I have to interrupt this eventful brief hiatus again to announce that my short story “White Girl,” first published in summer 2016 in the now-defunct Amaranth Review, appears once more, free to read in its entirety, at Expat Press’s website. Please click here to read it. If you have read it and would like, for various reasons, to have me fired, prosecuted, run off the Internet, or otherwise personally annihilated, please scroll below the image for a brief explanation of my constructive goals in writing so potentially inflammatory a tale.
I wrote “White Girl” in 2014. It came out of my first experiences, online and off-, with the seemingly new phenomenon of militant young people eventually derided as “social justice warriors.” They were only new in that they appeared after a long period of political quiescence in American life, but their predecessors recur throughout the modern period, as readers of 19th-century Russian novels will recall. I wrote the story because realistic fiction exists to portray with comprehensive attention, with cold sympathy and hot critique, the compelling people and events of its time. I originally titled it “An Unsigned Confession,” which I thought sounded like Dostoevsky.
I was convinced it would never be published because most journal editors, who increasingly seem to be younger than I am, would just take it as a curmudgeonly satire on the political left, never mind that I could hardly have written the story if some part of me didn’t sympathize with its protagonists. But I did find a receptive audience in the fiction editor of The Amaranth Review, who edited it thoroughly and intelligently and also proposed the catchier title “White Girl.” (I don’t know if she’d like to be named in connection with this story three years on, so I’ll leave her anonymous here.)
I was anxious about its publication, thinking I might be “cancelled” by members of the left, but it was published very shortly after the Dallas police shootings (when I knew for an absolute certainty that Trump would be elected, by the way). Perennially paranoid, I was now sure the political right would come for me! I wrote a nervous introduction to the story on this website, since deleted but most of which I reproduce below:
“White Girl” is a short story in the form of a confession about the political assassination of a police officer by his own daughter. While I wrote it about two years ago out of a sense of looming civil strife, I did not imagine that it would be published in a summer when something like the violence it describes is actually occurring. Just to be on the safe side, let me be clear that I am in no way endorsing such violence (my own belief is that so-called revolutionary or radical violence usually either reinforces whatever authority it presumes to oppose or turns its perpetrators into just the kind of people they set out to resist).
My purpose was to investigate through fiction what it might look like if some of the merely verbal radicalism that circulates today were to be taken with absolute seriousness; and to portray with fictional vividness (and a certain defamiliarization) a new social type, so far inadequately labelled as “the social justice warrior,” a fascinating Internet-age amalgam of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s or Charles Dickens’s sentimental, domestic, middle-class woman and the Dostoevskean-Conradian-DeLilloesque male gnostic terrorist.
I still stand by all of the above. In reality, not that many people read literary journals, so no one, right or left, did anything to me at all. Today, I can only repeat that my goal was neither to satirize nor to advocate, but only to describe. This is how I understand the vocation of fiction-writing. As Chekhov said in an 1890 letter:
You would have me, when I describe horse-thieves, say: “Stealing horses is an evil.” But that has been known for ages without my saying so. Let the jury judge them; it’s my job simply to show what sort of people they are.
“White Girl” is probably best read as if it were set around 2014. Youth culture has, in my experience, moved on—and probably moved a bit to the right, or at least back toward the aforementioned political quiescence. This is, whether we like it or not, only to be expected in a time when the political left presents itself in the cultural realm as a wagging finger like the Moral Majority of old, and without even the sublimity of my story’s anti-heroine.
Again, you can read “White Girl” here—if you like it, please feel free to Tweet it, write about it, or otherwise let people know (and feel free even if you hate it, as long as you spell my name right). Thanks to Expat Press and Manuel Marrero for bringing Carly and her nameless protégé to life once again.