Something for a young writer: Bennington's Genevieve Plunkett has been noticed by serious literary journals

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BENNINGTON >> The poet E.E. Cummings once wrote: "i am a little church, no great cathedral/far from the squalor of hurrying cities/i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest/i am not sorry when sun and rain make april"

Metaphorically, the same can be said of Bennington author Genevieve Plunkett, who has made a recent splash in highly regarded literary journals. The promising critical reception of her short stories begs the question: can a major publisher be in her future?

Clearly, someone thinks so. Since last September, Plunkett has published "Schematic," in Willow Springs, Issue 77, "Something For a Young Woman," in New England Review, Issue 36.3, and "Get Gregory Out," in Mud Season Review, Issue 12. "The Rodeo" will appear this June in The Massachusetts Review.

As any aspiring fiction writer will attest, perhaps even with envy: that's a lot of work in print in short order. Still, like Cummings' little church, this Bennington native remains far from the frenetic pace of the typical urban literary scene.

Plunkett, 29, has been intermittently writing through Mount Anthony Union High School, Bennington College, marriage to her husband Robert, a deputy state's attorney, working as an editor at Sante Magazine, and now motherhood to son Wilson, 4 and daughter Frances, 2.

But it was only more recently that Plunkett returned to her passion with commitment.

"With the exception of 'The Rodeo,' all my stories were written in the last two and a half years," Plunkett said. "I started writing every day when my daughter was born, literally, in the hospital bed. I am still learning largely through failure. I do hope that I figure out either how to make fewer mistakes, or how to hide them better."

Plunkett's humility is palpable, and her knowledge of disappointment legion: over the years 'The Rodeo' had been rejected at least 20 times before the latest version finally found a home.

It's perhaps this relentless drive to revise her work that gives Plunkett's eye a lens of detail through which she shows us something about a character, rather than just telling.

In "Something For a Young Woman," for example, Plunkett writes of Allison tending shop while her employer is on vacation. In one short paragraph, she establishes the girl's self-image as well as Allison's standing with the absent boss while referring to tedious matters and past employees, and setting up future interactions:

"She worked diligently while he was away, even though she was alone and could have easily spent the time reading books or using the phone. She even dusted the stuffed emu that had remained unsold for so long that it had acquired a name, chosen by the girl who worked there before her, who had occasionally been mentioned by the owner with unwavering neutrality."

That seems like a simple descriptive passage, but it's really the stuff of big leagues. The language isn't ostentatious, but rather quietly lyrical. It flows with unaffected words, their whole far greater than any individual part.

We see more virtuosity in "Get Gregory Out," where Plunkett speaks to that visceral thing which makes us all human. There, from her window, Patty watches a bizarre crowd gathering while Warren runs outside to address a false scare.

"She wouldn't see the expressions of stunned silence, the line of police cars, flashing blue against the white snow banks, as if there were still an emergency. Or the expressions of outrage that followed real fear. She wouldn't see Warren's face, turned up toward the window, like a dog that has been cast out for the last time."

In those few sentences, Plunkett also confirms her mastery at ending a story – arguably its most important part – while leaving a haunting echo in the reader's ear.

With a dozen short stories written, and a novel now in its nascent stages, Plunkett's family remains her priority. Plunkett often has her hands full, literally, with her children, when she is writing. She added that putting herself out there is essential to her craft.

"Most of my writing is driven by a chronic need to feel exposed," Plunkett said. "I would make a terrible criminal, for example, because I would always be leaving little hints behind at the crime scene, desperate to be caught."

If that's the case, and her stories are scattered clues, Plunkett's talent has been captured, tried, and found gifted.

Still, emerging young writers need time to develop, and this small-town author with big time talent is no different. But based on her stories so far, and since publishers are always looking for fresh voices, in the near future one of them just might give Genevieve Plunkett the keys to a cathedral.

— Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist


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