Erica Plouffe Lazure’s Proof of Me & Other Stories (New American Press 2022) cements her rightful place as one of my favorite southern contemporary short story authors. We studied at ECU together and I’ve been a fan since that first story we workshopped. I’ve previously compared her work to Bobbie Ann Mason and Flannery O’Connor, and that Southern grotesque wit and charm that they are so known for just oozes from the pages of this new collection.
I’d read some of the stories before because they’d been published in other journals, and “The Shit Branch,” which first appeared in Tahoma Journal is still my favorite thing Lazure has ever written. It’s about family and missing pieces and misunderstandings and missed chances. And that’s a theme that echoes throughout the series of stories that weave in and out of each other, consistently bringing us home to Mewborn, a small town in eastern NC, and its colorful cast of inhabitants.
I couldn’t get “Annealed” out of my head because it’s cleverly written, but also of how much it reminded me of O’Connor’s “Good Country People.” But instead of a crooked Bible salesman who steals Joy’s prosthetic, we have the skate-boarding Juniper who steals the narrator’s scabs (and money), but untethers her from cheating husband who has finally left and a life that was weighing her down.
There are Shad queens and affairs. Marching bands and suicides. Pancake suppers and overdoses. There are dreams and prodigal sons. There are baby shower decorations and secrets buried in a family swamp. The pages are littered with the broken, discarded and lost – from stuffed ducks and Monopoly pieces to innocence and hearts.
Read this collection.