On to David Wilson’s winning story, which is now available to read on the Guardian website. It tells of a road trip taken across Canada by Duncan (our narrator), Vic (his girlfriend – when she’s not at university, at least), and their old school-friend Animal Brooks. Tensions build among the trio as Duncan realises that he might be about to lose Vic when she returns to university, where he can’t follow; and he starts to wonder, too, whether Animal is getting too close to Vic.

Out of all the shortlisted stories, I think this one creates the strongest atmosphere. There’s a wonderfully sharp edge to Wilson’s prose that complements the harsh bleakness of the setting. I’m particularly impressed with how the secondary characters leap off the page, even though Duncan’s voice is so strong itself; for example, I loved the initial description of Animal Brooks:

He was twenty-six and hunted looking, with engine-grease stubble and red eyes sunk past his cheekbones. In his commie hat and Converses he had that hurting lurch, like a scrapper’s swag, dragging foot after foot with his knees loose and his shoulders slumped. He’d drink a garden hose under the table if it looked at him wrong…

‘The Dead Roads’ is a deserving winner, to my mind, and makes me keen to read more of Wilson’s work. I see that he’s had a collection, Once You Break a Knuckle, published in Canada this month; I think it will be worth investigating.

This is one of a series of posts reviewing the shortlist for the 2011 BBC National Short Story Award. Click here to read my other posts on the Award.