Fiction’s Borders

As issue 22 goes into production, I will be finishing up a year-long sabbatical, which included a semester teaching at a university in Turkish-occupied North Cyprus. Several times, I crossed the border on foot and by car to Cyprus, part of the European Union, which is still recuperating from near economic collapse several years ago. While the borders between the two sides were heavily guarded and militarized, in the end, crossing from one side to the other was faster and easier than crossing from the US into Canada, or from Greece into Turkey. The borders between this divided country are visible and real. In the North, the language is Turkish and because of an embargo, the lifestyle and infrastructure have changed little since the seventies. The South uses the Greek language, has better English and infrastructure, but seems somewhat world weary over the battles with the recession. Ultimately, though, what separates the two sides is not a wall but politics, history, and foreign interests.

I was thinking about the visible and invisible borders of fiction when I was re-reading the stories for this issue. While the stories are different in content and approach, each pushes the borders of conventional fiction, expanding and blurring the “fiction” genre. When reading these pieces, I felt that each one was trying to tell a story in a way that allows the reader to explore unfamiliar forms and dissolves the boundaries of the traditional story.

Devin Kelly’s “Horizon Invisible” describes the time between the narrator’s hospital visit and waiting for test results, with each fragment its own prose miniature that at times falls into repetition, losing punctuation and taking on line breaks, as if the story wants to become a poem. Carolyn Guinzo’s “Are You Willing to Take a Three Minute Survey?” follows in theme: a woman counts back from one hundred as she is being put under for surgery, but her associations before she goes under try to answer the question: “What matters more, a number or a name?” The “you” in Rebecca Cook’s “You—Dress Me Up” is the potential lover who is seduced and informed by the prose poem syntax of the piece. Finally, in the most traditionally written story, “Sabrina and the Birdman,” by Jill Widnerthe, young Sabrina, an American who lives with her family in Indonesia, encounters Birdman and his mythical, almost magical, bird who can play dead. In this piece, the borders or divides are reflected in Sabrina’s inability to communicate with the Birdman as she wonders about the fate of the bird by extension; the people in a country she doesn’t know well.

The borders of fiction can guide us, but sometimes the signposts and paths become too familiar, too well-worn. In Drunken Boat we often explore the borders of race, class, and geography. As refugees flee countries, as borders open and close, as lines are redrawn, I hope these stories provide us with new ways of seeing what is possible in fiction and, perhaps, beyond.

I’d like to give a special thanks to DB Assistant Fiction Editor, Holly Wendt, who took on a lot of the final editing and managing issues while I was traveling, and to our readers for this issue: Sreedhevi Iyer, Sarah Yu, Peter Phillips, Brett Puryear, and Kathryn Henion, who also helped with production. I love working with such a talented team.

Sybil Baker
Fiction Editor
August 2015


Sybil Baker

Sybil Baker’s Immigration Essays was selected as the 2018-2019 Read2Achieve book for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Freshmen First Year Reading Experience. She is also the author of The Life Plan, Talismans, and Into This World, which received an Eric Hoffer Award Honorable Mention and was a finalist for Foreword’s INDIES Best Book of the Year Award. A UC Foundation Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Sybil was awarded two MakeWork Artist Grants and a 2017 Individual Artist's Fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission. She is on faculty for VCFA’s inaugural low-residency international MFA program. Her novel While You Were Gone will be published with C&R Press in spring 2018.