Monday, August 12, 2019

Quick Sips - Flash Fiction Online August 2019

The stories in the August Flash Fiction Online deal with family in different ways. And time, and memories. They find people in a moment of distress and doubt. Of loss and uncertainty. Where each person is faced with something of a choice. To accept the world as they have known it, as it has been sold to them, or to question it, and try and find their own way forward. For many, it means having to go against what their family might have wanted for them, but it also means being true to what they believe in, and reaching for a future and a home where they might belong. It might mean addressing past harms, or dealing with grief and guilt, or trying to find comfort in the unknown. But I should just get to those reviews!


“Neighbors and Little Thieves” by Monica Evans (797 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this piece and their Wills want nothing so badly as to hold the strange small creatures that they can see in the neighbors garden. They look like bits of cloud, and so despite knowing they probably shouldn’t, and their mother’s distrust of anything alien, they try to make it so. Of course, that rather sweet and mischievous premise is complicated by a complex family situation and the possibility that the neighbors, who are decidedly not human, can see through time itself. It captures a feeling of childhood, a slice of familial strife while still holding to a hope that sometimes things work out, and however bad they seem, it might be okay.
Keywords: Aliens, Family, Space, Travel, Time
Review: I like how the story focuses on something so...innocent, I guess, as wanting to hold something soft. Especially because at first it seems that it’s just out of this childish mischief, that the narrator and Wills want to hold these strange creatures. But it turns out to be part of something else, part of something bigger, part of the place their world is at, humanity able to go out among the stars, able to bond with other creatures, able to have a place among a much larger galactic population. And through all that how their mother is against it, is against the change and the different people. Is against the narrator’s older brother signing up to go out. There’s this roiling stress going on in the household, and it’s captured well in the way that the narrator and Wills want some comfort, want to feel the soft happiness that seems just out of reach. Just as their brother wants to escape the house and the arguments and embrace the diversity and distance of the universe. And I really love the way that it all comes together, how in the midst of this family argument the neighbors come to retrieve what the narrator and Wills took and there’s a moment of connection, this way that the entire family, even the disbelieving and prejudiced mother, feel something warm and good from being told that things are going to be okay. That it cuts into their anger and their fear, and gives them a bit of hope. And even if it was just said as an empty comfort, it’s real enough in that it gives them reason to try and make it okay. And in this case it is enough. And it’s just a lovely and heartwarming read despite the strife at the heart of it, fun and very much worth checking out. A wonderful read!

“The Eye Eaters” by Matthew Bailey (1000 words)

No Spoilers: Jaeya and Ituani are best friends, despite Jaeya being from the socially dominant Saryozans while Ituani is of the more marginalized group that worships a suppressed god and practice rituals that have been outlawed. Like eating eyes to experience the memories and experiences of the deceased. The piece plays with the ways that prejudice grows and flourishes in those who never examine their own privilege. Who only see with the eyes they are trained to see with, to pass over the injustices that would be too inconvenient to truly grapple with. It’s careful and wrenching, and does a nice job with a narrator coming to terms with the harm they’ve done.
Keywords: Death, Rituals, Memories, Eyes, Friendship
Review: It’s rather difficult to write about privilege and prejudice in a subtle way, and so I appreciate what this story does with its rather young protagonists, capturing Jaeya’s position on the verge of “learning” too much hatred, too much bigotry. It’s present in the way that they see the world already, in the way that they dismiss the beliefs and customs of their best friend, despite that relationship being the one they value more than anything. But it shows just how pervasive and how hard it is to push back against racism, against intolerance that is socially reinforced. That is propped up by laws and by unspoken treatments and judgment. I really like how the story positions Jaeya as essentially one of “the good ones” while still being rather terrible, even to people that they love. And it all unfolds when they are able to truly step outside of their perspective, when they are able to see themself through the eyes of another, and see all the ways that they have hurt people, that they have been terrible. And it makes them recoil, makes them cringe, makes them fear. And the story pulls back there because it’s such a loaded moment, because it leaves them in a place where they have to decide what to do next. How to be. Will they try to do better or will this experience be fuel for them to be worse in order to repress their guilt and shame. I’m pretty sure it’s the former, and I think the story does a good job with selling how uncomfortable it is for Jaeya, but at the same time how it’s not really about them, but about what they’ve done. About how they’ve hurt people, and believed the bigotry, and hurt their friend. It doesn’t put the pressure on Ituani to reassure them that they are okay, or forgive them, or anything like that. It rather asks what Jaeya is going to do now, which is a very powerful question. A fantastic story!

“Bury-Me-Not” by Katherine Heath Shaeffer (990 words)

No Spoilers: After the death of their mother, the narrator of this story is getting ready to move on. It’s been a long decline, and as they pack up their mothers things it seems they are poised to reclaim their home and their life. Only a little seed stops them. A bury-me-not, which only appear after someone has died, and which bring with them a rather daunting choice. It’s a story dominated by a mixture of grief and relief, where the narrator has in some ways feels held hostage by their mother’s long illness, but also have to face the guilt over feeling that a burden has been lifted. It’s complex, a bit creepy, and not all that happy, though it centers compassion and sacrifice.
Keywords: Death, CW- Terminal Illness, Seeds, Family, Grief
Review: So there’s a lot going on in this story, from the narrator’s complex feelings about the death of their mother to the sudden guilt that seems to manifest itself physically as this invasive seed/plant/magic thing. And fuck once the bury-me-not arrives things get rather creepy for me, because within the story these are just things that happen occasionally, and people have to decide to try and ignore them, treat them like a person, destroy them, or be crushed by them. The narrator here decides to try and ignore, but it’s something they can’t really do in the home where their mother died, with all the reminders and with the noise from the bury-me-not making it even harder. The obvious parallel here is grief, that the narrator is dealing with their grief and the ways to effectively face it are through denial (ignoring it), bargaining (treating it like a person), or anger (destroying it). Unfortunately the choice of accepting it doesn’t really seem to be an option, which is why the piece seems so creepy to me, because if the bury-me-not is a manifestation of a person’s grief (and guilt) that they aren’t dealing with, then there should be a way to get rid of it. But the only options are to either deal with it for the rest of your life or else destroy it, which is made more difficult by the fact that it wears the face of the deceased. At least, there doesn’t seem to be a lot said about how they might eventually go away, or if they can be accepted and expelled, or shrunk, or something. The implication in the story is that the narrator is making room for the bury-me-not, falling back into the routine that they didn’t like because it’s familiar and because they must feel like it’s a betrayal if they move on. Which is difficult and wrenching and bleak. I wish there had been a little more hope to the ending, but it is an acknowledgement that from some things there is no healing, at least not easily, and it does keep the narrator alive, if in service to a quasi-magical plant-person-thing. A fascinating read!


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