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New Yorker Fiction Review: "Labyrinth" by Amelia Gray

Issue: Feb. 16, 2015

Story: "Labyrinth"

Author: Amelia Gray

Rating: $

Review:  For me, the prospect of discovering new writers is the single biggest reason to keep reading the New Yorker week-in and week-out. Therefore, I feel like The New Yorker fiction section is at it's best when it's showcasing the work of fledgling young writers trying to make names for themselves or even slightly more established young writers who are, nonetheless, still in need of more exposure. With three collections of short stories under her belt and one on the way -- Gutshot (FSG, due in April) -- Amelia Gray falls into the latter category and she's a new one on me. Based on the strengths and weaknesses of "Labyrinth" I'd have to say I'm not gonna be knocking anyone over on the way to the bookstore when Gutshot drops...but I will keep my eyes peeled for her name and maybe, at some point, dig a little deeper into her oeuvre.

Amelia Gray
One major thing Gray does have going for her: she worships at the altar of Brevity, at which I am also a disciple (in my fiction anyway); she writes like she's got somewhere to get to, like she's trying to move the story along. Some people may not appreciate that; I do. Granted, sometimes that can work against a story. Nothing makes you want to put a book/story down quicker than when you can feel the author "pushing" the story in one direction or another, unnaturally. "Labyrinth" moved, and moved quickly, and while I had a sense where it might be headed, Gray managed to pull off the careful alchemy of letting me in on those clues while still making me wonder, "WTF is going to happen to this guy?"

In the story, a man named Dale walks into a corn labyrinth at a fall pumpkin festival and makes an interesting discovery when he gets to the center. Already laden with ancient Greek symbolism -- the labyrinth, the Phaistos Disk -- you know there has to be greater symbolic meaning to the story but you're not sure what it's going to be. Gray had the sense to keep the story short, because this wouldn't have worked over the course of 4,000 words. Once it's disclosed that "...the labyrinth is known to possess magic. Some say in the center you discover the one thing you most desire in the world" the reader is able to gird themselves for a sort of Fable-istic (and very possibly hokey) ending.

And frankly, the ending was a little Fable-istic and hokey, but I enjoyed getting there under Gray's guidance. It actually felt like I was winding my way around and around the corn rows of the labyrinth with Dale at one point, especially as he gets closer and closer to the center and the suspense builds.

Hell, maybe I will knock someone over on my way to pick up Gutshot.


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