Website of Chanelle Benz
Based on the advance press on The Man Who Shot Out my Eyes, the debut short story collection of Chanelle Benz, my expectations were very high for the two of her short stories that I was happily able to find online. Both are included in the collection which I hope to read and post further upon in May. I loved both stories and do not at all hesitate to endorse purchase of her collection. It is good to see such great stories by a new writer. Interestingly both of these very different stories comply with Frank O'Connors famous dictum that the deepest Short Stories deal with loneliness, given voice to the marginalized, speak for the mute. In both these stories Benz dramatically presents the consequences of loneliness and marginalization.
I will just talk a bit about each story as I do not wish to spoil anyone's first read. I read each story twice and will hopefully reread them in May along with the full collection.
"The Diplomat's Daughter" focuses on a young woman, once kidnapped away from the home of her American diplomat father. It is a fast moving story, beginning in a terrorist cell in the Kalahiri Desert, Beirut in the time period 2001 to 2011. The woman is under the sway of a man who uses her for sex and to commit terrorist acts. It is evidently the Stockholm syndrome impacting her. Then we flash back to Lynchburg, Virginia in 1997 where we see her as an adolescent, insecure about her weight and being a typical difficult at times teenager. There are segments in Mexico City, back in Beirut, and in Washington, D.C. As I read the story, told mostly in very skillfully rendered dialogue, it reads almost like a play, I tried to ponder what terrible emotional lacuna could I discover from the conversations of the young woman with her siblings and her Columbian stepmother. In a away I'm inclined to see her as somehow suggesting the father of the terrorist own repudiation of America but maybe this is pushing things. This is a beautiful story that will more than repay repeated readings.
"James III" is set in the rough poverty ridden inner city of Philadelphia. It is narrated by a twelve year old boy, he has just been mugged, his shoes have been stolen and it
a very cold winter. The boy's father is in prison, his mother has a boyfriend. He decided to take the train to his aunt. We subtly are shown he is not just your ordinary inner city boy when he makes a reference to Mr. Brown low, Oliver Twist's benefactor. He goes to a Quaker school, tuition paid by his aunt. He reads the sonnets of Petrach.
Much of the plot action is carried by dialogue. The boy lives in a rough world where showing any weakness is a mistake. We go along when his cousin takes him to visit his father. We learn how he came to be James III.
"“And I’m named after my father, your granddaddy. Now that man? That man was born evil and done stayed that way. But because he was named James, I got named James, and your grandmomma said you got to be named James, that way at the end of the day you got his hard and my heart. You James the third.”
"James III" presents a very intelligent young msn, he was in the state spelling be finals, forced to be wise beyond his years. We get a sense we are in The Philadelphia inner city. We hope for the best for James.
These are two first rate stories. As mentioned, I hope to read the full collection in May.
Chanelle Benz has published short stories in Guernica, Granta.com, Electric Literature'sRecommended Reading, The American Reader, Fence and The Cupboard, and is the recipient of an O. Henry Prize. She received her MFA at Syracuse University as well as a BFA in Acting from Boston University. She is of British-Antiguan descent and currently lives in Houston. From chanellebenz.com