short (short) stories
by Sherrie Flick
Queen’s Ferry Press
Life has gotten in the way of my reading these days. Either I’ve had little to no ability to concentrate or I’ve been so damn exhausted that I’m zonked out within a few pages. Neither has anything to do with my choice of writing material or the author’s talent — it’s all me. As someone who tends to read a book per week, on average, this snail’s pace is a bit maddening. As with all things, though, I know this phase will pass and in the meantime, I turn to shorter works for my preferred literary libations.
Whiskey, Etc., Sherrie Flick’s new collection of “short (short) stories,” has proven to be an effective tonic for my current literary malaise. Divided into eight sections (Songs; Pets; Coffee, Tea; Dessert; Art; Cars and Canoes — the strongest section, in my opinion — Soap; and Whiskey), most of these stories are no longer than a few pages; some are only a paragraph, if that. (I’ll admit to having a preference for the longer works in this collection.)
Flick’s sentences are succinct, tight, telling the reader all that’s needed to know (His divorce settlement reads like an episode of Dallas), using food as simile (Snow covered the ground like a thick milkshake) and hooking the reader with more memorable opening lines than a frat boy.
I called the front desk to request a coffeemaker and some of those E-Z packets you can just plop right in, no mess. I was trying to remain on task and organized. “Mr. Smith? We don’t do that kind of shit here,” a woman’s voice purred at me. (from “Learning to Drink Coffee in Idaho”)
I’m the squash soup. Chopped up and muddled, glowing orange here on the sofa. The soup itself bubbles for real on the stove. But I’m angry, so its simmering seems like a gaping mouth. The soup froths. Me, on the stove. (from “Family Dinner”)
With flash fiction, there’s the assumption that it’s easy to write. Dash off a few sentences, a handful of paragraphs, and a story miraculously appears. But the brevity actually can be deceptive. As Flick accomplishes so successfully with many of the stories in this collection, the reader needs enough details in a brief fragment of time to make a story feel complete while still eliciting the reader’s curiosity about what happens next, or about the backstory that led up to the situation.
Was it Indiana? Iowa? This was before Rob was gay. Before Christina’s mom couldn’t remember her name. Before I stopped eating. Before James’s last postcard. (from “Road Trip”)
Lisa leans in to give him a slow, silent, twenty-years-absent hug. He grabs her shoulder and says, “I’m sorry, Lisa. Read about it in the paper. Figured you be here.” …. Back in high school Joe could put together car engines, and later on, in one of those car’s backseats, he could fix a girl so she felt brand new. (from “After”)
In Whiskey, Etc., most of those details and similes involve food and drink, especially coffee. Knowing of Flick’s background as a food writer and essayist, this is almost expected. (A Pittsburgh writer, she teaches in Chatham University’s MFA and Food Studies programs.) More than just a prop, in most cases the coffee or the tofu dinner or the pecan roll is as essential to the story as a main character.
It’s tempting to binge one’s way through these stories, but don’t.
Savor them, like a fine meal.
An occasional feature on melissafirman.com celebrating all things literary as it relates to Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. Here, I talk ‘Burgh-focused books (and review them), literary events, upcoming readings, author interviews and profiles, new releases …n’at.