From Battleborn by Claire Vayne Watkins, short listed for The 2013 Frank O'Connor international Award
If you ever want to read a new to you short story writer but don't quite know what you feel like reading, a not bad idea is to search out short stories by authors short listed for the Frank O'Connor International Award for best short story collection of the year. Claire Vaye Watkins' debut collection Battleborn was short listed in 2013.
"The Diggings" is set in California during the California Gold Rush, circa 1849. Two brothers from Ohio, meant to signify settled America, inherit enough money from their father to head out for the California Gold Fields in search of instant wealth on finding a nugget as big as your fist. One of the brothers is in love with a local woman and hopes to win her family's approval once he strikes it big. The trip out west is an archetype of American horror and perseverance. The time in the gold fields is part of the legends of the old west genre but Watkins depicts it so magnificently that we transcend this. The two brothers are very different. There is madness, murder, greed, bear baiting, and xenophobia enough to fire up a much longer dark dream of America. This is not the vision of American exceptionalism touted by political candidates. It is part of America's vision of the heart of darkness, of cultures unknown to fools destroyed, of an enviorment ruined, of lives ruled by greed, of profound loneliness at the bottom of a pit. "The Diggings" is a great short story. I hope to read her full collection soon.
I read this work in New American Short Stories, edited by Ben Marcus, forthcoming 2015. The bio below comes from there.
Claire Vaye Watkins is the author of Battleborn, winner of the Story Prize, the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. Her stories and essays have appeared in Granta, One Story, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Best of the West 2011, Best of the Southwest 2013, and elsewhere. A graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno and the Ohio State University, Claire teaches at Bucknell University.