Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Annie Bilancini’s “Little Miss Bird-in-Hand”

4 Feb

Besides allowing me to keep in easy touch with friends and family, Facebook also acts as a repository of stories and articles. Friends post Buzzfeed listicles that end up with me wasting 40 minutes on the site, other friends post interesting trend pieces, and still others aggressively but wonderfully push stories. Such was the case with Annie Bilancini’s story “Little Miss Bird-in-Hand,” a 2013 Booth Story Prize Runner-Up.

Amber Sparks’ Facebook post sharing this story went like this: “If you guys have not read this story by Annie Bilancini, you need to read it now. NOW. I’m not kidding. Drop everything. Then come back and tell me how right I am, and how grateful you are.” I did all of that. I took a break from my workday to read this apparently magical story that would make the reader grateful to the person who shared it. It was that kind of story.

There’s a pageant in a small town in county named Bird-in-Hand. Twelve 13-year-old girls compete, girls with names like Clem and Junie-Rae and Sweetie and Charlene and Darlene (the latter two identical twins). The twelfth contestant, Gray, is the odd one out. She’s quieter, and the barbs the other girls toss her way in the make-up room slide off of her.

Bilancini roves around this pageant from all angles, focusing here on Ms. Bondurant, the pageant director, and her desire for every girl to feel special; zooming in on the pageant judges and their personal Two Truths and One Lie; describing one contestant’s sound and color synesthesia; transcribing the reaction of one young male audience member to Gray’s talent portion. Bilancini’s use of these different styles adds a flair to the story that reminds the reader of a detective or madman pinning related articles to a wall with fraying yarn drawing connections between some stories. Maybe it’s not quite that frantic, but I could see each piece of her story adding to the dossier of the events of the pageant.

This is the kind of story I love. The details are rich, the tone is cool but interested–almost scientific in its reporting and recording of the events–the tension is built slowly with some deviations, you learn about the contestants and their lives and motivations. You see how inaction can be as horrible as action.

To say much more would diminish the story. So I’ll echo Amber and entreat you to read this story right now. Seriously. Stop reading this post and go read Annie Bilancini’s story and revel in it.

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