Volunteer Suzanne Wendell has a special kind of speaking voice. It is melodious and relaxing, kind of like one of those Sounds of the Ocean CDs minus the crashing waves. We’ve wasted entire afternoons asking her to repeat phrases like “purple mountain majesty” and “oodles of noodles.” Sometimes we even kind of zone out listening to her mellifluous intonations and go to a place of neither sleep nor wakefulness—kind of like when you half-wake-up from your Saturday afternoon nap and pretend not to hear your sig. other saying it’s time to get up, the Szymanskis are coming over and you need to hide the good bourbon and mash the avocados.

When she isn’t slowing our heart rates with her voice-box vibrations, Suzanne helps us open mail, send mail, enter copyedits, organize contributor information, and, of course—review and evaluate manuscripts. Here are her thoughts on Tracy Burkholder’s “Proof,” an essay from our upcoming issue:

Suzanne Wendell: Fiction is what I write, and it seems to be all I ever get anything out of, at least in terms of “honing my craft.” But from the first sentence of Tracy Burkholder’s essay—“Ginger-scented oil slicks my fingers”—I was hooked, and I enjoyed and appreciated the piece as much as I would a short story.

I would like to say that this is because Burkholder’s essay reads like fiction. I felt awe when I read “One of the first stories we’re told is the stroke of our mother’s hand across our newborn skin.” But Burkholder does more than dazzle us with poignant and beautiful prose. She also includes facts from scientific studies, interesting facts, even. Did you know, for instance, that Puerto Ricans touch each other an average of three times per minute?  I’d like to see a fiction writer use such fascinating trivia as successfully and as matter-of -factly.

I think I am most drawn to “Proof” because of Burkholder’s astute observations about something so deceptively complicated: touch. After reading the essay, I realized how big of an issue touch is in my own life. Knowing, for example, when and when not to hug an acquaintance or relative. It’s not that I don’t like hugs. I love hugs. It’s the possibility of offending another person by encroaching on his or her personal space that holds me back. But Burkholder, whether or not she ever intended to, inspired me to go for it every time. So if I ever get slapped, punched, or sued for touching someone inappropriately, remember it’s Tracy Burkholder’s fault and not mine.

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