November’s Flash Fiction Online brings an interesting perspective on different kinds of magic and ownership. In one, both come down to a ritual, to an encircling. In another, they are tied up with memory and relationship, where items following the dissolution of a relationship go to those with more of a connection to them. And one, the ownership is of narratives, of images, and it has everything to do with the violent magic of colonialism. In all the pieces, characters are trying to reach for something, and all are dealing with corruption and power. Some are fighting against it, though, and some are rushing to embrace it. To the reviews!
“How to Win a Pulitzer” by and translated by Aishah Ojibara (646 words)
No Spoilers: Ann is a journalist with a brilliant idea of how to win a Pulitzer. Simply grab her camera, travel to the country of Africa, and document the suffering. Shed a light on the human misery and misfortune, that some people are born in places like Africa. And by revealing their plight, save the African people by bringing their need to the attention of wealthy white people who can act philanthropically and give generously, all thanks to Ann’s intervention. She’s doing it for the poor people of Africa...so she can win the highest award in journalism. Because why pick just one? It’s a sharp story, a mix of humor and very real ways that some journalists try to sell the tragedy of Africa to white audiences to play into their nostalgia for colonialism.
Keywords: Journalism, Africa, Tourism, Awards
Review: I am here desperately trying to remember exactly what it is called when affluent people make trips especially to places where they expect to find poverty and suffering in order to feel better about themselves and largely to act out white savior fantasies. Misery tourism? That way that people, largely from richer “Western” countries, will visit countries that are supposedly overwhelmingly poor so that they can act out the myth of colonialism, that white people can bring attention, progress, and relief to people suffering from poverty, disease, starvation, conflict, etc etc. I love the way the story places Ann as a person, a domestic journalist, fishing for a Pulitzer by going to Africa to chronicle the pain and privation. Which is a biting critique of the value that such stories, that such depictions, have in more affluent, whiter nations. Nations who have some stake in believing that colonialism might have its problems but also that in some places it is necessary. Because why else _want_ to believe that Africa is a place of abject poverty, where everyone is poor and pitiful, except that it feeds into the narrative that without colonial oversight the entire continent is still in need to white saviors? In many ways this is a funny story, too, for all that it gives voice to something real and awful, because Ann as a character is recognizable as a person, as a kind of person, and seeing her “revelations” that there are Africans wealthier than her is an amazing (and rather hilarious) moment where her preconceptions of Africa are shaken, where maybe she can see through the haze of her own racism to what’s really in front of her. Except no, and she retreats back into the safety of her ignorance and prejudice very quickly, leaving the reader to find either an uncomfortable silence in introspecting into their own assumptions about “less fortunate” countries and places or a rather hilarious take down of “well meaning” white people traveling abroad in order to show their whole asses to the world. A wonderful read!
“Widdershins Mine” by Damon Shaw (973 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story has an inherent knowledge of the only kind of magic that matters—possession. But not of inhabiting another person’s body. No, this kind of possession is is all about ownership. The narrator circles something three times counterclockwise and they take possession of that. From a cow to Scotland to...the world. But as they set their sights on larger and larger spells, they find that they might not be the only person with this ability, and that maybe they’re looking at the whole situation a little backwards. It’s a strange piece, full of power and desire, that builds to a slightly nebulous but also rather striking ending.
Keywords: Travel, Rituals, Possession, Perspective
Review: I like how the magic of the story works, how the narrator just knows how to do these rituals, and how they take increasing steps to possess more and more. Not because they want to rule over other people, but because they want to be free of being possessed and they feel like the only want to be safe is to possess everything. So they try to take the world and run into someone else with the same power. I like that the battle is intense but short, that it decides so much, and that in part it seems to be because the narrator is a little too stuck on some of the more literal ways of thinking. More than that, though, I feel like the story shows in them this insecurity and fear, the way that some people can only feel safe when they are in complete control. And that it might be a matter of perspective. At least, I feel that the story brings up how sometimes backwards and forwards, clockwise and counterclockwise, can be dependent of the maps being used. That what grounds the magic, then, isn’t the literal direction that the person is traveling, but how they are holding the desire and view of the world in their might, in their heart. And that maybe for the narrator there is another way to feel safe. That maybe they don’t have to be the sole person in possession of everything. At least, the ending speaks to me of the two characters in a way taking possession of each other, and feels less about domination than it does about trust, about letting another person in. About seeing that part of being safe is being able to be vulnerable and not attacked for it. And it’s a strange and tender moment that makes for a powerful read that I definitely recommend people spend some time with. A fine read!
“Ephemera” by Catherine George ( words)
No Spoilers: Rose has just been dumped by her long term boyfriend, Kieran. On top of the shock, though, and the pain of losing a person that had been so much of her life for so long, Rose finds that most of the things in her life—the physical objects in her home—are following suit, chasing after Kieran instead of staying with Rose. It’s a piece that very much speaks to me about the cost of breaking up, especially in a relationship where you were placed in a less important role. Where you were expected to sacrifice and give up on your own dreams for the sake of your partners. So that, when they leave, they take all of the memories associated with the relationship as well, revealing them to be part of a problem that you never realized was there. That requires some time to process and really place in context. There’s loss involved, but also the chance for new growth and beginnings.
Keywords: Breakups, Relationships, Possessions, Memories
Review: I really do like the way that the story explores how this break up, how Kieran leaving, takes much more than just his presence in the relationship. How in many ways it takes all the artifacts of that relationship, too, turning objects that had been sources of comfort and even joy into these bitter reminders of absence. For Rose, too, I feel that it goes deeper than that, where the objects are completely re-contextualized, give a new and painful association, because of what’s happen. They reveal that so much of her life has been given to Kieran, who in turn only took more and more of it, devaluing her and her interests and her dreams so that he could reach for his own. Meanwhile Rose thought that she was doing this for love, that she was giving things up for the sake of their relationship, not quite realizing the full extent that it was always her making sacrifices and giving up. Always her losing out on opportunities and having to be prioritized last. Which makes this exodus, this abandonment, something of a mixed experience. Because while it is painful and shitty, it also seems to open her eyes to the fact that she’s probably better off without Kieran. That him leaving doesn’t just take her stuff, it takes all the weight and baggage that has been weighing her down. Freed of it, she seems to realize that it is something she’s not all that sad about losing. In fact, she can find a joy in it, and a power in reclaiming her life and her time, let Kieran have the artifacts of their time together while she makes something of a fresh start. A great story!