2007 Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction winner: judge’s comments

(The following was written by Joan Givner, the final judge of the 2007 Far Horizons Award for Short Fiction, about Matthew J. Trafford’s “Past Perfect”.)

Judging a short story competition is a daunting task, since we all know how subjective literary judgments can be. I always dread a prolonged period of indecision ended by a final choice that I’m not quite sure about. I’m therefore very grateful to the winner of this competition for making an immediate and confident choice possible.

On first reading, I was attracted by the brisk clarity of the style, the sense of assured control it conveys, and the emotional range from playfulness to pathos. The wit is admirably understated, unlike the strained, trying-to-be-funny, heavy use of larky one-liners that is so common these days.

Dylan, the young protagonist, flees a yard sale of the material possessions of his dying husband (“Thank you Bill C-38”) to embark on an odyssey around other yard sales, reminiscing all the while on yard sales past. Their opposing attitudes to the sales--the husband’s materialistic, Dylan’s more humane and romantic—define their characters and focus Dylan’s doubts about their relationship. Yet the whimsical purchase of a statuette with a grotesquely exaggerated phallus nudges the husband out of his illness-induced silence, and allows him to make an utterance that Dylan takes as an affirmation of love.

Thus the writer has seized upon the spare details from Robin Skelton’s notes—the yard sale and the statuette—to use them not merely as springboards for a set of events but as resonant poetic images that ripple and spread, opening up the story to its many levels of meaning. So, while it makes an immediate impact, further readings lead to the contemplation of memory, sexuality, gay relationships, and on the limitations we all suffer from in producing and comprehending language. And that’s quite an achievement in so short a story.