-Reviewed by Neil Campbell-
In any book I read to review, I need to be won over by the writer, because usually I’ve never heard of them. It wasn’t until the splendid ‘The Conservation of Angular Momentum‘ that K.M. Elkes truly pulled me in, and from that moment I was prepared to go with him wherever he wanted to take me, convinced and reassured as I was by his talent.
‘The Conservation of Angular Momentum’ won me over when I realized, as with all good stories, that I was thinking about it beyond the end. Bernard McClaverty has a kind of genius for this, and Elkes does it well too. The imagery of the ‘sickle moons’ on Carrie’s arms ensured that I thought about both her and Jerome beyond story’s end. This story first appeared on the estimable Fictive Dream, further proof of that zine as a great source for all things story. My other favourite was ‘Late Blackberries’ which has echoes of both Carver and Cheever in its profundity, the living of life more important than the things achieved within it.
Some of these stories are little more than an assemblage of lovely sentences, but sometimes that’s enough within collections of flash. Take for example a sentence like, “Without each other, there is only the long night folding over you, the counting of stars and the way you failed”. You tend to get bombarded with new characters and their lives every other page, and interludes of lyricism provide welcome respite from all the new people, at least for this reader.
This is the kind of flash fiction that’s closer to poetry than prose, a language that reflects the sensibilities of sensitive characters. But there are story arcs too, if you need that kind of cobblers in your reading.
There’s a touch of Steinbeckian sentimentality in stories like ‘Send me Down’, but as with Steinbeck, on balance, you forgive it because of the lives that get showcased in the prose. I also enjoyed the haunting ‘Dissolved’, the terrible cooking of the mum in ‘Still Warm’ and the dysfunctional Dad in the beautifully characterised ‘Giraffe High’:
“Dad showed up one slow, hot afternoon while I was playing in the front garden. I hadn’t seen him for a year. He was driving a faded red car that sagged on its suspension, and when he wound down the window and called my name, I saw he had two black eyes and a swollen nose.”
There’s a quiet wistfulness to these stories, an understanding of life derived from lived experience felt keenly.
One or two of the stories felt a little slight, which often seems hard to escape with writing in this form. Sometimes it feels like there’s not enough at stake, but in stories like ‘Manhattan, 2am’ and ‘Boxes, Kids, Lovers’ there is enough depth sketched into the flashes to set the imagination to empathy.
I still don’t like second person narration, it never fails to irritate me, and there are a handful of those, but I enjoyed the references to dreams, and their incorporation into the lived experience of the characters, often most artfully done in the longer stories of Joy Williams.
At first I thought there were going to be domestic parameters to this collection, but I was glad only a handful of the stories were about having kids, and that there were enough oddball loners around to ensure that this was a highly enjoyable collection of flash, a collection often grounded in the everyday but that transcends the everyday in the way of all great fiction.