For this week’s highlight, we’re heading all the way back to March, 2019 to catch up with Shannon Sanders’ s “The Good, Good Men,” from the excellent literary magazine Puerto del Sol. (PDS’s “Black Voice Series”).
“The Good, Good Men” was a 2020 winner of the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers and will be featured in BEST DEBUT SHORT STORIES 2020.”
“Lee herself, crying and wringing her hands in the corner of the room, had been easy to ignore; each brother had a lifetime’s practice.”(Line from “the Good, Good Men” describing a delicate relationship between mother and sons)
This week I’m cheating with the format of our recommendation series, to go back in time a year to the publication of the excellent “The Good, Good Men,” by author and lawyer Shannon Sanders. (Apparently, Shannon has found a way to both write quality fiction and have a successful legal career, something I personally was never able to pull off.)
One of the great things about being a fan of short stories, is that when you find a narrative voice you can relate to or enjoy, it’s quite easy to start following that author’s career. As short stories are, by their very nature, diminutive, it’s a bit easier to keep track of writers and to explore new names. Shannon has been published repeatedly over the last year or so, but I didn’t read her work until One Story’s “The Everest Society.” (which is also excellent–if you don’t subscribe to One Story, then you really should.)
“The Everest Society” convinced me to start exploring the author’s backlog, and that is how we come to highlight a story that is about a year old (and that those more in the know are probably already familiar with).
“The Good, Good Men” is a sprawling story about family, centered around a tenuous bond between two grown brothers. As children, they were asked by their father to step up and “be men,” to protect their sometimes flaky mother, and they have been forced to play that role in the decades that have passed since their parents’ separation. Theo is returning from New York to the Washington DC area. He is unattached, focused on his career, and financially driven. Miles is a school teacher and sports coach who is family driven. The brothers were close as children, but have drifted apart given their different drives, the physical distance between them, and certain underlying and more nuanced philosophical differences.
Their job is to help remove a freeloading boyfriend from their mother’s apartment, a task they have been called upon to perform several times before.
There are two younger sisters rounding out the family, but they are largely ignored in this story, as it focuses on what masculinity and “brotherly bonds,” may mean in a modern context. This is all established in a very naturalistic manner by Shannon Sanders, who has supreme command of the material and writes with such an effortless clarity that it would make me jealous, were it not so delightful to read.
The story also highlights how the parent that remains and raises the children can sometimes be judged more harshly than the parent that vacated–perhaps myths are often favorable to reality.
I personally enjoy stories about families near the margins, the paycheck to paycheck “working class” families that constantly have the “wolf” at their door, that fight over money, that often buy frivolities because they doubt they’ll ever be able to save any money anyway. I grew up in such a household and I witnessed such a dynamic many times in my former career as a divorce lawyer.
Shannon Sanders writes about this world, but never allows this material to become stale or to veer into cliche. It is nuanced, powerful, and unforgettable. If like me you somehow missed this excellent work, I highly recommend that you set aside some time with Theo, Miles, and the creative and vibrant world Shannon Sanders created. (And visit Shannon Sanders’s website to read her backlog and to be on the alert for future works. )