Assistant Fiction Editor Kate Doyle discusses "Euthanasia Coaster" by Laura Maylene Walter
"It was an engineering wonder, a spectacle of physics topped with rainbow-colored flags whipping in the wind." The narrator is describing the titular theme park ride of "Euthanasia Coaster", but could easily be talking about this story—a tense, glittery work of very short fiction, precisely coiled, controlled, then released to run its course.
Walter's first sentence is emblematic of her story's concision and verve: "My girlfriend set her sights on the euthanasia coaster from the beginning, when it was first built to its wobbling height on the seaside cliffs outside of town." We prickle with dark curiosity: What's this relationship? Who's speaking? What does it mean for them, individually and together, that she has her "sights set"? Exactly where on the figurative-literal spectrum does this thrill ride's name fall? How dire is the couple's situation, how on the brink of demise are they? And how entwined are their individual fates—or is their fate shared, even in making their choices apart?
"What's so hard about that first sentence is that you're stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence," says Joan Didion. This one is an intimate sentence that remembers a moment in a relationship. And a potent sentence that, in a few words, builds a roller coaster, gives it a sinister name, and hangs it over the ocean, precarious on a cliffside where it shivers, full of narrative potential and seeming almost about to drop into the ocean. Story is here, poised to run devastatingly from this one sentence; we know it by the way the narrator says "from the beginning." Beginnings come paired with endings. Something won't make it here, something is falling into the abyss.