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Flash Chapbook Review: Cooper’s Phantasmagoria Is Fantastic

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Author: Thomas Cooper

Title: Phantasmagoria

Publisher: Keyhole Press

Year: 2009

# of Pages: 44

# of Stories: 17

Thomas Cooper's flash fiction collection Phantasmagoria is a gripping 44-page compilation of intense short pieces constructed on themes of love and loss. Through each of his 17 stories, Cooper is able to create an intimate bond with his readers based on basic human emotions, dazzle his readers with equal parts illusion and fantasy, and leave us all speechless with the close of the last page.

The first four pieces of his collection—"The Lady in the Closet," "The Old-Fashioned Way," "Bounty," and "Holes"—all present stories revolving around the death of a wife. "The Lady in the Closet" is a heart-wrenching piece about a husband trying to deny the degradation of his wife to cancer and throwing himself into an obsession with a woman he finds hiding in his closet. Unable to cope with his wife's illness, the husband preoccupies himself with the lady in the closet. In the end, his wife has passed and the lady in the closet fades away like a memory. Thus, the husband is left on his own to deal with his intense feelings of loss. In "The Old-Fashioned Way," two older men put flowers on the grave of a woman whom they both believe to have been their wife. Both men reminisce about their wives, holding on to the only memories they may have in their feeble minds. In the end, the men duke it out, neither willing to let go of the memories they so dearly hold on to.

In the middle of the chapbook, we find my personal favorite story, "House Tornado." In this short and intense piece, a husband and wife are eating breakfast when a tornado uproots their house. The pace of this piece is carefully constructed to grow the anticipation of the tornado and its impending doom. While inside this cone of catastrophe, the husband and wife find their true feelings toward each other being unleashed. The husband wants to go out with a bang (literally), while his wife desperately professes her undying love to a strange man on the other end of a telephone line. The building of suspension and tension in this piece is breathtaking, leaving me feeling as if I'd been swept up in the tornado myself.

Toward the end of the chapbook, Cooper writes a touching piece titled "Tricks" about the family dealing with the recent death of a father. The piece is told from the point of view of the son as he describes his difficulties dealing with a sister who has Asperger's syndrome. The sister is constantly doing magic tricks that grate on her brother's nerves. However, in the end of the piece, it is the sister's magic "tricks" that bring the most comfort to the brother in their time of loss.

Cooper closes his flash masterpiece with a story titled "Sir Montague." This piece plays out the life of a young boy after a divorce. The boy straddles two lifestyles: that of his free-spirited mother and her college-aged boyfriend and that of his lonely father who barely lives his condo. The boy, whom the father refers to as "Sir Montague," is given his mother's engagement ring to return to his father. But, instead, Sir Montague has other plans. Having fallen in love with a neighbor woman name Miss Ouellette, Sir Montague keeps the rings with the intentions to give it to Miss Ouellette and run away with her. The end of this piece plays out as Sir Montague sneaks from his bed, climbs a tree, and spreads his arms like wings, preparing to swoop in on Miss Ouellette and begin their escape from life. In the end, Thomas Cooper's stories leave the reader feeling as if he or she has journeyed unseen through the complex lives of his well-developed characters. Softly treading through these stories, like a ghost trying not to leave any evidence behind, the reader experiences a great spectrum of love, loss and, in the end, hopefulness.

About the Author

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Carrie Hollinshead Capili is currently an MFA in Creative Writing candidate at Rosemont College. She works full time as the Publications Director for a small publishing company in Upper Chichester, Pa, and also moonlights as a freelance writer. In her free time, Carrie enjoys reading, writing fiction, snowboarding, and watching horror movies. She currently lives in West Chester with her husband, Lawrence, two dogs, Maliit and Wickett, and cat, Jo-Jo.

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