Frank Bill may have said it best when he said that Eric Shonkwiler “has an eye for detail and a lot of heart. His words stay with you.”
I picked up Shonkwiler’s collection of novellas and stories, Moon Up, Past Full, when I was in Washington DC in 2017 for AWP. For the rest of the year, the book sat at the top of my to-read pile, but I was having a hard time reading anything. When I finally picked the book up this week, it was like taking a shot of good whiskey—smoother than you could hope for and over quicker than you want it to be.
I admire this book and Shonkwiler’s writing so much. His stories are perfectly balanced between character and action. His imagery is great. His language has some beautifully poetic turns but is also perfectly precise. So much happens in each story that even the shorter pieces feel completely developed and novelistic in scope. However, it is in the longer works in this collection where Shonkwiler really shines.
The longest piece in the collection, “GO21,”—an apocalypse-type story that I didn’t want to end—was also one of my favorites. The story works on so many levels. It’s a must read.
Another favorite was the story, “Rene,” originally serialized in three parts online at Fiddleblack. Rene is a young woman on a horse with a sick mother. Like all of Shonkwiler’s stories, the complications keep adding up as the story goes along. Unlike most of the other pieces, Shonkwiler is exploring issues of race and class in this story. I highly recommend you click the link and read the story for yourself.
It’s not by any means one of the longest stories in the collection, but “My Wakeup” is probably my absolute favorite of these stories. The story was originally published online at Splinter Generation, and again, I recommend you read it now. Like Shonkwiler’s other work, this story is detailed and deceptively simple. It starts off with Geier, an Iraq war vet, on his return home from the base in Kuwait. Once back and unsure of what to do with himself, he hooks up with another former soldier, Jones, and the two take a road trip cross country. Some of the drinking and drugging and whoring might be predicable, but (like all of Shonkwiler’s stories) the feeling behind it all feels tragically sincere which makes it unique. And beautiful. And well worth the read.
For more about Eric Shonkwiler and his writing, check out his webpage: http://www.ericshonkwiler.com/. Follow him on Twitter: @eshonkwiler