Exploring the art of prose


Author: Tori Malcangio

Author’s Note

I don’t consider myself a nonfiction writer. I prefer to stay in my fiction lane, two truths removed. For me, writing is an escape from reality: the safest space from which to reimagine, reframe, rebuke whatever subject, person, or pain is encroaching. Until my heart intruded. Quite literally the rhythm of life was suddenly upended, and I was forced to start listening to the thing that fiction is fabulous at helping me sidestep: fear.

Fear itself manifests its own unique rhythm, and as I dealt with news of a deteriorating heart, so much around me responded in equal measure, good and bad. The heart, my heart, created its own centrifugal force around which people and plans, dogs and kids, began to spin. I found refuge once again, outside of myself, by discovering musicality and discordance, or rather the jarring musicality in discordance, where I never had before. In my Sasquatch-hunting men. Sonatas composed to mimic a heart’s arrhythmias. A dog dying suddenly of heart disease. The parts and pieces spun into place, but only because I was obsessively tuned in, desperate to sync with beats and tempos outside of my cacophonous body. The miraculous universe delivered.

I write this author’s note on the eve of heart surgery, the same surgery explored here in this essay. I’m no less afraid, no less skeptical of medicine’s overpromises. Not much has changed since writing this essay. Except that everything has. I’m ready. I think. Did envisioning “blood flowing circuitously through tubing, blood that seconds prior warmed my toes or fueled a random fury, as my heart fades, fades to the wan translucency of a sautéed onion,” embolden me? Might this be the cathartic component, the clarity of self, often gifted through essay writing?

I hear my family clopping upstairs in this rented Los Angeles condo, the minimalist vibe so authentically minimalist there are only four dinner plates and no coffee mugs or hand towels. It’s one hundred miles from home, but minutes from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where I’ll check in tomorrow morning and stay for about a week. I picture them standing over me in recovery, my breathing tube removed, my heart’s new porcine valve opening and closing with the soft precision of the mansion gates down the street in Beverly Hills. Tonight, this vision is still fiction, but tomorrow…tomorrow by sunset I trust it’ll be nonfiction, my new daring, heart-on-the-sleeve form. A scary step into raw vulnerability I suspect I might need to write the next chapter of this story.


TORI MALCANGIO received a journalism degree from Arizona State University and an MFA from Bennington College. Her fiction has appeared in The Missouri ReviewConjunctionsBest Small Fictions 2021Glimmer Train, The Cincinnati Review, McSweeney’s, American Literary Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Mississippi Review, Tampa Review, Cream City Review, ZYZZYVA, River Styx, AGNI Online, Passages North, and more. Tori is the winner of the 2023 Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Fiction Prize, the William Van Dyke Short Story Prize, the American Literary Review Short Fiction Award, the Waasnode Fiction Prize, The Cincinnati Review Robert and Adele Schiff Award, and the Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction. “Racing” is an excerpt from her memoir in progress, My Heart Is a Bomb.