A Conversation with PEN America Best Debut Short Story Author Laura Chow Reeve
“I wanted to explore why someone would choose forgetting over remembering, and how it would affect those who loved them.”
On August 22, Catapult will publish PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2017, the inaugural edition of an anthology celebrating outstanding new fiction writers published by literary magazines around the world. In the weeks leading up to publication, we'll feature a Q&A with the contributors, whose stories were selected for the anthology by judges Marie-Helene Bertino, Kelly Link, and Nina McConigley, and awarded PEN's Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. Submissions for the 2018 awards are open now.
Popo taught me to pickle memories when I was thirteen. It’s just like cucumbers, radishes, cabbage. I learned to cut them into even squares. Memories cut like apples; the knife slides through their protective skin with a crisp snap. I packed them in jars filled with salt, sugar, vinegar, and water. No herbs and spices because they can distort the memories, make them seem too sweet or too bitter.
“It’s a family secret,” she said to me. “It allows you to forget.”
“Forget what?” I asked.
“Anything. Forgetting does not come easily to the women in our
“What are we trying to forget, Popo?”
“So many questions. Chop this into smaller pieces.”
We started with minor moments: (1) When I dropped my underwear on the floor of the changing room after swim practice at school and Abigail Kincaid picked it up and showed the whole class. (2) The time I tugged on a strange woman’s skirt in a Costco checkout line because I thought, for a second, that she was my mother. (3) A recurring nightmare of being alone in an abandoned building with no way to get out.
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“I wanted to portray the pain of trying to reach someone who is inside their own, unreachable pain, and how this often puts untenable pressure on relationships.”
“I think so much art—especially cinema—acts as an instruction manual for women.”