Some Short Sharp Shocks
A Bright and Pleading Dagger
by Nicole Rivas
Rose Metal Press, 2018
reviewed by Seana Graham
For the last twelve years, the wonderful Rose Metal Press, which specializes in hybrid genres, has sponsored a contest for flash fiction collections. The winning entry is then published as a chapbook with a letterpress cover,designed by Rebecca Saraceno. Although Rose Metal Press has apparently decided to end this contest after this year, they are sending it out with a bang.
The twelve stories in this chapbook are all short–a few small pages at the most. All feature women and girls, trying to figure out their place in the scheme of things. Trying to carve out their own space in the world. In the story “Bulldog,” for example, the protagonist is a girl who longs to be tough, so she writes the word BULLDOG on her chest in indelible ink. This leads to some painful outcomes, but whether or not the strategy works I leave to you to decide.
Many of the stories make some allusion to eating, and I don’t mean in the sense of fine dining, although the first story does have a scene about eating the small birds known as ortolans, a delicacy that involves a good deal of cruelty in its preparation. There is a fair amount of just plain swallowing in these tales, although, as often as not, the swallowed thing has to come back up for things to be right again. In one story, though, the swallowed thing actually has to be re-swallowed to have that same effect.
In the introduction, Rigoberto González, who judged the chapbook contest, compares Nicole Rivas’s work to that of Leonora Carrington, Clarice Lispector, and Carmen Maria Machado. Of the three I am most familiar with Carrington’s surrealistic work and I do see what he means. However, this book is in no way derivative, and definitely circles around Rivas’s own preoccupations.
If you like chapbooks and you have a taste for the strange and out of the way, you should definitely try this one. These chapbooks are printed as limited editions, however, and I noticed in my research for this review that Roxane Gay just gave this book five stars and a mini rave review on GoodReads, so if you want a copy, you should probably get it sooner rather than later.
Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She also reviews for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. You can find links to many of her short stories at her blog Story Dump. She has co-authored a trivia book about her native Southern California. Santa Cruz Noir, a recent title from Akashic Press, features a story of hers about the city in which she currently resides.