Bakeless Fiction Judge Percival Everett
Strongly imagined, finely controlled and well-crafted. These stories are good because they are true, true in that way that only good fiction can be.
author of After Marita Golden
Belle Boggs infuses these stories of sometimes hardscrabble, dreams-deferred lives with a finely crafted, absolutely confident elegance. Boggs is a writer who knows how deep and how hard we can love and live. Her characters are too real to ever forget.
author of The Favorites Mary Yukari Waters
Belle Boggs is an immensely gifted writer, and this is a remarkable debut collection-each nuance of emotion, of insight, of dialogue and character, is pitch-perfect and surprisingly resonant.
The Mattaponi River is the confluence of three rivers and is also the stunning metaphor for a place where three races have lived inextricable histories for generations. Indeed, the stories in Mattaponi Queen gather like converging waters until the narrative world is coursing and undeniable. A few lives leak away from the Mattaponi, others never leave its banks, but character and place are one in this world so unapologetically evoked by Belle Boggs' beautiful, direct prose, and tension is not so much a few events as it is a constancy that is occasionally emerged from, the water moccasin head above the water . . . and then not . . .
author of A Million Nightingales Susan Straight
Mattaponi Queen was one of the best things I've read all year. I looked forward each night to a new story, and by the end, felt as if I'd been sitting in a car or on a porch with a cousin or neighbor, listening to how things went wrong, or how they could have gone right, or how they might still look up. The setting was so perfectly rendered that I saw the river, the dirt roads, the woods, and most of all, the way each character moved in that landscape. The interwoven stories remind me of Annie Proulx crossed with Ernest Gainesthe dry humor, the understatement, and the wonderful dialogue that sounds as if I'm hearing it while sitting on a folding chair in a yard.
Boggs's sure-footed debut collection, winner of the Bakeless Prize for Fiction, is set on and around the Mattaponi Indian reservation in Virginia. The Mattaponi is formed by the confluence of four small rivers, and the author employs it deftly as a metaphorical merging of working-class folks of every race and ethnicity. She braids the stories together with recurrent characters and locales, but the stories nimbly evade the first-collection pitfall of too much sameness. The recurrent figures include Loretta, the caretaker for a cranky white octogenarian named Cutie. Loretta is biding her time and planning her retirement, which she'll spend on the small, old-fashioned boat that gives the collection its title, a boat being lovingly rehabbed by a solitary guy named Mitchell, who gave it to his ex-wife as an extravagant present and for whom the boat is now both an emblem of lovelessness and the only thing he has to lavish love on. There's the school principal, also lonesome, who gets cajoled into holding a Career Day, then is flummoxed because she "had honestly thought their county could produce more careers than four," by far the most lucrative of these being the ownership of a McDonald's. Her search for broader horizons leads her first to seek out a musician ex-boyfriend who tours the country's amusement parks with Patti LaBelle, then back home to a sweet-tempered, travel-loving policeman who becomes her beau. The stories are not heavily plotted, and Boggs doesn't always find satisfying exits, but even in those that seem to tread closest to cliche, for instance the one about the aging husband who announces that he wants a sex-change operation ("Jonas"), she writes with subtlety, empathy and command, so that every page features small surprises: jolts of recognition, pungent dialogue, keen observations. Unfussy, understated and richly varied stories-a promising debut.
Read an Excerpt
By now, [the shad] would have been baking for hours, the bones soft and gelatinous in the tough salty flesh. Ronnie could almost taste it, intense and rare, not like food at all. It was like love, she thought. Something you thought you should have until it was right there in front of you and you realized you were committed to it whole. —from “Good News for a Hard Time”