Winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, McFawn’s debut employs different narrative voices to create something singular.
The boldness of McFawn’s premises jumps out at the reader. In one story, a babysitter uses a precocious 9-year-old to solve her financial and familial woes. In another, a journalist interviews a biologist about his new art movement, “Microaestheticism,” in which cellular material becomes abstract art when placed under a microscope. In two different tales, the problems of dealing with a dying or dead horse are made vivid. McFawn approaches each story differently, not as an author imposing a single voice on disparate narratives but as an artist listening to her characters and finding the particular voice each one requires. Her final piece, “The Chautauqua Sessions,” provides the most compelling evidence of her talents. Struggling musician Danny, the narrator, has sequestered himself with his longtime songwriting partner in hopes of putting together a new record. When Danny’s grown son, Dee, shows up to announce his sobriety, the father is skeptical; this isn’t the first time he’s heard such an announcement, and he uses his disbelief as a way of shielding himself from disappointment, even as Dee’s story of recovery moves everyone else who hears it. McFawn’s empathy is astounding, and the reader understands the ways in which Dee has wounded his father, even as the father's attempts to reveal his son as a liar become unhinged and reprehensible. “I used to think of emergencies as these character-galvanizing events,” Danny says toward the end, “these moments when life does a casting call and shows a person for who they truly are.” But McFawn is too smart a writer to fall back upon such easy answers.
The rarest kind of literary debut—unpredictable and moving.