Sherrie Flick, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Autumn House Press, 2018
Reviewed by Sean Lovelace
FOOD HAS BECOME A THING OF DISTRACTION (LIKE THE WEATHER) DURING OUR NATIONAL ENNUI SO LET'S TALK FOOD
There is a time for champagne. For sushi, red sauce enchiladas, poutine, potato latkes or empanadas. Pizza Margherita. Bamboo shoots. Brazil nuts. Dates. Camel's milk. The tongue of a humped cow. Snails, in their shells. Coffee.
There is also time for a glass bottle of Coke, sleeve of Georgia peanuts. Maybe even a Marlboro chaser. Smoke like forest fog...Just the other day I shot a deer with a bow, was driving home to butcher the creature and passed Fairmount, Indiana, so pulled over and spent a few moments by James Dean's grave. Humble, rose granite stone. People left coins, vape pens, a shot bottle of bourbon. I got into my Subaru and made one more stop, gas station in Gas City (no lie) for a Blow Pop, Super-size (Charms LLC, out of Covington, Tennessee). I felt good, folks. Gathered my own food, visited a dead celebrity. Passed a hitchhiker and ignored him. Saw a crow eating a detonated raccoon. Licked my lollipop. Went home and wrestled my rat terrier and sharpened a knife (Buck) and went to work butchering a whitetail hung from a dead ash (emerald borer, that bastard): burger, steak, tenderloin, vibrant, red, still heart...This is truly an epic day in America.
This space I routinely reserve for International flash fiction (and rightly so). Bamboo shoots, a shot of ouzo. Medicinal teas. Fried dog.
For example, I nearly wrote today of Etgar Keret's (Israeli) recent literary coup.
Or of Verónica Gerber Bicecci, from Mexico, who once showed up at an event (as did the badass, Maud Gonne, 100 years ago) with an actual live hawk perched on her shoulder (friendly pet, or simply an accessory, we'll surely never know). Her book Empty Set will slay, rebuild, then again slay your dragon.
Or Petrol, by Martina Evans. I'm Irish, I'm biased. Really looking forward to reading and rereading this one.
Or Antwerp, by prodigious, prolific, shall we say pro-apocalyptic (meaning what exactly?) Chilean Roberto Bolaño, who states of this flash text: "The only novel that doesn't embarrass me is Antwerp." Wow.
And I will write of these...and I will. Later.
In the rat terrier. The hummingbird. Ryan Seacrest. The pocketknife. The snort of crushed blue powder. Shot of Stolichnaya. The black beetle jig. The kernel of popcorn. The thong. The temper tantrum. The haiku. The thunderclap. The quickie. The flash fiction.
I do recognize many established flash fiction authors bristle at being pigeonholed. (Kim Chinquee recently told me she preferred to not be referred to her well-known sobriquet, The Queen of Flash, and that's legit. Though I would argue Raymond Carver's attempt at the novel form was a misstep. And, in all honesty, Woody Allen really should have stuck with his "funny movies" no matter how much he detested that critical feedback.)
Note: Are we even allowed to use the term Woody Allen anymore? Well, my email is easy to find and I'm always up for a morality of art versus morality of the artist discussion over lunch, as long as you buy the kombucha.
But I will now commence the holy holing of the pigeons! Editorial decision, on the grounds of my authentic beating heart: Of Thank Your Lucky Stars, I am reviewing pages 1, 6, 18, 50, 52, 55, 58, 60, 61, 64, 66, 68, 71, 73, 86, 88, 91, 94, 96, 98, 102, 110, 119, 121, 122, 148, 150, 152, 153, 155, 156, 157, 166, 168, 181, 184, and 187 and only pages 1, 6, 18, 50, 52, 55, 58, 60, 61, 64, 66, 68, 71, 73, 86, 88, 91, 94, 96, 98, 102, 110, 119, 121, 122, 148, 150, 152, 153, 155, 156, 157, 166, 168, 181, 184, and 187.
I can attest the other, longer stories in the book are worthy (I read them), but, look, it's -41 wind chill outside, I have no bread or milk (almond), and my Subaru has four (4!) current recalls, two of them potentially fatal. Also, I'm a flash elitist.
We will now focus on the genre.
DO CRITICS SUPPOSE ARGUMENTS ANYMORE?
Well, they should. I'd like to posit this: If Force equals Mass X Acceleration (and surely it does; if you believe otherwise you might as well go tussle with Kyrie Irving or the rain), then Artistic Force equals Lyric X Intensity. Resulting in a meaningful loss of context and simultaneous net gain of beauty. WTF?
Listen. I want to consider that contemporary flash fiction authors need to relax about the babblings of story. While, sure, we can go short story technique (if we so choose), we're not the short story. We don't need to be.
A work of art can overcome context/plot/reason/meaning/narrative arch by its lyric intensity. The Beatles can sit all day in an English garden singing Goo goo g'joob, I am the Walrus...but how? Well, the song sounds really good: bass, electric piano, drums. Looped strings. And of course that tambourine. And a vivid, immediately striking (Klee or Bridget Riley) piece of abstract visual art can drive a hatchet into the icy sea of anyone's skull, without even once the uttering of the banality, "What does it mean?" What does it mean? Why you're dancing about architecture again... (I am tempted here to write about the essence of streams and rivers, but when would I stop?)
Charles Simic won the Pulitzer Prize (and pissed a lot of poets off by doing so) by writing lines like these: The stone is a mirror which works poorly. Nothing in it but dimness. Your dimness or its dimness, who's to say? In the hush your heart sounds like a black cricket.
The finest writing in Thank Your Lucky Stars is actually when Flick works in a vein I'll call a departure. (As your nimble critic, I know her craftsmanship well throughout the years.) The best writing in this book of very good writing is not narrative; it is centrifuged into the shorter flashes. Mostly less than one page, very brief (like a haiku or a thong, as I've mentioned). Their imaginative intensity—their pure serious play with language—overcomes any requirement in this reader for context. To cast for solely meaning here is the wrong impulse. I admire how these short texts make me think, shift, see, feel.
6: crickets jump like fireworks.
52: tapping, tapping, tapping. Chickens.
60: tomcats screech and gurgle.
155: twins settle like a pile of twigs.
168: moon, thunder, baby owl night.
156: beets pulsing.
122: rambling locust.
73: fluffy white baby cow cloud faces.
There are numerous animals in these pages, mostly small animals. Just like with Simic. Or Russell Edson. Or even Flick's contemporary, Meg Pokrass. I've been reading a lot of Chen Chen lately, first only because he was visiting my university. Then second I just fell into his poetry, the way someone might tumble into a bowl of righteous venison chili when it's fucking cold outside. Then I really started reading Chen Chen. Anyway, Chen writes a lot of fascinating things of animals. So does Sherrie Flick. This seems an important essay or maybe the twinkling of a dissertation. We need a grad student. There's a bunch down the hall, poor things. They look dazed. Hold up, I'm going to get one and make them write about animals. I'll burst open the doors to their tiny offices (shared) and pronounce, "I want you to write about animals!" They probably will, too. This is a small perk of the teaching profession.
I heard a scholar of sociology last week on the radio who said, "I never cared about men. I never held a very high opinion of men. Until I started working in a prison. Then I noticed men have a lot going on, you know, in navigating that world of men."
In this book, Flick writes with great intelligence and nuance of men. Western men and Midwestern men, mainly. Not prisoners, per say, these men, but certainly stumbling and fumbling the contours and confines of their lives, as we all must. Men who suddenly arrive, men who suddenly depart. Men who pity and men who detest the whiff (or shall I say stench?) of pity. Men who mumble, slink, scamper, fiddle. Men who never fiddle, but do a thing outright and well. Men who eat steak, men who eat (and prepare) quiche. Men who drink black coffee (never tea) and cheap beer. Men who fight in bars. Men who wear spurs, men who wear hipster T-shirts. Men who understand cows. Men who understand wine. Men, in dimensionality.
1: I knew from the start the men who sold me the corn were not farmers.
31: John is alive and naïve and pretending not to be.
10: Matty sips at the cooking sherry. No one is watching.
50: In Nebraska, men keep small colorful seashells in their mouths.
23: Gary slinks over with apologies...
93: "But," he said, "you can't go back." His voice came out soft. "It never works."
151: They wear leather boots that creak.
45: Fred's urban eccentricities are insecurities.
41: One day John is late, frazzled.
138: He never saw it coming. It being happiness. It being disappointment.
120: Chuck creaked away after a time.
149: Then he plunged down through the scratchy mess.
I AM GOING TO END HERE
By inferring some kind of tell-it-slant to the title, cyclical, a classic ending to poems, stories, essays, reviews, most everything throughout Time, beginning to the finale to the beginning. Fire and ice, I suppose. Thank you, polar vortex! Thank you, Sherrie Flick, for letting me huddle up inside during this Arctic blast and jettison my mind away...Thank you, words. Little scrawling slivers trying, trying to rub together, trying trying to heat, ignite, mind-friction, smoldering at least, animals, women, men—in the sudden whiteout of the blizzard that we face.