Grant’s story collection demonstrates the trademarks of flash fiction with precise imagery and themes of longing to be somewhere else.
6” x 9” Perfectbound Trade Paperback
Split Lip Press
Lexington, Kentucky, USA
It’s been nice this year to see The New Yorker feature Flash Fiction, but if one were looking for an introduction to the form, he would be better served by turning to the small press and the chapbook. And if one started there, he would also be well served by Split Lip’s latest offering, Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home, by Shasta Grant.
This collection of ten stories indeed gathers the reader up and takes him for a ride. Even if home is a debatable destination. Home, the place that traditionally implies safety, is more elusive in these stories. These characters are all longing to be somewhere else. Their desire to move is palpable. Their ability to do so is in question. These themes come through in the man approaching a reunion, wishing he were one who had escaped:
For months, I kept an atlas in my glove box. Some nights, when I pulled into my driveway, I sat in my truck for a while with the dome light on and turned the pages, mapping out routes with my finger: over the border to Canada and then west, dropping down through Washington, Oregon and along the coast of California, wondering what it’d be like to be one of the kids that left.
(from “Don’t Ever Change,” p. 5).
Even the ones who have traveled still have a kinetic energy continuing their escape:
I had brushed her hair that morning and snapped her favorite barrettes in place. I held onto that image but it wasn’t enough. I wished I could tell her something beautifully sad about leaving: that I waded in an ocean of grief or that the loss rested in my heart like a heavy stone. I was happier after leaving and I couldn’t tell her that.
(from “Good Enough,” p. 28).
Individually, the stories demonstrate the trademarks of flash fiction via quick, effective stories compressed with precise imagery that resonate to larger sizes than the sum of their words. Collectively, the work shines through seamlessly woven themes surrounding childhood and adulthood. There is a perfect balance between the stories about childhood, navigating maturity, and relating with parents, to the stories about becoming a parent, and dealing with the growth and love of a child. They all are about finding a home or losing it. Holding on to the past or letting it go. The all-lowercase title on the cover, the implied second person call for someone to gather us up, bring us home, hints that it might not be possible. It might be an unreasonable expectation. The book exits with this emotion and the idea that it’s not a guaranteed desire.
And I’d be left alone, confusing my hunger from him with my hunger for a bright future — for any future, really.
(from “Most Likely To,” p. 35)
The secret might be hidden in the dedication to husband and son with the touching sentiment that home might be something you have to search for. And just like this collection, it’s beautiful when you find it.