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 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.
For further reading, check out FlashFiction.Net’s suggested readings of flash fiction and prose poetry collections, anthologies, and craft books, by clicking here.