Award-winning short fiction by Levi S. Peterson

April 24, 2017

Levi S. Peterson’s “Kid Kirby” from the Dialogue Summer 2016 issue won a 2016 Association for Mormon Letters award for best short fiction. In honor of this award, Dialogue has released the article early so that everyone can read it. Find “Kid Kirby” here.
From the AML website: “When asked what the purpose of literature is, the short story writer Issac Bashevis Singer responded succinctly that literature is to entertain and instruct. There’s no end to good short stories that meet one of these criterion, but a story that both entertains and instructs, a rarer specimen in the literary world, might be called a great story. Levi Peterson’s poignant and captivating ‘Kid Kirby’ is unequivocally a great story. On the one hand, ‘Kid Kirby’ feels well rooted in the western genre with its hardscrabble living and solitary country, the buckaroos and the brothels and the pistol-wielding, mustachioed villain, all set in the horse-drawn, violent world of the turn-of-the-century Old West. In a way, this is an origin story, detailing, filling in, and clarifying the legend of the young fast-draw artist, Reeves Kirby, who avenges the assassination of his grandfather. On the other hand, in humanizing Reeves’s origin story, laying bare for the reader his carnal struggles and youthful foibles, Peterson’s ‘Kid Kirby’ transcends genre, rightly asserting itself as a piece of literary art. Reeves, an eighteen-year-old greenhorn with a mild temperament and a downy upper lip, lands his first real job, breaking horses for a rancher near Evanston, Wyoming. While he has the rare and sought-after talent for breaking horses, just like his hard-living grandfather, Reeves has a difficult time living within the boundaries of his Mormon faith and taming his curiosity for the vices to be found in a rough railroad town like Evanston, vices he eventually indulges and which set in motion a life-and-death struggle with the town brute, Tom Galt. ‘Kid Kirby’ is a plot-driven, suspenseful read, entertaining in every sense of the word. But it’s also a story about spiritual refinement, divine grace, and, ultimately, doing the right thing. “Kid Kirby,” I believe, will be a classic of Mormon literature, one that future generations will enjoy.