The Masters Review Blog

Aug 28

New Voices: “Calling Out” by Robyn Jefferson

“Exploring contemporary tensions between identity and nonconformity, connection and isolation, and performance and authenticity, this darkly funny excerpt is steeped, at once, in the realities of our world—virtual and concrete—and the protagonist Beth’s experience of consciousness,” writes Charmaine Craig about “Calling Out,” the 2022 Novel Excerpt Contest winner! “Beth is a character who is obedient to and at odds with the pressure to imitate and self-chronicle, and the novel’s third-person narration is enlivened by her talent for paradox, playfully gesturing toward the possibility of liberation from a culture of watchfulness, convention, and solipsism. I look forward to seeing where this witty and self-conscious protagonist lands!” Read the excerpt below, and be on the look out for our interview with Robyn later this week.

Should she be anticipating a callout post? The foot guy from earlier in the day surfaced in her memory. She didn’t think she’d done anything to warrant one, but it wasn’t really up to her, was it? She thought back over her relationship with Alice, re-examining every interaction she could remember, on the lookout for anything that could be used against her, or, conversely, Alice, in case she’d been emotionally abusive or something and Beth had failed to notice at the time. Did everyone have these thoughts, she wondered next, or was her fear of being exposed proof that she was a bad person, that she must have done something awful in order to justify the worry?

Beth knew she was getting dumped as soon as her phone lit up in her hand, because the first line of the incoming message was hey uhhhhh.

She swerved into the Caffè Nero at the top of Union Street, bought a smoothie, then sat alone in the corner with her phone face-up on the table in front of her, working up the nerve to open Twitter. She was already a little pissed off at the ostentatiously portentous opener—anything anyone said on the internet could be so thoroughly revised, verbal filler stripped away for the sake of optimum conversational efficiency, so why was Alice hesitating, couching her thoughts behind hey, uh, as if they were doing this in person?—but the annoyance was good, she thought. It meant she’d be less sad. So she was cultivating her vexation, she told herself, letting it ferment until it hit its natural zenith. Then she would read the fucking message.

She peered around the room. No one was paying attention to her except for the baby in a highchair two tables over, pinning her in its owlish, fascinated gaze. She smiled at it so it would know she wasn’t a cunt then looked back at her phone. It had gone dark again. Behind its implacable blankness she knew the message was still there, waiting for her attention. She sighed, clicked, then swiped, and it appeared in all its glory.


hey uhhhhh i know this is a bit out of the blue (sorry!) but i think we need to talk?

Beneath it, a scrolling ellipsis, indicating that she was still typing. Beth stared down at her smoothie as she waited for the next message, watching from the corner of her eye as Alice’s typing paused, then resumed. She felt very aware of the movements of the strangers around her, the way they congregated and broke apart again like globs of wax in a lava lamp. Their absorption in the mundane was so entire, so committed, that to Beth it seemed peculiarly false; as trapped as she was within her own interpersonal melodrama she still couldn’t help but feel out of place, like an actor onstage about to break character, glancing uneasily between all his fellow performers as if to say: We’re all just pretending, here, aren’t we? You can see the audience too, right? 

Alice’s typing stopped, paused, started again. After another minute of this Beth took pity on her and replied oh? It worked; the reply came fast now that Alice knew she was watching.


yeah. i’m sorry, beth, i know i’ve been a little distant lately and everything, it’s just that i don’t think this is really working for me anymore, you know?

Beth had braced herself so effectively that for a moment the blow didn’t quite seem to land. Sucking her bottom lip into her mouth, she sat back in her chair, like: Huh. She felt that if Alice had dumped her in person then at least she could’ve justifiably made a scene about it, and maybe if she could have slid herself into a role she would have been able to feel the emotions ascribed to it, too. Behind the counter, the coffee machine provided a kind of mechanical white noise that felt like an appropriate accompaniment to the recalcitrant crawl of her thoughts.

Alice had been more distant than usual over the past month, Beth allowed, so perhaps this wasn’t quite as surprising as it might’ve been. Having it confirmed still sucked, though, and belatedly her distress made itself known—she felt her eyes prickle, her throat begin to close up. Not here, she thought, staving off the tears through sheer force of will. Crying alone in a coffee shop had a vaguely romantic aura of the kind aestheticized on dreary Tumblr blogs, but she knew from experience that she lacked the requisite waifish appeal to pull it off, neither skinny nor feminine enough to make the vibe work for her. She took another moment to steady herself and then wrote back, can i ask why, all lowercase and no punctuation, and felt suddenly grateful that this exchange wasn’t happening in person after all, her uninflected response not marred by the countless visual or tonal cues that might otherwise have given her away.

To continue reading “Calling Out” click here.

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