Review: My Very End of the Universe

Al Kratz
Al Kratz
Jul 1, 2016 · 8 min read

I could always shoot her. (“First Husband,” p. 24).

The novella-in-flash by Meg Pokrass was called Here, Where We Live. It, too, was a mother-daughter piece narrated by the daughter. In this one, the father dies in an accident, the mother has breast cancer, and the maturing daughter deals with these issues. There also is a problematic stepfather and there are beautiful lines about her mother such as,

[…] we sit there tightly holding hands, Mom and I, like helium balloons trying to stay down here on Earth (“Helium,” p. 91).

Aaron Teel’s novella-in-flash, Shampoo Horns, is the story of a young boy living in a trailer park where he navigates his parents, a crazy older brother, and hormones that ignite funny behaviors around the females of the trailer park.

When she leaned over me, a cross on a chain slipped free of her shirt and I touched it with my tongue. I thought wildly that Dad, sunburned and tired with his baseball and beer, had never done anything like that. (“Broken English,” p.139)

Of course, there is a tornado, too, but it delivers a fitting end to the novella.

been like Godzilla — she would have trampled everything else. She required enough room to come fully into view, hence the use of the novella format, but she still needed to be tightly contained, hence the use of flash.

That’s an interesting justification for compression, but then she concludes her essay with,

Only now that I’m used to her can I imagine Betty loose in a novel […] (“Written in Stone,” p. 9).

I agree she has developed characters and a family dynamic here big enough for a novel, but I felt of the five this was the one most asking to be extended into a longer form to accomplish its finest arc.

It excited me that while searching […] for my old writings, new ideas begin to form in my mind about the narrative arc for Here, Where We Live, and the significant characters began to take shape. As I stitched the stories together, the juxtapositions brought with them fresh energy and new meaning. (“Breaking the Pattern to Make the Pattern,” p.48).

It was very obvious the authors were dedicated not only to sharing their stories but to contributing something special to the craft discussion. Aaron Teel summarized the form well:

If flash fetishizes the moment, the novella-in-flash provides a space for myriad moments to coexist, rub up against, and reverberate off of one another. If flash is allergic to exposition and summary — if it revels in language and detail and scene — then the novella-in-flash allows the details to accumulate and the images to grow and twist and repeat. (“A Brief Crack of Light,” p. 102).

Margaret Patton Chapman wrote her essay in three parts that provided an in-depth look from many different angles. My favorite was her anecdote of discovering something she had always abstractly thought about maps and creativity, and then finding it depicted in Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer. Margaret relates her experiences of teaching this to kids of different ages, and it’s a great story of the power and connection possible with meta-thinking. She also makes a good argument for the lack of a need to pin down a specific definition or justification for the form:

Perhaps the novella-in-flash also needs to offer no explanation except that it is what it is: glimpses of secrets, artifacts and clues; a map not to, but of, treasures; small things pieced together into a whole. (“Writing the Novella-in-flash,” p.180).

Chris Bower might have the most unique take on the form. He relates a funny story about why his writing originates in poems, short lines, and stanzas. His approach to the form is the most compressed; he flaunts exclusion in a good way.

While it seems like a lot to ask a reader, my expectation is that the readers of this genre are already ready and willing to undertake the challenge of building their own bridges. (“A Truth Deeper Than the Truth,” p. 261).

Bower deploys this powerfully. His novella-in-flash only totaled about 5,000 words, but it contained a very effective cumulative arc. Many of his chapters were “hint” fiction, an even more compressed form that contains only a few sentences, and most of the story was implicit.

envisioned a book that was both a gripping, gratifying read and a tool for teaching and learning.

They certainly accomplished that. They have great material for a classroom or for an AWP presentation. I feel like I should have been able to compress a review in the same way their authors tightened their stories, but I hope you’ll feel the same way I did about this book, and you’ll want to carry on the conversation. I’m available at @SilverbackedG where we can keep it to 140 characters — or if need be, we can always tweet in parts of 15!

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

Al Kratz

Written by

Al Kratz

Al's novella-in-flash was recently short listed in the Bath Flash Fiction Award. His publications are listed at alkratz.blogspot.com.

The Coil

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.