‘Song for the Unraveling of the World’ by Brian Evenson

As a reader, I tear through Evenson’s stories with relish, finding enjoyment in being repeatedly unnerved—how will he get under my skin this time? And as a writer, I find his work offers valuable craft lessons, challenging, for instance, the notion that for fiction to be successful it must include a protagonist who undergoes some sort of change. In an interview with BOMB magazine, Evenson said, “It so rarely happens that people actually change in a meaningful way. I’ve always been a little skeptical of character development, but then what do you do with fiction? My sense is that maybe it’s about conveying mental states and changing the reader.” His characters may not evolve, but their situations often do, and for the worse; they dwell in realities whose troubling instability does seem to infect the reader, too, by the end. In this story, a missing daughter’s voice seems to emanate from the walls of a house. Her parents, no longer together, have radically different ideas about what’s behind her disappearance. The story gives us access only to the father’s interiority; according to him, he woke up that morning to find her gone. But as he searches for her, hearing her eerie singing but unable to pinpoint its source, we enter “Tell-Tale Heart” territory, and his account of events becomes suspect. Is he a frantic, devoted father or a monster? Why not both? 

First published in Bourbon Penn #15, 2018 and collected in Song for the Unraveling of the World, Coffee House, 2019

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