At the writing conference I just attended, there were nightly readings by the teachers. Each teacher had their hour or so in the sun, and one night it was Tia Clark’s turn. (If what follows seems confusing, it is because Clark prefers the pronouns they/them. I am also still getting used to this pronoun-respecting writing.) Clark had time to almost finish their short story, and it was such a cliff-hanger! Plus, it was available online to finish reading, so I went to Joyland Magazine online (June 2021) and finished reading. Therefore, it became one of the only complete, published pieces I read (or was read) during the week and I would like to review it for you.
Warning: there is sexual abuse in this story, which means that it contains possible triggers as well as material inappropriate for younger people. And yet, the story is about a young girl because, quite frankly, kids are often exposed to too much, much too young. That’s one of the layers of the story, actually. Sexuality in middle-schoolers, particularly in the poorer areas of inner-city America, and among Black people specifically.
It’s one of those longer short stories. And when they first started reading it aloud, I thought, “This is nothing special” because the language is so simple and inobtrusive to the story. And there are things you definitely see coming in the story. I thought, “Ehn.” But by the time they left me hanging about two-thirds of the way in, I just had to finish it. Not because it’s some sort of dramatic piece, exactly. It takes place between two apartments and a school, to two normal people in (unfortunately) normal circumstances. Normal things ensue over a matter of days or weeks. I think part of the beauty here is, actually, the simplicity of the language. I often refer to writing as “clear” or “clean.” This is both. When writing is like that, there might be beautiful moments and a couple acrobatics, but you’re just hearing a story, not a poem. I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story. I could feel the tension, see the character and her setting, and I needed to know what next.
The story is quite heavy. It does deal with sexuality and abuse and neglect and poverty, but it does so by presenting us with a life that might as well be a memoir. (For them, I don’t know, but certainly for someone.) It can be crass, at times, but also beautiful at others. And it uses swear words and even slang to such effect, which is pretty rare. I can’t help but wonder what Clark would think about this review, but the point is it’s a good story. It might be buried in all the short stories that grace literary magazines this year, but despite its feeling straight-forward at first, I think it’s a wonderful return to story-telling—actually story-telling—to both entertain us and make us think.
Here’s a link to the story: All This Want and I Can’t Get None | JOYLAND (joylandmagazine.com)