What constitutes a “voice” in fiction? This is what we’ve been asking ourselves ever since the stories started pouring in for the inaugural issue of Mason’s Road. At first, we looked for voices that stood out, broke rules, and were as distinct as the voices of such writers as Faulkner, or Coover, or Vonnegut. But as we delved deeper into the pile, we began to ask ourselves why we might consider some stories more or less voice-driven than others.
We turned to cinema analogies: does someone like David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick really have a more distinct voice than, say, John Huston or Howard Hawks? Doesn’t Treasure of the Sierra Madre or Bringing Up Baby have as much of a distinct voice as Blue Velvet or Dr. Strangelove? Is a seeming “lack of style” a style in and of itself?
By posing these questions, we allowed ourselves to consider every potential contributor as a stylist with a distinct voice. And because the goal of Mason’s Road is to feature work that illustrates particular elements of craft, we felt this provided us with an opportunity to discuss the different ways we can interpret “voice” in fiction.
Variety is always the chief goal of any literary publication. Point-of-view, setting, style, and, of course, voice, were among the factors on which each piece was considered. Yet despite these criteria, we still found similarities in our top picks. Two of the stories, “You” and “Squids,” were written in second person – a point-of-view that can often feel alienating and gimmicky in the wrong hands. But these two authors pushed past the characteristic flaws of the style and used the isolation inherent in the prose to delve deeper into the feelings of loneliness and loss that affected each of the main characters. We offer both to you in the same issue so you can compare and perhaps discuss their similarities and differences.
“How to Speak Czech” demands attention for its skilled use of third-person multiple points-of-view, unique among the submissions, as well as its moving take on family and tradition.
“A Biography of Mothers” fascinated us with its distant first-person narrator, who does not appear in the story until relatively late in the game, and whose fractured, unnatural way of expressing herself beautifully represents the mood of abandonment and loss.
“Quarters,” also written in the first person, brought to us a vivid picture of modern day New Orleans, with its dark saloons, clanging trolleys and a certain edge-of-the-world desperation.
Our featured story, “The Eye of the Needle,” represents the kind of fiction that can easily be considered “voiceless”—it is straightforward, un-showy, and traditional. However, we found that its Graham Greene-like setting and soul-searching protagonist worked to create a voice that is searing, almost brutal, in its honesty, and, for us, this constituted a distinct and powerful persona.
There were many other stories that we could have chosen on the basis of voice. Some used poetic language, some played with structure, and some abandoned “reality” for some other plane. Many could be said to represent a more obvious and distinct voice. But the six stories we ultimately chose were among the best. We hope you enjoy them.
Chris Belden & Nick Knittel