by TRAVIS ALEXANDER
Congrats to CQ contributor Geri Ulrey! Her essay “13 & B” from CQ 65.1 is a notable essay in Best American Essays 2016. On the third page of Ulrey’s fantastic essay, readers are treated to the following vignette:
Writers and critics frequently cite the aphorism that good writing disorients and reorients the reader to surroundings frequently taken for granted, but it is difficult to call to mind an instance of this advice so literalized as it is in the moment in which a couch becomes a twisted knot of countless rats. It’s a moment that carefully balances the lurid and the mundane in such a way that it reinfuses daily life with possibility, however dreadful or horrific a brand that possibility promises to be.
Rats abound in “13th & B.” One scene taxonomizes mice versus “sewer rats,” “common city rats,” and “roof rats.” (The latter, if you were wondering, are, we learn, “the meanest.”) And much like the abandoned couch, Ulrey’s narrator witnesses rat-like transformations throughout: the poodle nipping at her leg becomes, to her horror, a dog-sized rat; so is, figuratively, the drug dealer constantly trying to be buzzed in to her apartment building; so possibly, by the story’s end, is the narrator, who ultimately needs to get a little “meaner” herself. Because if she can’t kill a mouse, a conflict around which much of the essay revolves, she’s got no hope of taking on all of the rats that call New York City home.
As the Carolina Quarterly’s Creative Nonfiction editor at the time, I enthusiastically chose the piece for publication and enjoyed a healthy editorial process with Ulrey. Given the refreshingly direct prose style and its playful constellation of narratives of both city life and those of childhood fears of monsters under the bed, it’s no surprise that “13th & B” has been selected as one of the Best American Essays’ notable essays of 2016. We are fans ourselves of Ulrey’s work and look forward to what she produces next.