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A Conversation With PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2018 Author Ernie Wang
“I feel any person who has to deal with losing the one person who is their world has every right to do whatever it takes to self-preserve, even when that includes deflection and denial.”
The Threepenny Review Passages North
There’s a tug on my skirt. I look down. “Hi there, young fella,” I say. “Hercules,” he says. I nod.
“I have a question,” he says. “Go on then, young man.” “Hercules,” he says. “How do I become strong like you?” I look at his parents. They beam at their son and smile like they already know. We’re at the corner of Frontierland and Fantasyland. From a distance, I hear screams at the top of Splash Mountain and calliope music from the riverboat making its way downstream. The smells of butter popcorn and churros wafting through the muggy afternoon air remind me that I’m hungry and I’ll be on my break soon.
In the far corner, I see Buzz and Woody ham it up for a large Chinese tour group. Cameras click, and the tourists point and shout furiously at them. Buzz and Woody take it in stride and swivel randomly and wave enthusiastically and do this jiggy kind of dance. Today, Zac is Buzz. He’s a good dude. He sees me, and without turning from the tourists, he lowers his arm and flips me the middle finger.
I kneel down and clasp the kid’s hands. He stands straight and puffs out his chest. I no longer have to think back to the script. I got this shit on lock.
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“When you’re a kid you’re not sure if you don’t know something because you haven’t been taught it or because you’re not supposed to know.”
“I think, in pursuit of truth, science and religion still have to wrestle with the strictures of human knowledge, error, pride.”
“The narration style feels very conversational to me. I liked how second-person really tries to make the reader part of the story as well.”
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“The idea here is the casual way children can accept and parrot this kind of simple, black-and-white math about worth. So much so that in a pinch they are willing write off their own mother!”
“You can fall in love with a place in a way that’s just as made-up and selective as how you fall in love with a person.”
“Some stories just flow out of you and you try to keep up as you write them. This story was not like that.”