Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Who's Your Daddy?

"Famous Fathers," a story by Pia Z. Ehrhardt that appeared in Narrative Magazine last year, is one of ten finalists for storySouth's 2006 Million Writers Award. This story already won the Narrative Prize, a $4,000 tip of the hat awarded annually for the best story by a new or emerging writer in Narrative Magazine.

In "Famous Fathers," Ehrhardt plays to her strength: the confusing and complicated relationships between fathers and daughters. Katie, a girl on the cusp of 18, seeks the attention and love of her father, the somewhat imperious mayor of Texadelphia. The story begins:
My father is the mayor of Texadelphia,
so he gets to work early and stays late in his
wood-paneled office with red leather couches.
A window looks out on a small green square with
a fountain and some park benches. On the tile
floor in front of his desk is the mayoral seal, and
everyone steps around it like it’s religious. I’d like
to remind them he’s just a man, but his office
impresses me too. When I’m in there it’s easy to
feel like a voter and not a daughter.
That confused relationship lies at the heart of the story. Is Katie a voter or a daughter, a girl or a woman? Exactly what does she want from her father? Her friends speak openly of using their nascent sexuality to get the attention of (and manipulate) their own fathers, and encourage Katie to do the same. Katie does eventually win her father's attention, but not without cost.

Ehrhardt's prose is focused, flawless and unobtrusive. She never overwrites, never resorts to trickery, never pushes for effect. She tells the story and stays out of the way. It's easy to forget, when we become overly attuned to the technical aspects of craft, that solid prose remains the fiction writer's first, best tool. But ultimately you have to pick the right words and put them in the right order.

This story is an easy pick for the Million Writers Award. I've already cast my vote.