Sunday, May 18, 2008

On "Executing Dexter" by Brian Leung (4628 words) *****

I first became aware of Brian Leung's work in college, in a writing workshop actually, where he was a student the same as I was. Even then, his talent was obvious. We shared two workshops together, spaced a little more than a year apart. In that year, he'd gone from being good to being obviously on his way to something larger than those around us. Next time we came across one another, he was a graduate student at the same college, doing a creative writing option, and he filled in one day for the teacher--and there I was, still an undergrad, on my last semester granted, but feeling small nonetheless. And then he was off to Indiana University for an MFA.

A few years after that, I was at the
Yalobusha Review as an editor, and I was desperate for some decent material. The previous year's editor suggested I solicit work, rather than just wait around for stuff to come to me, and so I wrote to one of my former instructors about people whose work she might send our way. She suggested Brian and passed along an e-mail address. Brian submitted--a good piece about this photographer named René. Unfortunately, in the meantime, I'd ended up with four other good stories. So now I had five good stories, and there was room for six. The problem was that one of those five good stories was over sixty pages long--it was a novella essentially, the length of four stories. So my choice was to accept the novella and two other stories, or take the four shorter stories, reject the novella, and publish two other stories I was only halfway satisfied with. I chose the first option, which meant I had to write Brian and let him know we couldn't publish his piece, though I'd really wanted to. He took it graciously.

The next time I came across Brian's work was in a magazine, a piece called "Six Ways to Jump Off a Bridge," which was published in
Story's very last issue or in the second-to-last issue. I'd been on-and-off long-time subscriber, so finding Brian suddenly in its pages was rather exciting. That story would later end up in Brian's book of short stories, World Famous Love Acts. I'd come across that collection, the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize, by Sarabande books, because of about five years later.

You see, a short while before that I'd come across Brock Clarke's fiction in an issue of the
Georgia Review, and an interest in his work had sparked me to buy his first book of stories, which had also won the Mary McCarthy Prize--Amazon being the only place that stocked it (none of our local chain booksellers being the type to stock small press titles). Amazon's recommendations, as unimaginatively perceptive as they often are, then proceeded to believe I'd be interested in anything that had won the Mary McCarthy Prize and recommended Brian's book when it came out a year later. Again, surprise. This time, I looked Brian up on the Internet, found out he was now teaching at Cal State Northridge and wrote him a short note to congratulate him. We caught up on what had happened to us over the past decade, and then I bought his book, read it, and was--typically--impressed. Three stories in particular stood out. My favorite was a piece called "Drawings by Andrew Warhol," which Brian told me after I'd read the book, was to be made into a movie. Perhaps, you can catch it on DVD somewhere (I don't think it was going to be feature length, so there's little chance you'll see it in the cinema, unfortunately). But one of my other favorites was "Executing Dexter."

Perhaps the best thing about the
Barcelona Review is the way it makes available online work of some published authors that might slip under the radar otherwise, reprinting stories from collections with the author's permission. And one of those stories that it has republished is "Executing Dexter." The story is about two boys who run pretend baby executions for fun, but their seeming cruelty bespeaks other familial problems they both have at home. Both the ending and the beginning of this story are likely to hit you in the gut. Read it here.


Proffesorbri said...

This is Brian Leung. I can't tell you how flattered I am that you took time to blog on my writing. Wow.

Short Story Reader said...

Brian, I'm flattered you checked out the blog. My pleasure reminiscing about a fine story from a good writer. Hope you're doing well.