THEY COULD NO LONGER CONTAIN THEMSELVES
Elizabeth J. Colen, John Jodzio, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Sean Lovelace, and Mary Miller. Rose Metal Press, $15.95 paperback (248p) ISBN: 978-0-9846166-1-9
This collection of five flash chapbooks from five different authors (the four finalists from the fourth short short chapbook contest and the winner from the third) is as inspiring as it is moving, sad, funny, challenging. It’s basically everything you’d ever want from the written word, and it comes in such a damn tight package that, well, it’s wonderful.
To me, being good at brevity in literature is like being good at reducing fractions in math. At least to a point. I don’t want that to come off as being too reductive (ha ha) because I know, from a literary standpoint, it takes more than just practice and patience to excel at short fiction; it takes natural talent as well, and there’s an abundance of talent throughout this book.
However, I don’t want to just sit here and heap on the praise (although it’ll be tricky to do otherwise) so what I’ll do is give you—in the spirit of brevity—some short thoughts about each of the authors along with some short snippets from their respective work.
We’ll begin at the beginning with John Jodzio’s collection Do Not Touch Me Not Now Not Ever. There’s a great playfulness in these stories, lots of twists, lots of random and weird and bizarre. Lots of great opening hooks, too. Jodzio, like all of the writers in this collection, is a master with the fishing pole. One or two lines in and the hook is set deep in the flesh of our cheek, my friends. We’re let go when they’re good and ready to let us go, and that’s okay because the ride is absolutely thrilling.
From Jodzio’s Octane:
“I’m testing pump octane at a Shell Station on St. Cloud when a warlock casts a spell over me. He’s got a black goatee and his ponytail is pulled back into a green scrunchie. He comes out of the station munching on a fruit pie and then he gives me a smile and a little nod. That’s all it takes. I suddenly feel compelled to follow him wherever he goes.”
Mary Miller’s collection Paper And Tassels comes next, and in my notebook I see the words beautiful, hard, and real, and these three words are still ringing true to me. Miller’s stories have a great bite to them, they’re filled with these painful little truths that are simply shocking in their openness. They sit right on the page, daring you to look at them. Her writing is, in my mind, consistently brilliant.
From Miller’s Misled:
“This boy is with you now. He stands behind you with a pair of scissors and a comb because the world you live in has a high turnover rate, like the chain restaurant along the highway where you wait tables for extra money. People just stop showing up. New people are hired on the spot.”
Elizabeth J. Colen’s collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake draws out the sometimes pain of nostalgia and the often dangerous curiosity of precocious children. The collection itself is bisected, giving us equal parts adult mourning and coming-of-age crushes. It’s powerful, funny, and sad.
From Colen’s Bruising:
“Some people burn their lover’s letters when their hearts get broken. Or burn them years later when they’ve finally gotten over everything. I drown mine. Put them in the tub with me once the water has lost its heat, but before it grows too cold. As my fingers wilt and the bath bubbles level out into nothing but honey-scented film that greases the tub walls, I put my book or magazine down and pick up a letter I want to kill.”
Evan’s House And The Other Boys Who Live There by Tim Jones-Yelvington focuses on a young man’s stress in the face of peer pressure and the temptation of conformity, his explorations of love, and all of the shame and rage that comes with these things. Yelvington’s work here is tender and relentless, but also clever and humorous. He strikes an unexpected balance that gives the words endless appeal.
From Yelvington’s Housekeeping:
“The note he wrote us said, ‘I think I’m gay.’ Randall, whose own son is ten years older than Evan and lives with his partner in Brooklyn, pumped his fists and said, ‘Yes! I have two gay sons!’ I glared, pursed my lips and said, ‘That’s not what this note says.’”
Sean Lovelace’s How Some People Like Their Eggs, the final collection in the book and the winner of the third annual Rose Metal Press short short chapbook contest, wears its crown well. It’s funny, sad, surprising, inventive, playful, etc., and it reminds us that it’s okay to relax, it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to not be so damn serious all the time. And these are nothing if not welcome reminders.
From Lovelace’s Endings:
“A teenage girl catches an amazingly large fish. She pauses, allowing herself to gaze in wonder. It has a row of bent hooks and five broken leaders in its mouth. It has a history. The girl isn’t really a girl. She only plays one online. She is actually a grown man who works in a chemical company that combines corn husks with hydrochloric acid to create a polymer used in cruise missiles.” (2011)
Purchase They Could No Longer Contain Themselves HERE.
Reviewer bio: Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel FREIGHT. Visit his website at melbosworth.com