Hello readers! Join our team of interns as they explore over 40 years of our publication history and share their passion for some of their favorite titles from BOA Editions. In today's post, Mckayla T. takes a trip to the Great Plains through the short stories of Dinah Cox.
Familiar Faces and Places in Dinah Cox's Remarkable.
Salutations! My name’s Mckayla. I’m one of the interns here at BOA Editions this summer. I’m a Creative Writing major at SUNY Oswego with focuses in poetry and fiction, and I’m looking at transferring to RIT to finish up my studies with hopes of learning more about publishing and the craft of bookmaking.
While I have a deep admiration for poetry, I cannot help but be drawn to fiction. I’m a sucker for a good story. As I was perusing the many enticing titles on the BOA bookshelf I stumbled upon Dinah Cox’s book, Remarkable. Have you ever tripped headlong into a book of short fiction and landed on the back cover, winded, before you were ready? Boy oh boy, have I got a recommendation for you!
Remarkable is one of those books that’s packed full of characters who keep the pages turning. Cox created characters that are so easy to see in the rural setting she’s placed them in with all their quirks and conundrums. If, like me, you grew up in an underpopulated hidden pocket of the world, these are characters you’ll recognize or sympathize with, like I did with Polly from Glue:
As it stood now, most people seemed to find her merely entertaining, or, if they thought of her in more generous terms, their thoughts came with the knowledge she would always be there, like the dew on the morning grass, like a pair of scissors kept in the junk drawer underneath the telephone, like a lucky piece of twine, like glue. (p. 108)
The emotional drive behind each character is what made them stick with to me. A good plot will get you lots of places and pair that with characters that have real feelings and drives and desires and you’ve got something complex and immersive. Cox provides characters I’ve told my sisters about like they’re real people dealing with real issues—characters I wonder about and would love to have a conversation with.
Despite their brilliance the characters aren’t always the main focus in Cox’s writing: setting holds a good bit of the spotlight as well. Cox uses setting to fill silences that occur between characters or to draw the reader’s attention to the bigger theme she’s getting at and to set the mood for each story. An interesting cast of characters might be all you need to tell a halfway decent story, but paint those characters against a dynamic setting and the conflict sometimes creates itself.
These stories are sneaky. They’re the kinds of stories that gain your trust with friendly faces and dull uneventful places, and then pull the rug out from under you, sometimes the floor boards too. One of my favorite stories from the book, Old West Nights, uses a summer storm and a coyote-filled forest to maintain a subtle tension during the sprouting friendship of a middle aged actor named Lee Major and a woman named Bonnie who lives in the small town he’s filming in. As Lee is enjoying time with Bonnie while taking a break from filming due to bad weather, he thinks:
The clouds threatened on the horizon just as the sun settled into a hazy hint of goodbye. (p. 54)
This scene takes place just as the friendship really starts to kick off. Everyone is mostly comfortable, at least enough for inside jokes, picking fun at each other and planning a party in Lee’s trailer. Without the line it’s a normal stormy night in the forest but Cox keeps the reader on edge by adding one simple shady description that suggests all is not new friendships and days off with nothing better to do than smoke, drink and chat. There’s trouble, it’s out there, lurking, like the coyotes that caused their departure from the forest.
Growing up in a small town, candidates for friends are limited and political climates often results in a plethora of tense moments between family and friends. Cox manages to capture the bitterness those moments create while also shedding light on how they are, could be, or are not resolved. Recipe for Disaster is a great example of this:
An awkward silence returned to the room. Maybe they didn’t understand my joke. Maybe they understood all too well. David searched the fridge for another beer, Caitlin stared out the window at the rusty barbecue grill on our back deck, Meredith pretended to load the dishwasher, and I looked up at a framed lithograph above our fireplace: two Amazon parrots overlooking the ocean. Welcome to paradise. (p. 97)
In this story, the narrator must entertain her dead sister’s brother and daughter. The daughter, a pageant child has said some homophobic things on TV during an interview. The narrator, Sally (a stubborn woman), has taken offence, believing the comments were directed at her and Meredith, her partner. The tension is threatening to burn the bridge but they’re family, so they at least try to put out the fire.
Cox creates intimate conflicts that play off the environment and don’t always sit when they’re told to. She wrangles the turbulence in these towns left by the differing political views and lack of people to build intense moments that might not occur if the characters lived somewhere they had the luxury to choose their circle of friends.
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