As I was working on this review, I took a break to share a YouTube video of Lars Andersen demolishing Hollywood archery myths. I love that kind of thing - the nerd in me is enchanted by primary research, by monastic dedication to debunking falsehood and destroying comfort zones. I love ‘guy' things like pull ups and archery and killing, cleaning and cooking prey (although I can only do one of those things (I’ll let you guess which). And I also love ballet and embroidery and extreme hairstyling (although only one of those things is possible for me too).
Literature contains those same extremes. I know I’m not the only person who felt sad to reach the last page of Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Great Safety - but I might be the only one who thought the book could have been longer! By contradiction, I also love extraordinary brevity and ellipticism, which is why, when I learned that Zoetrope contemporary and fellow writer Avital Gad Cykman had a flash fiction collection out, I ordered a copy.
Life In, Life Out is a brief and punchy collection, described as ‘spirited’ on the cover. I’d say that understates the case, ‘possessed’ could be as accurate. Gad-Cykman’s protagonists mutate, escape, destroy and undermine. Her settings dissolve, collapse, burn and transmute. Emotions tumble, implode and shape-shift like desert mirages. Nothing can be trusted. Events make demands, but once those demands are met their nature changes. One of my favourite sentences from the collection involves the behaviour of some kind of weevil (or maybe demon) horde that infests the foodstuffs in a larder. “They appeared here and there, as if calling for our fists to come down on them, which we did with the righteousness of a stoned surfer catching his nightmare policeman smoking dope.”
Tricked, inveigled or exasperated into reaction, Gad-Cykman’s characters then discover that the scenery blurs, the dialogue changes and some kind of abandonment results. The recurring theme, for me, is the inevitable aloneness of those who try to make things happen, which is balanced by the chosen isolation of those who chose not to. It doesn’t seem to matter which course is taken, in this world of tightly-compressed stories, everybody loses something.
It’s not depressing though - the small, condensed worlds that are left barren by events still throb with colour and incident. Stark weather illuminates their emptied stages and remaining observers are struck by the rich mystery of what remains.
Whilst flash fiction of this nature eludes me as a writer, I adore it as a reader. Tiny mosaic words, punched together in bright, pitiless narratives, pile up in this book like a collection of beaded amulets that serve to protect from nothing because in the very act of reading a sense of hopeless resignation to a harsh world infiltrates the reader, flash by flash. Gad-Cykman celebrates the power of betrayal - by others, of dreams, by and of life itself and lays out the brilliance of what is gained - the clarity of seeing what is left when illusions are gone.
Labels: Avital Gad-Cykman, fiction review, Flash fiction, Life In Life Out, matter press, short stories