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Saturday

Chapbook Review: Claudia Smith Chen’s The Sky Is a Well And Other Stories

The eighteen stories in Claudia
Smith Chen's
flash
fiction chapbook The Sky Is A Well And
Other Stories
[1] aren't for the faint-hearted. You must prepare
to be as bold as Chen herself to experience her emotive, raw, and confessional
stories. Sparing nothing, she runs the emotional gamut, from lust to love to
loss. Her flash fiction stories contain elemental images and explore archetypal
feminine themes where each and every one ends poetically, leaving you moved,
questioning, yearning for more.

Hair-raising is the imaginative
simplicity of Chen's writing, but don't be fooled--her short shorts are packed
with meaning, weight, and gut-stabbing sentiment. The majority of her titles
are single words that have double or ambiguous meanings, and they leap off the
page to seduce you regardless of their length. Consider the following come-hither
titles: "Cherry," "Possum," "Wildfire," "Slip," and "Window."

Chen's feminine point of view assigns
beauty and pain to what at first appear to be mundane, everyday moments. For
example the first line in "Colts" is "We read books about colts, born in milky
wetness, learning to walk, and then winning races." This sentence could be read
literally: the narrator and her friend read books about colts. However, as the
flash continues, you'll discover that perhaps colts are a metaphor for the two
girls. The haunting ending reads,

"My father was a copy. Her father was a
lawyer. Our mothers both wore dark glasses, hiding their marks behind scarves
and migraines. We compared their bruises as if they were badges. We tied our
dolls to the trees by their necks. We hanged the cowardly women."

This
powerful ending reveals "Colts" is a story about a friendship between two girls
from different socioeconomic backgrounds who repudiate their mother's authority
and disapprove of their choices. The flash is dark yet exciting, inviting you
to wonder what happens next to the girls, staying top-of-mind even after you've
finished the story.

            In "Colts" and throughout the entire
collection, Chen is in command of the form, effortlessly tackling subjects from
suicide in "Mermaid" to prom in "I Tell I Don't Tell" to familial relationships
in "World of Men." She sparks images that will ignite your imagination. Her
writing is fresh, provocative, and real. She connects with you from the first
story, never letting you escape, always engaging, until she spits you out at
the end.

The
Sky Is A Well And Other Stories
will
linger in your memory even after you've closed the book and placed it back on
the shelf. If you are like me, you'll keep the collection close to your
favorite reading spot, returning to it for enjoyment, to learn, and to get inspired.
Chen is a rare talent and one all flash readers should read in order to learn craft
at its best. She'll move you, floor you, and above all else she'll make you
think.     

 

Bibliography 

Smith, Claudia, The Sky Is A Well And Other Stories. Brookline:
Rose Metal Press, 2007.




Author's Note

Sumner.jpg

Tiffany Sumner is a flash fiction writer, aspiring novelist, and degree-candidate in Rosemont College's MFA in Creative Writing Program. Earlier this year, she relocated to Philadelphia by way of Brooklyn and is earning a living writing about shoes, mobile apps, education and taxes. Yes, taxes. She is a contributing fiction writer for Red Door Magazine and a pretty a-okay cook. Originally from Virginia, Tiffany lives in South Philly with her boyfriend and their two cats--Stitches and Madame Snugglewhiskers. Learn more about Tiffany on her blog Roja ChaCha.

 



[1] Smith, Claudia, "Window," 25.

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