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Chapbook Review: They Could No Longer Contain Themselves Keeps Its Promise

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There is a lesson in the truth of adver­tis­ing here, “here” being the wind-swept cover of a book pro­claim­ing of its insides, They Could No Longer Con­tain Them­selves. Rose Metal Press’s new col­lec­tion of five flash chap­books more than keeps its promise.

The col­lec­tion includes Rose Metal Press’s 2009 Third Annual Short Short Chap­book Con­test win­ner Sean Lovelace’s “How Some Peo­ple Like Their Eggs”; Eliz­a­beth J. Colen’s “Dear Mother Mon­ster, Dear Daugh­ter Mis­take”; John Jodzio’s “Do Not Touch Me Now Not Ever”; Tim Jones-Yelvington’s “Evan’s House and the Other Boys Who Live There”; and Mary Miller’s “Paper and Tas­sels.”

John Jodzio opens the col­lec­tion with back-to-back stac­cato pieces. Of those two, “Inven­tory” is deli­ciously absurd, com­ple­mented by the author’s great humor: “Game fuck­ing on,” remarks a father in a mar­riage coun­sel­ing ses­sion after his baby has swal­lowed his wrist­watch, along with a pair of nail clip­pers, a but­ton, and a ninja star. The pace is quick, but Jodzio’s great par­lor trick is the slow burn at the end, when a cou­ple comes to real­ize their life has been reduced to a note­book with an inven­tory of what exists and what does not. He crosses into deeper ter­ri­tory with sto­ries that hurt so good, like “Shoo Shoo,” “Guns and Gold,” and “Ves­sels,” all three of which tie together the­mat­i­cally as Jodzio explores the fum­bled and often heart-wrench­ing rela­tion­ships between par­ents and chil­dren.

Love and sex and all of its man­i­fes­ta­tions at times whim­per, at times scream, from the pages of Mary Miller’s “Paper and Tas­sels.” There is blood, bruis­ing, dis­con­nect, des­per­a­tion and, most of all, long­ing. Sad long­ing, mostly, but often tem­pered with a dan­ger­ous kind of power that one human can exact over another. Miller har­nesses that power in “Angel,” the story of a woman who lives in a world that she’s always on the verge of leav­ing, and the man who wants to ground her with his gaze: “He watches me because I won’t be around for long. He watches me because I’m the con­sis­tency of vapor.” A few sto­ries, like “Love,” “Diag­no­sis” and “Paper and Tas­sels,” teeter on the side of pretty prose poetry, but take a moment to unspool Miller’s threads and you’ll find well-etched cores of sad­ness, pock­ets of iso­la­tion, and peo­ple using peo­ple. Miller’s women are fierce women. 

Dear Mother Mon­ster, Dear Daugh­ter Mis­take” is the dev­as­tat­ing chron­i­cle of a mother and daughter’s failed rela­tion­ship. Colen splits it into two sec­tions, “Until She Comes Look­ing” and “Any­thing You Can Do.” For the most part, “Look­ing” invokes the daughter’s point of view; “Do” takes on the role of the mother. The story arc that spills out between the two of them pud­dles into the vicious, con­flict­ing space that stands between them, and nei­ther woman both­ers to clean up the mess. They each side­step it, and each other. As dis­tant as the mother and daugh­ter seem to be, the things they do to fill their empty places are sim­i­lar. They con­fuse heal­ing with sex. They self-loathe. They manip­u­late men. In this non­lin­ear, multi-voiced chap­book, moth­ers die, babies are neglected, daugh­ters stum­ble through Mex­ico in a sex- and drugs-drenched daze, and, most of all, peo­ple lie, because the truth is too heavy to bear.

The collection’s most pal­pa­ble sense of want, of sti­fled desire, of light­ning-quick lone­li­ness lives under the roof of Tim Jones-Yelvington’s “Evan’s House and the Other Boys Who Live There.” Build­ing off of its neigh­bor, the house that Colen built, Jones-Yelv­ing­ton, too, holds tight to a nar­ra­tive arc between a few select char­ac­ters and grad­u­ally lets it go, allow­ing the reader to watch a cov­etous char­ac­ter go from child to adult. His char­ac­ters strug­gle with want­ing so badly that they drive oth­ers away, like in “To Be A Friend Is To Make A Friend,” in which a boy strug­gles with child­hood rela­tion­ships; and in “Slime Me,” in which young Abner is com­man­deered by an urgent, unfor­giv­ing fetish. The char­ac­ters are mostly young, which is a pitch-per­fect choice because of children’s inher­ent inabil­ity to rec­og­nize bound­aries. They’re also mostly boys and men accli­mat­ing to their homo­sex­u­al­ity. These men are throb­bing, puls­ing, fever­ish, but there are also moth­ers who miss their chil­dren, daugh­ters who get kicked out of their homes, a dom­i­na­trix, and a hilar­i­ous com­men­tary on a cer­tain Repub­li­can fam­ily that lives in Alaska.

The last sec­tion of the book, the pimp slot, goes to Sean Lovelace. He med­dles with pop cul­ture icons, doc­u­ment­ing Char­lie Brown’s diary. In Lovelace’s world, by the year 2000, Brown has gained 20 pounds, his shirt no longer fits. He can’t get out of his bed. In “A Sigh is Just A Sigh,” seduc­tress Ingrid Bergman tempts and teases and Humphrey Bog­art is offered Pop-Tarts in a stranger’s kitchen. His twisted real­i­ties are equal parts light and dark. His flashes seem to fol­low no ordi­nary tra­jec­tory; styles of writ­ing blend in each piece, be it nar­ra­tive arcs, small blurbs, or prose that breaks down into witty, quick-hit lists. Lovelace proves there’s more than one way to pre­pare an egg; even more so, he proves that flash is an ever-evolv­ing dish that, in the right author’s kitchen, can be cooked up each time more fresh and inter­est­ing than the last.

The over­all won­der of this plump lit­tle gem is that there is no jock­ey­ing for space, no jostling of elbows, no step­ping on toes. Yes, five authors have col­ored these pages with vol­umes of desire, long­ing, humor, lone­li­ness, heartache, wit and des­per­a­tion; and yes, the sto­ries are often larger than the page, larger than the space allot­ted in our chests to breathe them in, but. Each indi­vid­ual voice is heard. Each story is a con­crete, com­plete thing that con­nects with the oth­ers in the most hon­est and organic way. There is no point where the smoke of one story shapes itself lazily into the haze of another. These five voices are dis­tinct, defin­i­tive, and each story smarts with such pin-prick exe­cu­tion you’ll be sur­prised not to find blood on the page. 

About the Author

Amy.jpgAmy Kates has some­how man­aged to make a liv­ing from writ­ing. You can find her work in Delaware Today, Delaware Bride, Philadel­phia Style, Super Lawyers Mag­a­zine, Texas Monthly, Main Line Today, Boston Mag­a­zine and in the archives at paranormalpopculture.com. For a year she worked her dream job, cov­er­ing base­ball for Merge Mag­a­zine, a weekly insert in the Allen­town Morn­ing Call. When not writ­ing her way through Rosemont’s MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing (fic­tion) pro­gram, she spends dis­turbing amounts of time obsess­ing over base­ball and pop cul­ture.


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