July 7, 2016: “Bugout” by Jon Trobaugh

Hello, Story366! I’m here in Fayetteville, doing the solo thing for a few days, recharging the batteries, catching up, trying to get the fiction-writing back on track. So far so good, as I’ve finished two stories, but have been reminded that it’s tough to find places to send in July, most editors hibernating for the summer. I’ve never done that, at either Mid-American Review or at Moon City Review, always wanting to take submissions year-round, specifically for the purpose of scoring summertime submissions when no one else (practically) was taking. I never ran any numbers on how many of my acceptances had been submitted during the summer, if my ploy had indeed worked, but I like to think that it did.

Not that I blame editors for taking some time off, giving them time to catch up. It’s an interesting world, lit mag editing, constantly receiving submissions, having to spend an intimate period with them, and 99 percent of the time, rejecting them. Writers put their trust in us, then we give of ourselves to them via time and mental focus. More often than not, we have to disappoint. It’s a rough world, mainly for the writer, but also for the editor. I wish it worked differently, that writing was some magical devotion in which everyone who put in the time and effort could be rewarded. It’s just not. It’s grueling, and the only thing that keeps us going are those 1 percent of writers—I’ll avoid calling them “1 percenters,” for fear of that association—with whom we get to have this wonderful connection, a happy, professional contract that has in many cases turned into a lifelong relationship, even if it’s just a Like on FB or a nod at AWP. That type of energy somehow trumps all the disappointment that goes with the rejection. It’s a non-stop cycle, though, and is exhausting. I envy those editors who choose to shut the door, turn the OPEN sign to CLOSED before shutting off the lights. Since I’m trying to build readership and a submission base at MCR, I haven’t done that, but maybe one day.

Still, I haven’t sent stories out since I Will Love You … came out last year, though I’ve been writing, revising, and researching journals. Time to get back in the game, take a shot at that 1 percent.

This Fayetteville retreat has certainly helped, but I’ve sworn to maintain the blog, so here I am. I brought five books with me, hoping to get a little bit ahead, and one of those books is Jon Trobaugh’s chapbook L’Anguille, an impressive little bundle of three stories from Folded Word Chapbooks, who has an ongoing series of these. I had Jon in some online workshops some time last decade, the third such person from these workshops to be featured at Story366 after Kelly Fordon and Tamara Linse. So happy to see Jon have this success and to read his book.

And wouldn’t you know it, when I posted about Suzanne Kamata yesterday, mentioning Fayetteville, Jon IMed me and told me he lives in Fayetteville and offered advice on where to eat, where to get a drink, and where to procure prostitu … church. Forget advice, said I. Jon and I are getting drinks later tonight at George’s Majestic Lounge. I thought this might mark the first time I’ve ever seen/hung out with a Story366 author the day their story was reviewed, but then again, it’s not. I had drinks with Dave Housely at AWP right after I wrote about him, and also hung out with Phong Nguyen and Trudy Lewis when Trudy and I read for Phong at UCM, me planning their posts to coincide. It would be cool, I think, to have drinks with the writer I write about every day, sort of combining what I’ve been doing with that Jerry Seinfeld project. Then again, that’s not just silly—I’m lucky to get the blog done. Most nights, if the writer called me up, asked me to go out for a beer, that they were in Springfield, I’d most likely tell them I had to go to bed, that they couldn’t get blood from a stone, and hang up.

So, I guess I better be pretty nice in my post today, lest Jon and I have a really awkward drink together. That, by the way, isn’t a problem, as I don’t feature writers or books or stories I don’t enjoy (I’ve had to pass on a few this year). Plus, Jon’s a good writer and I was eager to dig in. I read all three stories in L’Anguille, because why wouldn’t ? Trobough’s worlds are all best described as gritty, all realistic places where the sheen has long since been rubbed off, most of the people never having a sheen to begin with. The title story, “L’Anguille,” is about a kid, hanging out with an older, tougher, more delinquent kid, the pair discovering the corpse of his missing girlfriend floating in the titular river, her body in advanced stages of decomposition. The second story, “Weeds,” is about a kid whose mother is on an abusive alcoholic rampage. The third, today’s focus, “Bugout,” is also about a kid, giving Trobaugh a theme. He writes about these real, gritty worlds, and when they come at us through the eyes of kids, I think they come off as all the more horrible, all the more soul-crushing. We can read their innocence steam away as they experience these events.I’m sure that’s no coincidence, rather, what the author wants us to see.

“Bugout” is about a little girl, Stacey, whose parents wake her up so they can get the heck out of their trailer park, bug out of town. They live near a nuclear reactor and the sirens and the EBN notices are begging everyone to evacuate. The mom is the Sunday school teacher at their Baptist church and she’s been preaching from Revelations as of late, this eminent meltdown obviously the form that God’s wrath has taken. The dad is more pragmatic, a janitor at the plant, who just thinks there’s been an accident. Both recognize what’s at stake. Stacey is rushed out in the middle of the night, a bag of clothes in her mother’s other arm, a bag that doesn’t include a coat, which is too bad, as it’s snowing and freezing, a cold reception for the end of the world. Mom has grabbed her own little mutt while dad has grabbed his Stratocaster, and off they go in their sixties VW Bug, leaving Stacey’s pet rabbit behind, because rabbits don’t have souls, says Mom, which is too bad for Stacey, too bad for that rabbit.

And that’s the setup for this story, caught full-on en medias res, no preface, no backstory, little ever offered. The story is ugly and gloomy and chaotic, but Trobaugh injects a beauty amidst the pending doom, a rush of details and characteristics that paint a clear picture from the get-go. After a page or two, the mom and dad are solid, three-dimensional characters, while poor Stacey is unreliable in her youth, but still sympathetic as her world—meager as it was—disappears behind her. Plus, it should be noted that there’s no sense, throughout the story, if they’re going to make it: The Bug might drive ten miles down the road and still get incinerated by the explosion, perhaps melted by the fallout. That’s a high-stakes clock, making “Bugout” tense and intense, a real orchestration of intensity.

Trobough includes some other characters the family runs into on their way out of town, and given that the story’s only ten pages long, that’s ambitious. The whole thing seems like a microcosm of a road story, the journey lasting only a couple of miles, a few pages. Still, it feels as full as Jamie Poissant’s “The Heaven of Animals,” a forty-page road story I wrote about the other day. Trobaugh is economical with his words, generous with his details, and in the end, has himself a truly fantastic story.

So, I think this post may have earned me a barstool next Jon, no reason to take things outside and settle it like men. I’m not really in the mood to get punched, so that’s good. Maybe that’s the formula for every review: Drive to the writer’s town, post the review online, then schedule a meet-up for later that night. Reviews would be a lot nicer, I’d bet. Jon Trobaugh didn’t need that help, though, as his little book is nothing short of amazing, perhaps the greatest three stories ever written in English or any other language (okay, now I just want him to pick up the tab).

Jon Trobaugh


3 thoughts on “July 7, 2016: “Bugout” by Jon Trobaugh

  1. As a jog to both our memories… I believe you helped me at Missouri State all through the very day and evening that you so kindly posted about “Some Kinds of Love: Stories” on this excellent blog. Fool that I am, I had to pass on the drinks. A pack of hounds had awakened me in the pit of the previous night in Fayetteville, and by that evening I was shattered. Thank you again for the sustaining and shepherding. And of course thanks for Story366!


  2. Pingback: July 8: “How to Fall” by Edith Pearlman – Story366

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