Our January Web Exclusive, “Winston ” is one of those stories that gets under your skin and stays there. Its power is owed to precise, enduring images; the relatable longing of its characters; and beginning-to-end tension. Really, it gave us a lot of feelings—which we then discussed with author Kyle Langston.
Erin McReynolds: One thing I love about “Winston” is that it uses a very primal voice and lens to tell a modern story: how we “become” when we are claimed by others. The protagonist starts out nameless, rudderless, homeless, and sort of formless—we don’t know his age until the moment he is discovered. And it’s perfect that he’s on the cusp of boyhood and manhood; our first formative love relationships happen around this age.
Kyle Langston: I wrote the first draft of this story when I was 21. I’m 25 now—still a naif by some measures—and it’s eerie how prescient it seems in retrospect. When I was a lost 15-year-old, I fantasized about finding my raison d’être in and with someone other than myself. When I was a lost 21-year-old, I had begun to sense that, at least for me, that was unlikely. As a slightly less lost 25-year-old, I know it’s possible, and that it comes with its own special set of pitfalls. The relationship in the story is, in all likelihood, doomed. My favorite thing about fiction is the idea that even a doomed relationship never has to come to an end.
EM: She seems in control in some ways, vulnerable in others; a stranger with a knife did manage to enter her bedroom, after all. I wondered, is she a little touched in the head or is it her recent loss?
KL: I think it’s a little of both—she’s clearly grappling with a sense of vacancy, but only a certain kind of person (someone for whom a romantic replacement is a matter of convenience) can fill a void like that with a mangy orphan she finds in her closet. Such a powerful need for companionship is a vulnerability in and of itself, but it’s one she seems to own and manages to twist to her advantage. One of the reasons I’m proud of this story is that it’s sort of perversely feminist.
EM: The knife placed out of everyday sight (but always within reach) is an apt reminder that no one in a relationship is really ever safe/saved. It’s metaphors like this, and the rabbit’s skeleton at the end, evidence of his feral origins made beautiful and fecund, that suggest a poetic background. Do you also write poetry?
KL: That’s a huge compliment. I have written some poetry, and in a story this short, each word and detail weighs more, so I think some degree of precision is required. I’m surprised you read the skeleton as the rabbit’s—it’s a valid interpretation, but not one I can claim aligns with my intent. Of course, this is all about perspective; it goes to show that no matter the origin of the bones—whether they’re a vestige of his past or a relic of hers—neither of them (and if you’re cynical enough, no one in any relationship) is entirely innocent.
EM: Huh! We did debate it amongst ourselves and considered asking you, but we appreciated the ambiguity; an artful ambiguity can be a great thing.
KL: It’s a fine line, and I think there’s a useful tension inherent in toeing it. The stories I’m most excited by have been hollowed out to the verge of collapse.
Kyle Langston is an alumnus of Washington University and its distinguished undergraduate creative writing program. This is the first of his stories to be published. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.