Eloise Schultz’s story “The Water Cycle” won Terrain.org’s 4th Annual Fiction Contest, judged by Teague Bohlen, and is featured in Issue 34: Elemental. Here, Eloise lists her reading recommendations, suggesting a few works that have helped shape her writing.
Winter Count by Barry Lopez
“‘Everything is held together with stories,’ he thought. ‘That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.’”
Barry Lopez accomplishes just that in Winter Count, a collection of short stories that taps away at an ineffable inter-connectivity with exquisite precision, constructing landscapes that are rich and mysterious. Each of these stories unfold like paintings, otherworldly, yet soundly familiar places: a flock of great blue herons settle, as quietly as snow, on the partition in a wide New York avenue; a herd of white buffalo, singing a death song, lead a group of Arapaho warriors into the clouds. Are these encounters meant as a reminder, or a warning?
It’s hard to pick a favorite from this collection, but mine might be “Winter Count 1973: Geese, They Flew Over in a Storm.” The narration jumps in and out of chronology to question and demonstrate the power of stories as a collective force. Lopez’s writing never misses a beat as he enters the world of mythic time. Exquisitely crafted, this story follows a professor as he addresses a crowd of anthropologists on the nature of winter counts—“personal views of history, sometimes metaphorical, bearing on a larger, tribal history.” Lopez reconstructs the telling of history from new angles, in all ways—but this, of course, is not the point. “There was no point. It was a slab of meat. It was a rhythm to dance to. It was a cloak that cut the wind when it blew hard enough to crack your soul.”
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
“The shadow-past is shaped by everything that never happened. Invisible, it melts the present like rain through karst. A biography of longing. It steers us like magnetism, a spirit torque. This is how one becomes undone by a smell, a word, a place, the photo of a mountain of shoes. By love that closes its mouth before calling a name.”
Writer and poet Anne Michaels pulls her exquisite prose from the natural world, where time is written in layers of rock and bone. Narrator Jakob Beer, smuggled out of Poland by geologist Athos Roussos, pulls these layers apart piece by piece as he recalls fragments of his past and builds from them a future. The reader is led through landscapes of life and loss—an island off the coast of Greece, the banks of a flooded river in Toronto—in search of home, a place to rest. Michaels’ liquid narrative draws connections between person and place, memory and imagination, in a way that strikes deeply at the heart.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
“The reservation doesn’t sing anymore but the songs still hang in the air. Every molecule waits for a drumbeat; every element dreams lyrics. Today I am walking between water, two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, and the energy expelled is named Forgiveness.”
If Fugitive Pieces is based in rock and water, then Sherman Alexie’s collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is what happens when that rock erupts like a volcano. Alexie uses irony and dark humor like twin blades to cut time and place apart and weave them back together into simultaneous, often incongruous narratives. These stories are poignant, funny, and heartbreakingly frank. While Alexie’s anguish presents itself in breathtaking streams, he also writes with great affection and tenderness about the real issues of life on the reservation—addiction, neglect, sickness—to illustrate truth, on so many levels, as it emerges through our lives and our stories.
Birch trees in snow photo by Leni Kovaleva, courtesy Shutterstock.