Tuesday, July 18, 2023

July reads

I don't often read short story collections, but when a friend has her second book published, it's a good reason to branch out of your comfort zone!

As If She Had a Say is Jennifer Fliss's second collection of short stories. The stories are eclectic: some border on absurd while others dive right in the deep end of bizarre. I've gotten into the habit of reading light, easy fiction, and at first I had to kind of recalibrate my brain to be in a space to read this genre of writing. I'm out of practice reading stories that engage my brain and explore heavy themes.
These stories are about women, our bodies, our painful experiences, love, loss, and the way we navigate a world that wasn't built for us. Some resonated especially deeply with me and left me a little breathless. Left me feeling seen. 

Some were uncomfortable to read in the sense that the absurdity reveals a little too much truth about the human condition.

Many of these stories are heavily metaphorical, which I really enjoyed. While not all the stories relied heavily on metaphor, Fliss has a real talent for framing grief, tragedy, and trauma in abstract or symbolic ways that somehow make the emotional pain clearer than straightforward writing could.

I tried to narrow down my favorites, but there were a lot. Here are my top seven (I tried to do five but just couldn't) in no particular order, and my attempt to vaguely capture what they touch on, at least by my interpretation:
  • "Postcards from the Person You Ate" (a young woman finds her voice after an assault)
  • "This Heart Hole Punch" (the importance of our strange and meaningful coping mechanisms), 
  • "Projection" (women's bodies as entertainment)
  • "Pieces of Her" (grappling with loss and grief)
  • "The Ink That Doesn't Dry" (the way trauma marks us, fades, and stays forever)
  • "In My Sleep I Am Wounded" (intergenerational trauma and painful reminders we're alive)
  • "The Space Where They Meet" (looking for order in chaos as a means to survive)
What's interesting about reading a collection of short stories if you're more accustomed to reading novels is that you have to get into a rhythm of jumping in and out of the story at hand. I had to read this one in small batches because, although short, the stories often pack an emotional punch and I needed some time to digest them before going on to the next.

Some stories resonated more than others, but overall I enjoyed the collection immensely and found myself wanting to mark, underline, and annotate favorite passages, something I haven't done since college. (Reading a physical book is a novelty these days!)

I haven't been reading much lately – I've been focusing on writing – so it felt good have a reason to pick up a book, especially one so different than my usual fare. I actually think I may explore some more short story collections, because this one whet my appetite for short, powerful, and meaningful stories.

If you're an English major at heart and enjoy examining and interpreting stories, and if heavy subject matter doesn't scare you away, I highly recommend this one.


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