By Nuria Marquez
The problem with flash fiction is the problem with any good story: it ends too soon. We get caught up in a character’s life, their thoughts, their world. We devour the story and suddenly, it ends. Sometimes, we may even feel responsible for it ending so quickly so we go back, re-read, re-evaluate, re-devour. With the stories in Sherrie Flick’s Whiskey, Etc., the reader is submerged in a world of solitary, often problematic women who are trying to fix something, or connect with someone but keep missing the mark. “Problematic” doesn’t mean bad or poorly written. It’s not a testament to the rise of anti-heroes in our stories. Instead, these are (for the most part) women who have a specific problem that causes some type of disconnect with the outside world.
In “Canoe,” the first story in the subsection of the same name, a woman tries to come to terms with her grief after her father has died. The woman in this story moves away from the city, into the cabin her father left for her. In this cabin she is presented with the problem of grief; namely that hers doesn’t look like the normal kind of grief. She tries to cover it up; buying a brown sweater that would “show her frumpiness” to her neighbors. The story ends with her sitting alone in a canoe, thinking of her father; rain falling down on her. The disconnect here is between herself and the grief she thinks she should feel. This is what it’s like for the characters in Flick’s fiction. There’s always something amiss within them.
But just as quickly as we are thrown into these lives to try to make sense of them, we have to leave and enter another one. This rapid movement between worlds creates moments of tension in the endings of most of these stories. They end with women opening a door in the middle of the afternoon; the pop of a new pinball game; heads going through windshields. It’s in these moments that the stories begin to interact with the reader. This seems to be the goal for Flick. To allow the reader to interact with the world that she’s created. The very compressed world created by flash fiction should be one that the reader can expand and inform all on their own. So the tension that these stories end on are really just the beginning of a whole new story that each reader can create on their own. Flick simply gives us the entryway into the many lives of her characters. It’s our job as readers to take her stories out of the page.
Flash fiction also requires that Flick not waste a single word. Every line, every piece punctuation, every bit of dialogue matters. She doesn’t have the freedom to insinuate or suggest because before you know it, we’re meeting another woman in another side of the country. This makes her writing crisp and clean, there’s nothing fussy or flowery about it. Much like the women in her stories, Flick shies away from sentimentality and overly-romantic clichés. In the descriptors of time and space you can see her food writing background. She’s said in previous interviews that food writing allows her to creatively describe a setting; one that allows you to taste the food. She uses this skill to define each setting as its own, unable to blend with the surrounding worlds. While her stories aren’t necessarily about food, it’s clear that she has the tools required to create a strong sense of place. Her characters might be lost in their own lives, but Flick’s writing ensures that the reader know exactly where they are.
The short form gives her the freedom to experiment with structure. There’s a lot of moments in her book where she surprises with new ways to tell a story. The story “Good Dog” is the best example of this. This two and a half page story is divided into nine chapters; the longest chapter being 11 lines long. Behind the main interactions between the main character and the dog, is the story of a missing girl, the narrator’s 15-year-old daughter. This format does a lot of things. At first, it surprises, then it confuses, and finally it makes you work to understand the story. In these few pages, Flick manages to create a story that is so dynamic, it takes more than one reading to fully capture everything that is happening. It also allows the reader to fill in a lot of blanks for themselves. This is a writer that very clearly values the work a reader puts into a novel. There’s nothing passive about reading her stories. Whether it’s a straight narrative or a story that’s a little more puzzling, Flick gives us the backbone with which to work; allowing us to transform it into whichever way suits us best.
Nuria Marquez Martinez is a student at the University of Pittsburgh studying non-fiction writing and chemistry. Before coming to Pittsburgh, she grew up in the northern valley of Monterrey, Mexico eventually moving to the DC suburbs with her family. She is currently a producer of [in brackets], and a DJ and news staffer at WPTS Radio. When she’s not doing any of this, she is wasting hours watching stand-up and dreaming of her future Netflix special. Her writing has appeared on her laptop screen and various lost notebooks.