We’ve long read and admired Lucas Southworth’s work just about everywhere—elimae and Wigleaf and West Branch, but he really caught our eye a couple weeks ago with the haunting “A Murder in Four Shorts” up at Tri-Quarterly. The sheer graphicness of the violence here is tough to read, and genuinely scary, but it is powerful and ultimately moving.
Many of Southworth’s stories are like this, though sometimes the violence isn’t so prominent—sometimes it’s merely a hum teeming beneath the surface of the story, a sense of dread radiating outwards. I’m only halfway through with his debut collection, Everyone Here Has a Gun, but even so, it’s easy to see why Dan Choan, who selected the book as winner of the Grace Paley Prize, said, “Everyone Here Has a Gun took me on a roller coaster ride that I’d never been on before.” (And yes, whether it’s a makeup artist who accidentally shoots the man she’s made to look like Abraham Lincoln or a room full of people milling about, muttering to themselves, everyone here does have a gun.) Sourthworth’s fiction seems to have absorbed all the tropes we find in pop culture, particularly in film, particularly in horror movies, chewed them up and spit them back out in new, compelling forms—it takes all our anxieties about living in the contemporary world and makes them into ghost stories and fairy tales.
I was very happy that the prose editors over at Hayden’s Ferry Review (the other publishing venture I’m involved in) selected Southworth’s story “There Isn’t Any Ghost” for our most recent issue (also found in EHHAG). It’s one of the aforementioned ghost stories, following a mother and her son as they move to a new house (where else?) in the middle of the woods. The key here is the only thing haunting them is each other. It’s a quietly thrilling and creepy read. While much of Southworth’s work shows how well it can manage innovative concepts and forms, the power of his prose is often subtle and understated (which is what we all want: to perform the trick of great, meticulously-wrought writing but make it seem effortless, natural). This story is a testament to how skilled Southworth is with prose at the sentence level—for just a sneak peek, you can even read him discuss all the alternate versions of the story’s last sentence over at the HFR blog. Then, do yourself a favor (or maybe the more appropriate phrase would be “terrify yourself for weeks”) and pick up Everyone Here Has a Gun.