Since 2011, when ZYZZYVA underwent a redesign, a beefed up web site, and a change in masthead, work appearing in the journal has been attracting wide recognition. For its issues appearing in 2011 through 2014, ZYZZYVA has received twenty Notables from the Best American series, as well as inclusions in the Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, Best American Poets, and Best Nonrequired Reading anthologies; the journal has also received two Pushcart Prizes and four Pushcart Special Mentions in that time.
This month, when the Best American anthologies are in stores, we’d like to excerpt the many stories and essays from 2014 that received Notables from that prestigious series. We’re starting with a story by Elizabeth Tallent, “Mendocino Fire,” from our celebrated 100th issue. The story of the peripatetic life of a young female tree-sitter, raised, and arguably forsaken, in the wilds of the forests of Northern California, it delves into the haunting ache of abandonment and an intense yearning for connection. (It’s also the title story of Tallent’s new collection, published by Harper this month.) Of Elizabeth Tallent’s work, Richard Ford has said, “Her ear is perfect; her gaze searing and unmistakable.” We think you’ll agree.
Dipping into our anthology Strange Attraction: The Best of Ten Years of ZYZZYVA (338 pages; $20), we first excerpted for you Po Bronson’s story “Tracking the Family Beast.” We now offer an excerpt from Elizabeth Tallent’s story “Black Dress,” which originally appeared in ZYZZYVA Issue No. 25 (Spring 1991). (Most recently, Tallent’s story “Mendocino Fire” appears in our 100th issue.)
Tallent, who is a professor of English at Stanford and the author of several books, including the story collection Time of Children and the novel Museum Pieces, tells the story of Caro, a young pregnant woman getting ready to attend the funeral of her stepson’s teen girlfriend, who overdosed on pills. “She had taken the pills from their hiding place under her mother’s tissue-wrapped lingerie, snapped off the child-proof caps, and eaten them in handfuls. It can’t have been easy swallowing so many times; wouldn’t her body have been on the verge of refusing? Wouldn’t nausea have entered in? Ah, Caro thinks, and places her own nausea: with no sense of linear time, no conviction that things that have happened are irrevocably over, her own body is mimicking the girl’s nausea, the nausea she wishes the girl had felt. Caro’s pregnant body wants the girl to throw up. Caro’s secret sense, which she has not mentioned to her husband, is that death has alarmingly little respect for boundaries, that once tipped out it can spill through entire families. That she should stay away.”