‘Off Days’ by Shane Jones

For me, there isn’t a version of this list that doesn’t include Shane Jones. He’s been seminal to my work in ways large and small. I didn’t start writing until around the time this story was published, late 2015-ish. Although I wasn’t personally writing, I was at least somewhat familiar with contemporary literature, and was a fan of the variety and compelling charm of Jones’s novels. Around the time this story was published, I had also become a volunteer reader for the Adroit Journal, and I found that ‘Off Days’ unlocked something for me – it showed the possibilities existing in short and flash fiction. It’s the perfect blend of playful and heartbreaking. The dialogue in the story had a massive influence on my own work (much like the other stories Jones was publishing around this time).

“Geez,” says Ted during the car ride back home, “another off day.”

“You’ve been having a lot of those,” says Gina. “Maybe cut back on the soup.”

“No way,” says Ted. “The soup works.”

I am a huge lover of dialogue that is flippant, and of characters that are outwardly confident, even as they’re eroding. This story helped me navigate my attempts at telling serious stories in playful ways – that you don’t have to be doom and gloom in your process of exploring doom and gloom. ‘Off Days’ showcases a tongue-in-cheek, lovable approach to the passage of time, to the gentle corruption of our bodies and minds. There is a moment late in the story when Ted smashes open a dragon fruit with his cane, and cries upon seeing its insides, realizing he’s gone his entire life without having seen the inside of the fruit. I return to that moment frequently when writing. Where’s my dragon fruit? What will it release in me?

Originally published in The Adroit Journal, 2016. Read the story here

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