Friday, December 7, 2018

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online December 2018

It’s a month of literary original stories at Flash Fiction Online, focusing on family and more specifically on dysfunction and the breaking of familial roles. Because, as the stories show, those roles can become prisons. They can become suffocating with how little seems possible, how little the future offers for them. And yet when people try to push outside they face the specter of violence, of coming up against the expectations and investments of parents who rely on their children at times to give meaning to their own lives. Which is difficult and real and well handled in these stories. So yeah, to the reviews!


“Pigeon, Goodnight” by Angie Ellis (935 words)

No Spoilers: This story flows around a family, and more specifically around a young boy and his older sister. The two have a strange kind of connection, her ten years older and obviously going through Some Shit. And he, much younger and innocent of what she’s going through, can only watch and witness and wonder what exactly is going on, knowing that there’s something wrong but unable to find what it might be because he hasn’t yet discovered the kind of crush of late adolescence and early adulthood that his sister has. It’s a quiet, strange, and aching story that can recognize a hurt, but can do little enough to soothe it.
Keywords: Makeup, Siblings, Family, Running Away
Review: This story does a great job of setting up how the main character and his sister have this strange familial relationship. Where she is obviously dealing with some serious stuff, unhappy with where she’s at and perhaps with her parents for their role in that unhappiness. But that she is fond of her brother, perhaps sees in him something of the innocence she might have had when she was younger. Before bad things started to happen. And for his part he still looks up to his sister, care for her, knows both that her behavior is dangerous but also that he needs to keep her secrets. And together they maintain this uneasy peace—or, well, easy between each other but uneasy with the rest of the world. They help each other as they can, knowing that neither of them will likely be enough, but also knowing that they are something of a respite for each other. It’s a beautifully rendered situation, full of hurt and a looming tragedy that might be realized at any moment, that both characters know is there but careful avoid talking about, hoping maybe that it won’t happen but also emotionally preparing for it. And for me it’s not super important to know what exactly is going wrong with the sister. Because the narrator doesn’t know, is being sheltered from that by everyone. It’s enough to know that he can sense the impact it has, and still wants to reach out, to look up to the sister who is still kind to him. A great and wrenching read!

“M&M” by Douglas W. Milliken (779 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is home after graduating school and getting a job. They’ve brought with them a load of gifts for their Na, their mother, only to find themself drawn into the same old conflicts with their stepfather, who they call the Dickhead. The story centers one of these conflicts, an argument about essentially nothing, and what the narrator does to win a sort of victory. One full of tension and possible violence, stepping out from the patterns of abuse and counter-abuse that has defined their relationship with the Dickhead. It’s a story of escalation, and perhaps also of growing up, or at least out of the roles that have always been forced on the narrator.
Keywords: CW- Abuse, Arguments, Gifts, Music, Knives, Family
Review: I do like how this story catches a much different scene within another rather dysfunctional family, furthering the themes opened in the last story and really giving another picture of how children are pushed and abused by how they are raised. Here we find the narrator mostly independent, though not exactly glamorously so. Still, they are working and on their own and want to spend a weekend doing something nice for their mother. To make her happy, even though she married the Dickhead, a man who has been abusive to the narrator, at least verbally and emotionally. The two are at odds, always finding ways to argue, and the Dickhead accents his arguments with threats of violence, of shooting the narrator—something that the mother does her best to ignore. It sets up this situation where the narrator has always been at the mercy of the Dickhead and is finally coming out from under that cloud. Because they are on their own, not subject to having to live in that house anymore. They’ve become an adult, and with that comes the resolve to break the patterns that have been established through their childhood, where those threats were used to shut them up. To silence them. And so the narrator decides to call that bluff, and to retake a bit of the space. They confront the Dickhead with the change in roles, and it’s rather stark and dramatic and freeing. Because it shows the narrator renegotiating the relationship and doing so without flinching. It’s a story of warfare, if only between two people, and the way the narrator earns a momentary peace for themself. A fine read!

“Bike” by Elliott Thornton (627 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a mother whose son has a habit of driving his bike too fast and often under the influence. And as much as she gets on him not to do it, that he’ll turn over on that bike, he doesn’t change his behavior. And the story is about how she deals with it, and what happens, and the kind of inevitable tragedy of it. It seeks to capture the frustration but also the sort of grim acceptance of it. Of life as it happens. It seems about the kind of conflict that becomes almost background noise, that becomes a matter of habit, and what happens when something breaks that habit, and the weight of those that it leaves behind.
Keywords: Motorcycles, CW- Death of a Child, Routine, Accidents, CW- Driving While Intoxicated
Review: This story shifts the focus from the last two, from youngest child to child-becoming-adult to here where it’s the parent who is the main character. And again the child is one who seems a bit drawn to something that is self-destructive. Eddie goes out on the bike because of the danger, because it’s something that breaks the routine he finds so dull and set. Like that of his mother, who distracts herself with thoughts of her son. And yet for both of them, they come to take that routine for granted. More specifically, they take that they will remain there to have the same argument as a given, when in reality the warning turns into prophecy when Eddie turns over his bike and dies. And what’s left is the narrator’s realization that without her son, she doesn’t really have anything to distract herself from her own dullness. And for me it really gets at the way that families come to form these patterns, these roles, and when they are changed it throws people. For the narrator, it shatters her ability to stand the present, because all that she had was the hope for her son’s future. Which is sort of messed up, but it nicely rendered here. A quiet and I’d say numbly angry story, about loss and grief and how life can become a dull grind. A nice way to close out the issue!


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