We are awarding a monetary prize and a complimentary copy of Volume One to the reader who submits the best feedback on a piece appearing in each issue of The Summerset Review. Runners-up receive complimentary copies. For information on how to submit your feedback, see our Guidelines page.

For the Spring 2008 issue, the prize money was set at $150.

For the Summer 2008 issue – running now through September 1st – the prize money is set at $100.

Award winner for the Spring 2008 issue:
Robin Underdahl of Dallas, Texas


B.L. Gifford of Columbus, Ohio
Thursday Bram of Laurel, Maryland
Katherine Gustafson of Washington, DC

We want to thank all those of you who submitted entries. We recognize the investment you've made to read our publication and write to us. We sincerely appreciate the interest.

Before giving the winning and runner-up entries, special mention goes to an anonymous reader who sent us the following regarding "Bathtub Mary" -

I had a bathtub Mary once. I don't now, but there are a lot of them in front of the houses where I live. I guess I think of them like Margie does in the story. She deserves my respect. I didn't grow up in a single parent home. I've been a single parent though. I've loved my neighbors for all the support they offered, and the encouragement they gave so freely to my children. I don't know anyone with a terminal illness. But I babysat my neighbor's kids when her mother died. We all went to the memorial and funeral. We were closer and more tolerant after that. I'd like to thank Allie Larkin for her beautiful provocative story. She reminded me the world can be a place of kindness and gentle reverence.

Robin writes -

Naomi Leimsider's story "Sea Change" was impossible to stop reading. I first thought of it as an interesting comment on place, namely, a revered American vacation spot. Initially, Miami Beach draws the suffering protagonist with its promise of the easy life, or of life boiled down to the simplest pleasures, air and sun. By the end, Molly is living like a resident of hell—isolated, in dread of what comes next, with no hope. The gorgeous waters can sprout the heads of drowning boat people, and even limbs leftover from shark takings. The scene in which Molly succumbs to the blond boy's advances works like a microcosm of this aspect of the story: what appears to be uncomplicated pleasure on the beach turns into an experience of unspeakable humiliation.

Molly, in her state of emotional paralysis, makes her situation worse and worse. Possibilities of relationship are undermined from the start by her lies. She rejects health care. In this way, the story speaks not only of vacation locales, but of anywhere in the U.S. She was isolated before, in her urban environment, and her mother pointed out that she was isolated in the place where she grew up. I wish I could understand why she allows the pregnancy to defeat her so completely. Her very real suffering was almost a relief to me after reading story after story about bored protagonists in other journals.

A day later, I was thinking about Molly some more, and I started saying I'm not like that furiously to myself. Experiences that cause anything on the scale from embarrassment to humiliation do cause social isolation, and one often chooses the isolation, even when sympathy is available. I remembered a time when a painful experience prepared me to embrace an opportunity to cut all ties and move our family across the country. My isolation was not as extreme as Molly's, but I loved it.

B.L. writes -

Allie Larkin's "Bathtub Mary" might be the best contemporary short story I've read during the last year. And I read a good number of them, including those appearing in the top literary journals. In fact, Larkin's story compares favorably to Jhumpa Lahiri's "This Blessed House," in which one protagonist also wanted to rid the house of a religious icon while the other cherished it and wanted to keep it. ("This Blessed House" is from Lahiri's collection, Interpreter of Maladies, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000.) "Bathtub Mary," though, is different and stands on its own. It deserves a Pushcart Prize, at least.

Accolades aside, to the story. First, thanks to Larkin for educating the reader about the phenomenon of bathtub Marys. They apparently are not big in my part of Central Ohio but are quite the thing elsewhere. I appreciate stories that teach the reader something.

And then there are the beautifully-written lines. Some of my favorites: "I'd wash her with hose water to baptize her..." And this gem: "When I got to the part about Mary's womb, my belly always felt funny and my hands shook a little."

And then this line, in which the middle-school age protagonist says to her mother, "So, what I figure is that our religion is up for grabs." The mother's response: "No, it isn't." (Like the protagonists in "Blessed House," those in Bathtub Mary are ostensibly non-Christian—Hindu in Blessed House, Jewish in Bathtub Mary.)

The story manages to include in it two of my favorite things: religion (as already discussed) and pop music. Along the way, Larkin alludes to Duran Duran and references Stevie Nicks. Larkin's prose also has a musical feel to it.

Of course, no story is ultimately successful unless it has emotional resonance. This one has enough to fill a bathtub with the tears that might well be shed by those who read it.

Thursday writes about to "True Love and Paranoia in the Hermit Kingdom" -

It seems horrible to wish, in some tilted way, to break an arm, to suffer an injury.

But in Jack Cobb's words, I found a poignant connection to his surroundings. I've lived abroad and traveled extensively, but I've always felt the lack of that sort of connection.

I spent four painful months in Dublin, struggling to understand Irish accents that my American ear constantly misinterpreted. There was none of the connection that Cobb seemed to find with Korea, and I find myself jealous. I am jealous of that connection, that injury, that 'morning calm.'

Katherine writes -

Further Than Just the Miles

"The distance from my home is measured in so much more than miles," Jack Cobb writes in his essay, "True Love and Paranoia in the Hermit Kingdom." As an American in Asia—in my case, China—I also felt so distant from my old life that it seemed the only way back to familiarity was straight through the molten center of the Earth.

Jack feels intensely dislocated—his main drama is a broken leg, but his bone is not all that is severed from its root. "Most days any of us venture out of the university grounds," he writes, "we deal with The Look, the open-mouthed stare that we produce in the locals like we just stepped out of a pile of excrement." But, despite all this, he does not leave Korea. It is the right time for him to be traveling, living with the discomfort of dislocation, making sure not "to miss whatever takes place next." I, on the other hand, did not stay.

In my apartment at the university where I taught English, the picture window in the living room looked out over a three-lane traffic circle edged by makeshift barbeque stands. All evening, through clouds of meat-grilling smoke, I would sit at my table and watch the organized chaos unfurl. Buses and trucks jostled in the curves. Bicyclists pedaled undaunted into oncoming traffic. A man led a languorous brown cow across the circle while minibuses sailed past.

"What is different about China?" some of my students asked, curious when I told them that their country confused me. I tried to explain that in America cars do not drive the wrong way down one-way streets. The students looked at me blankly; there, they can drive the wrong way on divided highways, as long as the road isn't too crowded. There, the rules of the road are open to interpretation.

And there, correspondingly, I felt that I had become unmoored. I had arrived in southwest China vaguely expecting an adventurous feeling of freedom and the thrill of wide-eyed discovery. But I found myself at first full of despair and panic-stricken, wondering why I ever left home. Culture shock, my mother advised me—be patient. The initial desolation, however, only gave way to melancholy resignation. One evening during my fourth week of classes, I watched a bicyclist leaning on his pedals in an oncoming lane, on a seeming crash course with a lumbering truck full of bricks. I felt that I, similarly, was heading into the face of something heavy, laborious, and daunting. The idea of my yearlong contract left me hopeless.

This was not because I was an inexperienced traveler overwhelmed by cultural difference. Having spent various periods in Nepal, Ecuador, Guatemala, and all over Europe, I felt I was primed for the challenge of living in China. And for months I had been longing to quit my office job and travel somewhere far away.

But living abroad at that moment in my life, it turned out, felt more like an obstacle to overcome than a satisfying challenge to confront. It is not, I realized with a jolt of surprise, always the right place and time for traveling. Sometimes travel is rife with the thrill of adventure and the impertinence of doing something wild. Sometimes, though, it feels like a big, tiring, overwhelming mistake.

I couldn't believe I didn't actually want to be traveling. But even so, I didn't feel that I was failing. I had met China courageously, becoming, within weeks, a decent teacher of fifty-student classes. I had learned quickly the tricks of the bus route and the language for buying eggs. I became a pro at bargaining at the shops and market stalls. I learned to play by China's rules. But traversing the roundabout of life there, I felt stumped and stunned.

Though it seemed absurd after all the time and energy I had spent planning my escape to a foreign land, the only place I wanted to be was home.

When I came to this understanding, watching the traffic spinning on its axis below my window, I felt the same curious wonderment expressed by Jack Cobb's Zen Master Hakuin. As he says: "Is that so?" It was so. I broke my contract and went home. And stepping off the plane into my family's arms, I knew I had come so much further than just the miles.

We want to acknowledge all those who sent feedback on the photo essay. Your effort and comments mean a lot to us, but unfortunately fell victim to an oversight on our part in stipulating the guidelines of the contest. The scope of the Fifty-for-Fifty Reading Contest is intended to cover stories and essays in text only, as part of our initiative to inspire more reading and recognition of literary magazines. We regret not making this clear. We have revised the guidelines and appreciate your contribution.