September 7, 2016: “Come on the Hike” by Gabe Durham

Hey there, Story366I It’s Wednesday and it’s late. I don’t have much to exclaim about today—I mean, I could dig for something … but it’s late—so I think I’ll head right into today’s book and story.

I published a couple of stories by Gabe Durham in Mid-American Review right before I left Bowling Green in 2012. In fact, we published those two stories in back-to-back issues, as somehow, we took one that we had for a long time and then it held over, and right when I was leaving, Durham sent another one and I wanted to squeeze it in the last issue for which I’d be Editor-in-Chief. So, pretty strange to have long stories in back-to-back issues of a magazine, but this author pulled that off. Quite the feat.

Right after that, I ran into Durham at AWP in Seattle, where he was sitting at the Publishing Genius table, signing copies of Fun Camp. I assumed, for a long time after AWP, that Fun Camp had those two stories from MAR inside, because, you know, that’s how things work: You publish stories in journals and then you put those in a collection. And you know how AWP goes: You pick up a huge stack of books and put them aside, chipping away at the pile, one by one (which is why I got Story366 going, if you’ll recall, because of over a decade of stacks), until you get to everything. I did notice earlier this year that Fun Camp is made up entirely of one or two-page shorts. That’s cool for a couple of reasons: 1) I love shorts; 2) Gabe Durham’s book with those two longer MAR stories is still to come.

Like any book of shorts, it’s hard to pick just one piece to focus on, as I like all of the pieces I’ve read and I’ve read around twenty-five so far. Alas, I’m a slave to tradition, so I’m picking one piece, “Come on the Hike,” as it’s about hiking and I hike, my family hikes, and I go on hikes with the Cub Scouts that I lead. The story’s told in a first person to second person imperative, meaning there’s a first-person narrator (though the pronoun “I” is never used, just implied) giving commands to another person, a “you.” In other words, someone’s telling someone what to do, and that thing they’re telling someone to do is to go on a hike. What makes this story—just one paragraph, one page—so interesting is the voice and the tone, an adult (a camp counselor named Dave shows up in other stories, so it might be him narrating this one) talking to a kid, joking around, prodding him into doing something he clearly doesn’t want to do. Not only that, he gets all descriptive and poetic as he does so, inciting some muse of beautiful prose along the way. This is no mere camp counselor, but some great poet (i.e., Durham) egging a lad into the sunshine.

But again, this is just one page, one story, out over a hundred. What’s key to realize is that Durham’s stories are funny, poking at the same kind of summer camp stock legends and familiar characters that we see in a movie like Meatballs or is parodied in Wet Hot American Summer. Kids miss their parents. Kids cry. Kids make crafts. Counselors smoke. Counselors make out with each other. Parents, eventually, have to be called. And that’s just the stories about camp—some pieces have nothing to do with camp, like a weird/cool moral dilemma story, “Ice-Breaker,” about a guy in an elevator getting an offer to capture a goat for a beautiful woman so she can sacrifice it to Satan. Fun Camp is eclectic, but it does come around to this camp satire, which is growing-up satire, which is human satire, over and over again. I loved every short I read in this book and look forward to reading the rest.

Gabe Durham is a really talented author. He writes traditionally lengthed stories. He writes shorts. He’s also the editor of Boss Fight Books, that nonfiction series about classic video games. He’s a real talent, a real contributor to the literary community.