Black Lawrence Press
May 26, 2019

We Have a Winner :: The 2019 Big Moose Prize

The final results of the 2019 Big Moose Prize are in! And the winning manuscript is…

The Book of Lost Light by Ron Nyren

Ron Nyren’s fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, The Missouri Review, The North American Review, Glimmer Train Stories, Mississippi ReviewFourteen Hills, Able MuseDalhousie Review, 100 Word Story, and elsewhere. His stories have been shortlisted for the O. Henry Awards and the Pushcart Prize. He is the coauthor, with his spouse and writing partner Sarah Stone, of Deepening Fiction: A Practical Guide for Intermediate and Advanced Writers, and a former editor of Furious Fictions: The Magazine of Short-Short Stories. Ron earned his MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. He is the recipient of a major Hopwood award, the Farrar Prize in Playwriting, the Roy W. Cowden Memorial Fellowship, and the Andrea Beauchamp prize in short fiction. A former Stegner Fellow, he teaches fiction writing for Stanford University.

 

 

Excerpt from The Book of Lost Light

From the time I was three months old until I was nearly fifteen, my father photographed me every afternoon at precisely three o’clock. When I was an infant, my cousin Karelia held me up for the camera. In later years, I walked on my own to my father’s portrait studio, tossed my cap onto the hat rack, shook hands with customers, and waited for my father. In school, I was known as a strange fellow, daydreaming and bookish, terrible at throwing balls, overly theatrical. But in my father’s studio, I was part of a grand scientific experiment. In one sense, standing at the eye of the Tetrascope was as commonplace for me as washing my face in the morning. In another sense, it was the most significant moment of each day—one more step in the staircase I believed my father would someday ascend to greatness.

When my father called me in, we might exchange a few words, but we would always fall silent as we waited for the clock to strike three. Karelia’s voice drifted in from the reception area as she flirted with a customer to cajole him into buying extra prints or purchasing a more expensive frame. I felt the hour approach as distinctly as if the clock’s hands brushed the nape of my neck.

A few minutes before three, I removed all my clothes and set them on a chair, taking care to avoid shifts of weight that could translate through the floorboards and misalign the mirrors in the Tetrascope’s tubes. The noises of the street below faded—the shouts of paperboys touting news, the clop of horses’ hooves, the infrequent bleat of an automobile horn. I savored the approach to the focal point, the point toward which the Tetrascope’s four lenses bent their forces; it seemed to glow, like a dust fleck in sunlight. I cupped my heels in the white semicircles painted on the floor, and the golden point floated just behind my breastbone.

When I remember my father in those days, I think longingly of his half-smile when Karelia or I said something that bemused him, or of him murmuring to a camera’s broken shutter as he repaired it. He would concentrate as he held up a comparison print to make sure that I kept the same stance as always. “Raise your chin a quarter inch,” he would say, or, “Flatten the left hand a little and bring the thumb in.” I stifled the urge to fidget or make faces.

He finished adjusting the Tetrascope, and I felt myself come fully into alignment, edges sharply defined. It was as if yesterday’s session had only just ended, as if tomorrow’s would immediately follow, a long chain of photographs leading back to before I could remember and forward into all the years of glory to come. Finally, he lifted a finger in the air, and I held my breath until the shutter clicked.

One afternoon, when I was fourteen, and had no idea we were about to lose everything we’d known, he wondered aloud why time passed in only one direction. “If it reversed, would we notice?” he asked. “Or would we forget, second by second, until it began moving forward again?”

I don’t remember if I said anything in response. By then, I had grown self-conscious before the lens, doubtful of the value of his project, uncertain whether he was a genius or a madman. My mind was wandering, and I was restless to be off.

***

Eadweard Muybridge had fired my father a dozen years before I was born, but my father bore him no ill will. In fact, a photograph of Muybridge hung behind the reception desk in my father’s portrait studio. It had been taken at Governor Leland Stanford’s farm in Palo Alto in the summer of 1879. Muybridge stood at one end of a long shed. A long row of assistants—photographers, jockeys, grooms—squatted along the shed’s whitewashed wall, from which protruded the lenses of 24 cameras. At the opposite end stood my father. At first glance, it could be difficult to tell him apart from his employer. Both he and Muybridge had beards reaching to their breastbones, both had their arms folded, their right foot slightly forward—even their hats were alike, though my father’s had a shorter crown, perhaps out of deference to his mentor, and his beard then was black, while Muybridge’s was gray. Like nearly all of my father’s photographs, it was destroyed long ago.

 

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The Book of Lost Light will be published in November of 2020. To see the full list of the 2019 Big Moose Prize finalists, click here.