Storytelling a la Midwest Gothic
If you’re looking for nostalgic or sentimental stories, pick up Little House on the Prairie. If the gritty realities, the darker and more political underpinnings of Midwestern life fascinate you, then read Skinner’s stories.
Reflecting the Midwest Gothic idea of the buried life, her characters hide their inner lives, often denying themselves what they desire most until it bubbles up and they have no choice but to act with desire, jealousy, despair—and if they're lucky, hope and love.
Skinner, a 2014 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grant recipient, has published in Midwestern Gothic, The Potomac Journal of Politics and Poetry, MONKEYBICYCLE, Dust & Fire, Muse and elsewhere. Her story, "Mrs. Larsen's" Goats was nomiated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize. She is the 2010 recipient of the Carol Bly Award in Non-Fiction for her story, "Gloved," and author of Life with Gifted Children: Infinity & Zebra Stripes, published by Great Potential Press and winner of the Arizona Glyph Award. Her nonfiction articles have appeared in Teaching for High Potential, Parenting for High Potential, and Understand Our Gifted.
John Reimringer, author of Vestments, gives this introduction to Wendy Skinner and her first collection of short stories, The Lucky Ones:
Wendy Skinner is a dedicated student of the short story. Skinner’s influences range from Hemingway to Alice Monroe and she’s paid particular attention to the Midwestern Gothic style of Cathy Day's collection, A Circus in Winter.
Reading Skinner’s fiction, I am reminded of what my graduate school classmate, Michael Downs, author of the short story collection, The Greatest Show, once said about the epiphany as used by Anton Chekov and John Cheever. He argued that there was a standard Cheever epiphany. It involved light, and all of Cheever’s characters got it. But Chekov’s characters, Downs said, got the epiphany they deserved.
Skinner’s collection of stories, The Lucky Ones, is set on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Two Harbors and the surrounding wilderness. Her characters range from a young girl on the verge of revelation [Mrs. Larsen's Goats] to a middle-aged man seeking closure at a high school reunion to a drunken philanderer prowling a country western bar to a disparaging 1950s farm wife. They’re united by geography, by despair and the occasional triumph, and by the fact that like Chekov’s, Skinner’s characters get the epiphany they deserve.
At the end of the opening story [Tabitha, Arise] of The Lucky Ones, the protagonist, a woman stuck both in an unsatisfying marriage and more immediately in a broken-down jeep, rides into Two Harbors on the back of a motorcycle driven by a man who’s picked her up from the roadside. We know her life has just opened to adventure and we know that we, too, have just been plucked from the roadsides of our lives and are riding into an adventure with a sure-handed writer.