During the Covid-19 era, escape has proven more difficult and perhaps, as a result, more craved than in “normal” times.
Given booming book sales since March 2020, evidently many people have achieved escape through imaginary means: armchair tourism of a sort more accessible than plane travel and foreign holidays.
Of course, there has been not just escapism to seek, but suffering to escape from as well. The series of lockdowns has forced unhappy couples to confront insurmountable differences perhaps more successfully ignored in ordinary times, when socialising with friends or disappearing to the golf course were distractions taken for granted. More seriously, rates of domestic violence have risen, with some women and children finding themselves dangerously confined with violent men.
Several contributors to this summer’s Escape issue have directly engaged with consequences of the coronavirus. Heather Holland Wheaton, in her opening story “I Wrote My Name on the Back of the Sky”, imagines a Covid-era opportunity to escape, quite literally, into great works of art. For a non-fiction take on transcending lockdown isolation, Alexandra O’Sullivan explores venturing into virtual reality with her son in her essay “Into the Net”.
Family dynamics and relationship breakdowns connect much of the work, not just in terms of people extricating themselves from marital bonds, but with regard to separation’s effect upon children as well. Jim Toal’s story “The Only Child” charts the experience of a boy sent to stay with his uncle near a remote coast while his parents hash out their divorce elsewhere. In “Saturday Night”, by Angelita Bradney, a rare date night combined with an accident at home pushes one woman to acknowledge the truth about her marriage.
A last-ditch holiday to repair a couple’s relationship following unbearable tragedy proves the final nail in the coffin in Colin Dunne’s “The Human Tower”. The issue’s second non-fiction piece, “Bittersweet” by Jennifer Furner, examines the conflicting tensions of early motherhood and the sense of guilt at needing time away from a young child.
At the more light-hearted end of the spectrum, a hapless holidaymaker finds himself caught up in a marital spat in Anthony Kane Evans’ “Faustine”, while the protagonist of “Meat” is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice in Kate Venables’ vision of the zombie apocalypse.
The Escape issue happens to begin and end with the only two pieces featuring neither family nor romantic relationships. Michael Pacheco wraps up the edition with his prison tale, “The Breakout Artist”, whose inmates find ways out other than over the jailhouse walls.
Throughout this edition’s pages, the poets (James McDermott, John Davis, Amy Malloy, Ann Weil, Sarah O’Connor and Beth McDonough) inject sharp jolts of insight, exhilaration and levity. Last but not least, the 2021 Short Story Competition winner, Lucy Thompson, drips a trail of sticky suspense through her compelling tale, “Honey”.
As it happens, Thompson’s story also fits the Escape theme: a woman trapped by her husband’s coercive control finds a most unusual source of liberation – and revenge. For a truly inventive way to flee an undesirable situation, look no further than this year’s winning tale.
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The 2021 Poetry Competition is now open to entries, and the theme for the winter 2022 issue will be announced imminently – stay tuned!