivered with the Slim Jims and bobble-head dogs. The words Your Friend Samantha are printed in red on the yellow cardboard. Behind the cellophane window stands a doll with plastic skin molded into a round face and chubby arms and legs. Her eyes are large, flat, and pale blue, her lashes painted on in a fan that almost reaches her eyebrows, her pink mouth parted on tiny, separate teeth. Brown curls cascade down on either side of a rosette of bangs, but Tariq can’t stop looking at her left arm ...

  • 0 read more Susannna’s Bicycle

    Susannna’s Bicycle

    by Beth Lehman

    As soon as the last ripple made its way to the weedy bank on the other side of the canal she knew it had not been the right thing to do. The experiment had been idle sport anyway, since Susanna, at age eight and four days, knew the results before the tests. Two marble sized rocks, dropped from the bridge, sank. Four marshmallow-roasting sized sticks floated. One big fat rock splashed her in the face and sank. One big fat chunk of a stump splashed her in the face, sank, and then bobbed back to the surface like the mallards ...

  • 0 read more The Nighthawk

    The Nighthawk

    by Chad Gusler

    Before I tell you that I know all about Maria and offer you my sincerest congrats on your new-found role in life, I have a little confession to make: I quit praying for you yesterday. I know you’re probably surprised to read this, but I realized that I was being selfish, that my prayers were mumbled only to alleviate my guilt in leaving you. Please forgive me, dear man, and don’t think me heartless, but I know you’ll get along fine without my prayers—I’m sure the whole congregation is praying for you anyway.

    As for me, I’ve lost confidence in ...

  • 0 read more Winnie Weaver Takes a Stand  (and sits down)

    Winnie Weaver Takes a Stand (and sits down)

    by Matthew Kauffman Smith

    Winnie Weaver reached for a hymnal and looked over at Mary Nussbaum. They grabbed their hymnals and slid them out simultaneously.

    Coooouuuhhhsshhh.

    The collective, clean, crisp scrape of the hymnals gliding over the wooden hymnal racks served as Winnie’s rooster call to worship.

    Cooouuuhhhsshhh.

    Many years ago, Winnie suggested to her friends that they sit in the center of the second row so that the four-part harmonies would cascade down the pews and converge upon their ears. The group varied in size, but Winnie, Mary, Elizabeth and Constance were weekly mainstays in the second pew of Third Mennonite Church ...

  • 1 read more The Mennonite Novel-in-Stories: A Survey

    The Mennonite Novel-in-Stories: A Survey

    by Ervin Beck

    In the production of Mennonite literature in North America since 1962, some of the earliest and best fiction represents the genre that is becoming known as the novel-in-stories. The term refers to a collection of short stories that are unified in ways that create a reading experience commonly expected from a conventional novel. That is, the stories offer an extended, if interrupted, prose narrative focusing on a central character who interacts with others in a complex, realistically depicted society and culture. The main character is gradually revealed to the reader, and/or undergoes personal development that sometimes even leads to ...