Thursday, May 8, 2008

On "Juan Tomas and the Pale Yellow Letters" by Shellie Zacharia (2359 words) ***

Pedestal Magazine is back online after some unfortunate incidents with a hacker, and this newest edition features three new short stories. Pedestal is a strange online creature for me. It generally features moderately well-published authors and competent fiction, but I must not quite understand the editors' aesthetic because I often end up wondering, why these particular stories? In other words, they rarely scream to me, "Boy, I'm glad I'm alive to have read that." But then, I guess, how many stories do scream that? Maybe, if I'm lucky, one a month. Anyway, of the three stories featured in this latest version of the journal, my favorite is "Juan Tomas and the Pale Yellow Letters." What do I like about it? First, it has a good beginning, a line that roped me in and made me want to know more about this character. We start with a woman having a breakdown, leaving her fiancé. Second, it does something kind of daring for contemporary fiction--it presents itself almost as a frame story. One doesn't see that often these days anymore, and most often when one does, it's because someone doesn't understand how far the story has come in the past one hundred years. I mean, we're not in the nineteenth century anymore folks. But Zacharia clearly does. The outside layer of the story has as much--or more story--than the inside layer of the story, but the two work off each other in a way that neither could exist independently. I wasn't screaming, "I'm so glad I'm alive to read this" at the end, but I enjoyed my stay in the little world Zacharia dreamed up nevertheless. Read the story here.

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