“We need more voices like Elizabeth Kirschner's, whose words connote the reality of trauma, illness, neurodivergence, and beauty through the juxtaposition of her own associative metaphors, similes, and images. A published poet and memoirist, she also proves adept at fiction. These are not conventional stories but quantum fictions.”
—Kevin Richard Kaiser, editor-in-chief of Punt Volat and author of An Ethics Beyond: Posthumanist Animal Encounters and Variable Kindness in the Fiction of George Saunders
Kirschner’s characters are often cruel and inhumane, with parents speaking in riddles to their abused children. The narrators are all women, usually unnamed, who have a lost, dissociated quality to them, as the details of their lives seem to fray. “My prom dress was turquoise covered in white lace,” one notes. “Or was it white dotted Swiss with orange accent flowers, the color of churned butter?” As the stories develop, some of these narrators find love and normalcy, though not always happily. Kirschner crafts extraordinary similes and metaphors, though at times moment-to-moment meaning can get muddied: “I try to pick the flowers off my peach bedspread. To pick one would disturb the stars, but even stars, like fruit, rot from the inside out, just like a woman’s body.
That lyricism, though, paints full, complex portraits of tormented people coping with trauma, as each story reveals some fresh stretch of the underbelly of human nature. Violence pulses steadily throughout the collection, making it at times difficult to stomach, but Kirschner knows when it is time for the horrors to give way to beauty, like salve on a wound: (“Under the shaking aspens, butter weather, but cold like herringbone, and in the brain’s eternal lodgings”). Standout stories like “A Lattice of Filaments” and “The Shipwrecked World” reveal the breadth and power of Kirschner’s poetics, but literary-minded readers will cherish the striking final sentences of each.
Takeaway: Dynamic, poetic storytelling of women, trauma, and resilience.
Great for fans of: Carson McCullers, Sharon Olds, Joyce Carol Oates.
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