Short Stories 366:163 — “Alief,” by Bryan Washington

coverEven though by this point I’d only gotten two stories along in my reading of Bryan Washington’s Lot: Stories, I’d already decided one of the things Washington did so incredibly well was to frame a narrative event with incredible voice. There’s a cadence and progression in “Alief” like there was in the first story that completely swept me along, and I found myself doubling back a few times to re-read a transition or a turning point and always in those moments it was the narrator’s voice drawing me back.

“Alief”‘s narrative spark is a catastrophic one: we know from the beginning this is a story about a woman, her lover, her husband, and that it ends violently. As the narrator tells us the ways in which this story were glimpsed, we alight on a wide mix of people, learning perhaps names and brief backgrounds and then moving on to another. Alief is a neighbourhood in Houston both incredibly diverse in background and status, though commonly poor, and there’s a networked pride invoked by the narrator of the people about their space, their connections, and their own internal mixes of culture and caring.

For a story with such a dark and violent sparking point, “Alief” left me feeling triumphant in a way I’m struggling to put to words. It was a narrative reminder, I think, of times in my own life when my own support networks of friends and chosen family have come together, or at least it echoed that sentiment of “taking care of our own” with the “our own” opened so expansively that even in the face of what had passed, it felt enough like hope.

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