Friday, December 30, 2011

#4 of Best of 2011: A Half-Dozen Books That Blew Me Away


Damn Sure Right: Flash Fiction by Meg Pokrass

“There is always a story inside a story inside a dog.”--Meg Pokrass

Full Disclosure: The author of this book is a friend of mine. But it was this book that made me befriend her; I made friends with her after I read her book and precisely because it blew me away. Therefore, I feel one hundred percent comfortable—in the ethics department as well as quality control—including Damn Sure Right by Meg Pokrass in my half-dozen favorite new books of the year. If you thought there was nothing innovative happening in the art of storytelling, I urge you to open this collection of very short stories, from one to three pages long, and some consisting of a single slender but satisfying paragraph. Also known as micro fiction and short-shorts, flash fiction is not new, but it is on the rise, with a growing presence in print and online—where its size makes it a perfect fit for webzines.

The flashes in Damn Sure Right center on relationships—between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, lovers, ex-lovers, best friends, neighbors, strangers, and passersby—and they pack the whole intricate history of these intertwined lives into just a couple hundred words. How does Pokrass fit so much nuance and charge into such a thin slice of life? Partly it's her startling choice of words and the way she puts them together into compact, slightly twisted sentences that do double and triple duty delivering plot, character, setting, attitude, insight. And partly it's her sensate writing hand, which seems to plug itself directly into the gut-level wisdom airing on the all-visceral all-the-time channel. As Frederick Barthelme, editor of the renowned Mississippi Review (now Blip online) says (in what may be the best blurb ever) “Meg Pokrass writes like a brain looking for a body.” This is what we're talking about: “The city smells salty, orange light sneaks around his shower-curtained window, cabs call like geese or mothers of missing children.” Also this: “There's a hum of electricity before the ring—mimics birds, cheap clocks, Buddhist meetings. It's summer. I'm sleepwalking, holding his phone number like a straight or flush.”

Often dark and unsettling, sometimes sly with humor, her stories are about running away and starting over, dangerous attractions and repulsions, surviving and barely surviving, and finding salvation in dogs, rats, and strange men. One of the funny ones, “Scotts,” follows a woman who has a crush on a guy she works with. She declares her affection on the relative safety of Craig's List, in a posting that reads “Do you feel the same way, Scott F.?” When she receives a positive reply, she's elated. Then comes the inundation of replies from Scott F's all over the region thinking their undeclared love has just been declared. The story ends on the woman, who now avoids her crush, eats “outside alone facing the mountains.” But one can't help but wonder what kind of mayhem is ensuing in the working lives of all those other misled Scotts. Danger lurks and lingers, even when the surface is glassy.

Another slice of life according to Meg Pokrass in Damn Sure Right:
Not until my fourteenth birthday did an electric switch turn on. Out came the family neck, the swan neck—as though it rose from my birthday cake where it had been sleeping. My eyes became purple, and boys called them “picture windows.” Well, not boys exactly, but one girl did. Junie. It was still a compliment, since Junie was a ballerina and valued physical beauty, especially the neck above all else—she knew what to look for, called herself a slut. She had an unnaturally gravelly voice, as though she'd been smoking for forty years, as though she were half man, and when she laughed got worse.”

Next up, a reckless librarian goes on a road trip—or is it a kidnapping?


  1. Yea! DSR is the best book of flash stories out there in my opinion, Frances. Written by the best flash writer out there. So there. I read Meg's work several times. She seems to toss the reader into the middle of her stories as if to say, "Here. You figure out the beginning and the end, pal. That's your job."

  2. I agree, David, and couldn't have said it better myself.