Something in My Eye, Michael Jeffrey Lee
Winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction
Selected by Francine Prose
Michael Jeffrey Lee's stories are bizarre and smart and stilted, like dystopic fables told by a redneck Samuel Beckett. Outcasts hunker under bridges, or hole up in bars, waiting for the hurricane to hit. Lee's forests are full of menace too-unseen crowds gather at the tree-line, and bands of petty crooks and marauders bluster their way into suicidal games of one-upmanship. In Something In My Eye, violence and idleness are always in tension, ratcheting up and down with an eerie and effortless force. Diction leaps between registers with the same vertiginous swoops, moving from courtly formality to the funk and texture of a slang that is all the characters' own. It's a masterful performance, and Lee's inventiveness accomplishes that very rare feat-hyper-stylized structure and language that achieve clarity out of turbulence, never allowing technique to obscure what's most important: a direct address that makes visible all those we'd rather not see. As one character puts it, "this is me keeping my chin up, by the way."
Michael Jeffrey Lee lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he earns his living as a typist, a waiter, and a nightclub singer. A frequent contributor to Conjunctions, he is also an Associate Fiction Editor at the New Orleans Review. He is at work on a novel.
PRAISE FOR SOMETHING IN MY EYE:
I am scared by these stories. But, as Jean Cocteau’s Belle tells her Beast, J’aime avoir peur. I like to be scared. These dark and beautiful tales offer a terrible thrill, a creepy adventure into the land of fairy-tale madmen. In Lee’s world, they’re just some bummed out regular guys, rendered in the most mealy and exquisite prose. I like to be scared by them, by this talent.
—Kate Bernheimer, author of Horse, Flower, Bird
"Relevant, startling, and irresistible, Michael Jeffrey Lee's own unique brand of black humor makes for an extraordinary experience."
"Three or four stories into Michael Jeffrey Lee’s Something in My Eye—I believe it was right after I read the phrase, “The motel had complimentary toilet paper”—I became aware of feeling what I can only describe as a rush of gratitude, pure and simple. I was drawn to Michael Jeffrey Lee’s line-up of loners and drifters, imperiled children and haunted psychos neither because I want to hang out with these bad boys, nor because I plan to cross the street when I see them coming, but because the invitation to inhabit their minds, to see the world through their eyes, and to watch their often unsettling stories play out in space and time enables Lee to do all sorts of extremely interesting things with consciousness and language."
—From the introduction by Francine Prose