Wednesday, March 13, 2013

30 Days of the Flannery O'Connor Award: Day 9

Andy Plattner on Wendy Brenner's LARGE ANIMALS IN EVERYDAY LIFE

It was late in 1996 when Charles East called to inform me that I’d won the Flannery O’Connor Award. During the next six months, I talked with him a few times as we worked through the edits of Winter Money. I was pretty green to everything in those days, but even then I understood it was a privilege to work with Charles. Everything he said, every suggestion he made, seemed right. At one point, he thought it would be a good idea for me to see what a finished story collection from the University of Georgia Press looked like, so he sent me a copy of Large Animals in Everyday Life by Wendy Brenner, which had won the Flannery O’Connor the year before.

Such a good book. I remembered thinking that then. It seemed further proof that my collection was in exciting company. Nothing has changed over time when it comes to what I think about Large Animals. My favorite story in Brenner’s collection still is “The Oyster,” an I-don’t-care-how-hot-it-is-I’m-riding-with-the-top-down-in-the-middle-of-August story. It’s a romp, but there’s wonder in the tone. A real curiosity about the world. It’s a story that I continue to show young writers in the fiction-writing classes I teach, especially when I think the young writers seem to be tiring of the writing process overall.

The beginning of this story goes like this:

Pat Boone—not the Pat Boone but only a graduate student in Agricultural Science—was driving the oysters down to Mulberry to have them irradiated. He was used to being the wrong Pat Boone but was nevertheless miserable, careening down Interstate 75 in the windless predawn, gripping the wheel of the Food Science van with his troubled pink fingers.

When I look at this story now—or any story from this collection, actually—I think about the joy this writer finds in her work. It’s a joy derived from knowing how stories can unfold. The writer seems to be reveling in this knowledge, this understanding of the complex world of story writing. “The Oysters” features a character whose name is Pat Boone . . . it’s a story where the feelings of oysters and strawberries are also part of the narrative. It’s a story that does not come with a spoiler alert, so I can tell you how it ends:

[The oysters] felt frustrated, distracted. Where were they going? they wondered. What would happen to them? What were they supposed to do? Oh, they were only oysters! Who was there to tell their story, and who was there to listen?

I still read this collection with a sense of wonder. It’s a book I’m unlikely to part with, not only because of who sent it to me but because of all of the good things that keep happening on every page.


Andy Plattner is the author of WINTER MONEY (1997). This Lexington, Kentucky-born author's short fiction has appeared in Paris Review, Southern Review, Sewanee Review, and Epoch. His second story collection, A Marriage of Convenience, was published in 2011. Plattner’s novel Offerings from a Rust Belt Jockey won the inaugural Mid-Career Novel Award from Dzanc Press. He lives in Atlanta.