Small Displacements, by Vanessa Furse Jackson
shortlisted: Randy Lopez Goes Home, by Rudolfo Anaya
JUDGE: Matt Bondurant
The two finalists for the 2011 awards are immediately notable for their vastly different subject matter, writing style, structure, settings, and nearly every other narrative choice. But Rudolfo Anaya’s Randy Lopez Goes Home and Vanessa Furse Jackson’s Small Displacements do have some commonalities. Each author is clearly dedicated to the themes of loss, memory, keeping the dead alive, and the search for truth in the wake of death. They also both come to the same general conclusion in very different ways.
Randy Lopez Goes Home is a sprawling, mythic tale, in which a lone traveler seeks his origins, meeting persons from the annals of literary history, folklore, and ancient legend, as well as individuals from his own past. This is a novel about seeking true knowledge, about reconciliation, and ultimately about love; gained and then lost. It is a also a book that is firmly rooted in the settings and cultures of the southwest, light and heat, desert, cactus, mountain, evoking the intersection of Chicano and white civilizations, the meeting point of the Americas.
The setting of Small Displacements is the damp, chilly, environs of England, shadowy gardens, thatched roofs, rain on the windowpanes, a single footpath through a dark graveyard. The characters busy themselves with the simple and sometimes mundane aspects of living, however each bearing a singular burden that cannot be denied, not forever. In Jackson’s stories people meet for tea, they take the long tube ride into London, they walk the dog in the waning afternoon, conveyed in a classic literary style that is lyrical, richly drawn, and pierced with an emotional tenderness for the characters that is incredibly affecting. Loss comes for them all swiftly and without mercy. One of the constants in these stories is people – often older people near the end of life – talking to their deceased loved ones. The lessons learned are acute and painful, and so true. The dead never leave us.
Vanessa Furse Jackson has written an astonishing little collection of tales, so quaint, English, almost even unfashionable by current literary trends. These are stories almost completely free of irony, without glibness or conceit, and employing the literary devices of Forster and Woolf. The title of the collection is its most ironic act, as of course these are no mere small displacements, rather these are gorgeously written, heartrending stories of human beings making their way in this world and finding truth, despite its terrible costs. Small Displacements is the winner of the 2011 PEN Texas Southwest Book Award for Fiction.