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On Sue William Silverman’s “Cannibals”

Oct 31 2014

When I studied history I really got to know archives, places that exist for almost no other purpose than discovery, pleasure. The Dominion Review, which held a formidable place in the literary landscape of the 90s, went under several years before the founding of Barely South Review, but we hadn’t consciously reached back to reclaim our journal’s heritage until recently, when managing editor Michael Alessi combed through the special collections at Old Dominion and the University of Wisconsin for old issues of The Dominion Review; as part of an effort to showcase the illustrious heritage of Barely South Review, we will be reprinting some of the stories and poems originally published in the pages of The Dominion Review over a decade ago.

“Cannibals,” by Sue William Silverman, will be the first such story in the series. This approximately four-thousand word story concerns the obsession of an overweight bowling alley attendant, Gregory, for Sheila, a regular who, “before the rape,” had bowled with friends; now, “[s]he always bowled alone.” The ominous repetition “…of the rape” (“before…”; “because…”; etc.) consistently lends a dark cast to the already gothic urban landscape of lonely bowling alleys and apartment blocks in New Jersey, just across the Hudson from glittering, glamorous Manhattan, an unattainable symbol of hope. The story follows Gregory, through whose gaze we get Sheila, wire-thin, hurling bowling balls down the lanes. Gregory’s interest in Sheila becomes our own interest; his curiosity about her eye patch, our curiosity. Gregory feels associative guilt for Sheila’s rape, especially as it happened in the bowling alley parking lot. He could have this, he could have that, he thinks. Since the rape, Gregory hasn’t been able to eat. As his obsession amplifies, the intrigue surrounding Sheila—her eye patch, the knife she now carries, her routines and ascetic thinness—increases in equal measure, until Gregory takes decisive action—involving benevolent Sweet & Sour Pork—a classic—and a house call.

My favorite aspects of Sue William Silverman’s “Cannibals” involve the moody environment of West New York, NJ she builds throughout the story—twilit, industrial (or post-industrial), urban, austere. Almost every scene takes place at night: in the “evenings” Sheila comes to bowl, at “midnight” Gregory gets off work. Besides their lonely tenements and the bowling alley, the only other locales are a late-night diner (“Daisy’s”), a Chinese takeout restaurant (“The Blue Lantern”) and a wistful scene in an idling car atop the Hudson palisades after midnight. The effect, in “Cannibals,” is a picture of human beings stripped to carnality —nourishment, sexual desire, entertainment—and the inevitable intersection and enhancement of these urges in the face of nothing else.

But, as LeVar Burton always says, Don’t take my word for it. You can read Sue William Silverman’s “Cannibals” for yourself in the Fall 2014 Issue here.


Caleb True is an MFA student at Old Dominion University and Assistant Editor of Barely South Review. His fiction has appeared in Sonora Review, Whiskey Island, The Madison Review and many others. Find him online at Calebtrue.tumblr.com.


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