Thursday, April 5, 2012


Readers of flash fiction are in debt to whoever imagined the literary smorgasbord that is “Shut Up/Look Pretty”—select writings by Lauren Becker, Kirsty Logan, Erin Fitzgerald, Michelle Reale and Amber Sparks.

In the collection, we meet the Navy Seals of female short fiction—five of today’s sharpest Indie writers. Never mind issues of gender. That they are women only matters because their writing decimates. They scale walls and leap off skyscrapers. People get hurt and saved, knocked down, let down, expunged, reincarnated, maimed, mimicked, celebrated and, of course, loved.

Each author takes roughly 60 pages to lay traps, imprison people, splay their pain, thus culminating in a generous book that logs in at 300 pages—rare in today’s envelope-thin story collections.

The assembled works are at once both a charm bracelet and a cluster bomb, requiring individual attention. To be sure, each author brings their own distinct voice with them, yet as a whole, the book blends together the way standalone hues also accent the greater image in a painting.

Lauren Becker’s writing reads like classical music, symphonic and precise, building with undertones of intensity towards a sharp crescendo. She uses alliteration and a clever, urgent cadence, sticking every ending with a line so poetic and thoughtful that one pauses, almost reverentially. “Even as I talk you out of me, I am doing the same.” She writes about being second-guessed, passed over, trampled and used. We want to know who these lovers and hypocrites are. She makes us mandate that these louts explain why they behave so selfishly, even while feeling a twinge of guilt ourselves for their similarity to our own lives. More than once, Becker injects surprises into her writing, as in a sister being ejected from her brother’s wedding at the demand of the bride.

Erin Fitzgerald has a sharp, often dark, wit. Her characters are the life of the party even when they’re not, as in a wonderful piece that is comprised entirely of brief letters sent to cell mate 2409756, who just happens to be Lindsay Lohan:

If I ever move away, which seems likely, I am taking a chunk of my driveway with me. It’s what holds me up when I say goodbye to the people I love, and I never see them again.

“Hi Linds:
Keep remembering that yesterday was a good day.

“Dear Lindsay:
Scavenging ensures we remember more than we forget.
I’m just saying, Erin”

The paint on the walls probably doesn’t have lead in it. Go ahead and chip at it.

Not a piece disappoints.

Kirsty Logan’s sections are all ribs belonging to the same lung, to the same messed up bards and lasses who are having one hell of a time not only getting sober, but making something of their lives. The cast of these interlocking stories are all connected by the Scottish band Black Brick. We’re introduced to characters as uniquely drawn as their names: Tibor and Francis Faskally, to name a couple. Her stories are “This is Spinal Tap” meets “High Fidelity” meets a whole lot of sex and drugs and drinking. Hey, it’s only Rock n’ Roll, and it’s a blast.

Michelle Reale takes you out at the knees. Sometimes her pieces kick you in the scrotum (if you have one.) But mostly Reale’s writing is gorgeous, spare when it needs to be, lush when the ambiance requires it. Often her pieces are open-ended, as if you’re being dropped through a suddenly sprung trap door, allowing you to come to your own conclusion about how you got where you are and how. Other times she slams the door in your face without apology. Her stories soar, sway and dip into the dark crevices of dysfunctional relationships, usually helmed by a domineering mother figure that very well may resembled our own, or another mother we know well.

Amber Sparks is fascinated with death, or rather death’s hold over us. Her creepy ghost story that opens “A Great Dark Sleep” is about far more than ghosts. We are forced to tangle with questions of guilt and conscience. We want to protect the orphaned little girl, who like the boy in “The Sixth Sense” is kept captive by flocks of interloping specters that have stolen and manipulated her father’s heart. In other stories a wife kills a husband who then turns into an angel and we get the gory pleasure of watching a man’s death and decay from a front row seat.

Ultimately, “Shut Up/Look Pretty” is so flush with radiant story-telling that upon conclusion the reader is actually left a little winded, though immensely satisfied.

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