With the latest issue of Flash Fiction Online the publication continues its trend of recent months of focusing on the relationship between mothers and daughters. All three stories orbit this central relationship and the many forms it can take. And there is an additional focus in these stories of distance. The distance between a mother and a child. And the stories approach that very differently. These are very complex pieces, and ones that strike me as a definitely-not-objective reader. At their best the stories are brilliant examinations of scale and hope, difference and distance. So yeah, time to review!
|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"Perfectly Not Normal" by Alexis A. Hunter (870 words)
This story continues the publications recent history of publishing a lot of stories about mothers and children, about birth and the specter of loss and the complexity that parenthood brings. This story beautifully complicates the relationship between mother and (presumed) daughter by having there being something different about the child, a sort of invisible difference that manifests in spikes and tentacles and a tail that can’t be seen but that can be felt. It conveys a way that the level of responsibility a parent has for a child can seem to extend beyond the child, to make them into something difficult to define, a sort of monster even as they are cherished, important. The main character is cast as a 2nd person “you” in the story, making that role that of the reader who can feel something strange about the child, who has to decide if it is literal or metaphorical or a mixture of the two. To me the child, Ani, comes into being surrounded by fear. That they’re not really abnormal or monstrous but that they are a person, are unique, and that they are vulnerable and full of potential. The main character, then, experiences their difference and their potential as something dangerous, almost otherworldly. Because the narrator doesn’t want to screw up, doesn’t want to damage Ani, and yet cannot really avoid it. There’s this strong contrast that I really like between the “you” wanting to have control, wanting to have safety and wanting to protect Ani in a shield of normalcy and having to consider that anything that makes Ani different and not normal also makes them Ani. That there is much to be gained by not trying to force normalcy on Ani, because there’s so much potential, that even if the future is uncertain and frightening it is also beauty and worth fighting for. An excellent read.
"Quartet of the Far-Blown Winds" by Matt Dovey (980 words)
This is another story of mothers and daughters set amid a rather huge confrontation in space. The plot follows a woman who is part of the defense of a human colony, one of many in the galaxy but rather isolated from the others, a human outpost in a mostly-cold stretch of void. And the main character, waiting for these immense…things to approach that might be benign or might be something more sinister. I love the way the story handles distance and scope. The way that it sets up these approaching shapes as immense and sublime so that they seem all-encompassing. It parallels nicely the distance that the main character feels is between her and her daughter, Melinda. And I like the visuals of the piece, the way that the huge [SPOILERS] can break itself down into parts, can change course, can adjust itself. It’s a story with a great taste of both loneliness and possibility. I find myself wishing for a bit more about the distance between the main character and Melinda, though. The story comes from the mother’s perspective and there is something between the two women, something that has caused an estrangement, and while I think the story does a good job of balancing the mother’s sense of loss at not having contact with her daughter, I also feel that without some idea of why the two are estranged I can’t see the estrangement, the distance, as a bad thing. This is likely a rather personal reaction I have, but I am firmly of the belief that if Melinda doesn’t want to have a relationship with her mother then not having a relationship with her mother is a good thing. It is not a tragedy and not something incomplete, and I don’t feel quite comfortable, despite the beautiful way the story shows the hope for closing distance, believing that it’s a distance that should be closed. I do see that the main character here might take this moment to reflect and come to terms with what has happened, and maybe there is a hope of healing. I want to think there is, but coming without Melinda's perspective I was hesitant how to feel. It is a solidly written piece, though, and likely others won’t carry quite the same baggage going in as me, and in any event I think it’s well worth checking out.
"Boxes and Lockets and Clocks" by Samantha Murray (1000 words)
This is yet another story about mothers and daughters, about distance, and about truths. It is a story that conceives of truths as physical things, as something tangible that can be kept in a locket or a box. Something that is stored but never really loosed. It's an interesting concept and sharply told as the main character, Tia, lives with a mother who is cold and who never seems to approve of her. Who, it seems, never does approve and as time goes on the pair become more and more estranged. It is an emotionally resonant story and one that walks around a lot of things, but at its core is still the relationship between mother and daughter, the truths that they kept from each other. And perhaps from themselves. There is an aching quality to the piece, in the way that Tia always wonders what her mother's truth might be. Wonders what happens if you lose a truth. And in the end [SPOILERS] her mother dies and she gets to find out. What I like about the story is how it shows this fractured relationship between mother and daughter where Tia wishes to be adopted. Where she is abused and manipulated by her mother. As I read it, there is an element of the story that implies Tia is queer and that her mother doesn't really accept that. And yet when Tia opens up her mother's truth she finds love. Motherly love. And while touching and movingly written, I again react with a sort of resistance to that ending. Because I feel the love her mother had for her isn't exactly love if it comes attached to abuse. That I can't really call it love to love the person but hate the sin. Not when the sin is a part of the person's identity. Again, this might just come at a difficult time for me personally. But the idea of parental love being something that exists outside of parents' treatment of their children is something that I don’t personally find value in. In my experience it is too often used to further harm and manipulate children (even adult ones), and so the idea of a tangible "truth" essentially shaming Tia over the distance between herself and her mother was something I struggled with. Again, the story is beautifully written and complex and it's another that people should check out and make their own minds up about.