What I Read in May: The Lit Pub

June 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

Lit Pub

  • Together We Can Bury It, Kathy Fish.
  • Letters to the Devil, Lena Bertone.
  • The Shape of Blue, Liz Scheid.
  • The Third Elevator, Aimee Bender.

The Lit Pub, a small press out of Ohio, publishes a modest catalog of exquisite-looking, pocket-sized titles with arty covers designed by Jana Vukovic. I bought these four books in a bundle deal (still available as of this posting) for $40. While I read other books in May, it feels right, for now, to give this foursquare selection its own attention.

Why makes these four go together? The titles vary in thickness: Fish’s is over 200 pages, Bender’s the length of a short story. Bender’s is a modern fairy tale involving miners and loggers, a swan and a bluebird; Bertone’s a kinky tale of a woman imprisoned by a former lover, whose child she raises. The epistolary format playfully and demonically leaves much to the imagination:

Early, when I was still young, you dressed me up as a witch in a black Chanel suit and snakeskin pumps I couldn’t walk in. I wore a hat and a beaded veil over my eyes, and you made me walk all over the city in those shoes. They dug into my heels and blisters formed at each of my toes but your voice in my head growled at me to go on, go on. (“Caro”)

Everybody who has ever written, published, or read flash fiction knows the work of Kathy Fish; she is everywhere. Her output does not compromise the quality of her work, as evidenced by this collection. There is an important distinction, one that I think goes too often unmentioned, between flash fiction that attempts nothing beyond a sliver or sketch and full narrative that is tightly wound and so precise in its word choices and character reveals so as not to meet the normal length of a short story. Fish uses a spare, tense opening to create instant tension:

Some boys from Trinity stand in a group across the street. They have such shiny hair. They are brilliant. The skinny one waves to me. The sun slips behind them, behind the mountains. The skinny one cups his hands around his mouth. ‘Daaaaaaaphneeeeee,’ he yells. The other boys laugh. I cross and let my backpack slip off my shoulder. ‘Peace,’ I say and the Trinity boys, they are so fine, they say peace back. (“Daffodil”)

Boys and a girl. That alone creates possibilities, and with the girl’s advancing, her vulnerability and willingness to be persuaded, the hints at corroboration, the onset of evening, the backdrop of Catholicism: in seventy-four words Fish has established this complex arrangement that hints at danger, rebellion, bad decision-making and young people out to test their limitations.

I hadn’t heard of Liz Scheid before I read The Shape of Blue, the only nonfiction work in this quartet. It is a collection of personal narratives that, despite dealing with tragedy and loss, is delivered with a razor-edge clarity and subtle wit. She writes about the tragic death of her sister in a car accident, the trepidations of being a mother to two daughters, and the confusion of attempting to make sense of a world of loss on a more aggregate scale—one in which everyday objects suddenly become weights, the housing bubble bursts, particles accelerate, planets lose their status as planets, and school lockdowns are a normal, practiced part of life:

Such as: the attached mailbox. As early as the 1880s, the U.S. Post Office began encouraging homeowners to attach wall-mounted mailboxes to the outside of their houses in place of mail slots, which didn’t entail the mail carrier bending down, taking more time, more effort. Many of these early metal letter drops contained the word “LETTERS” across their small rectangular frames. This is beautiful and sad. I think of the handwritten letters collected in these boxes, stunning ink-blotted words written in cursive letters, carefully, line by line, detailing the day’s events, the weather, the recipient reading these words, imagining these events as they unfold in their hands, tracing their fingers across the ink, time and space collapsing into that room. (“Not to Burst Your Bubble”)

As a reader who is regrettably suspicious of memoir too often, I was taken by Scheid’s willingness to level with us throughout the book, and to tie both the personal and political into the shared landscape. It felt honest while retaining its edge and curiosity, and it surprised me by being my favorite book of the four.


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