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  • Flash Five Ways
  • Jeffrey A. Sartain (bio)
They Could No Longer Contain Themselves. Elizabeth J. Colen, John Jodzio, Tim Jones-Yelvington, Sean Lovelace, and Mary Miller; Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney, eds. Rose Metal Press. 240 pages; paper, $15.95.

One of the leading publishers of flash fiction, Rose Metal Press (RMP), recently released They Could No Longer Contain Themselves, a collection of five chapbooks of flash fiction edited by RMP founders Kathleen Rooney and Abigail Beckel. The first four chapbooks in the anthology are finalists in the fourth annual RMP chapbook competition (won by Mary Hamilton's We Know What We Are [2010]). The last is the winner of the third competition whose limited-edition letterpress chapbook is completely sold out, and is now reprinted here for posterity.

John Jodzio's "Do Not Touch Me Not Now Not Ever" is the first chapbook in the anthology, and focuses on the differences between reality and appearance; how not everything is always as it seems. For instance, in "Dojo," an obsessed young man steals his yoga teacher's wallet, using her money to buy flowers and become the sympathetic shoulder she cries on. In "My First Wife," Jodzio brilliantly uses the constant noise of a rock polisher as a metaphor for marriage and the long, difficult work that it takes to make a relationship last. The representations of relationships in Jodzio's work do not paint a rosy picture of companionship, but they are honest and forthright about people's personal and often secret motivations.

The following work in the anthology, Mary Miller's "Paper and Tassels," revolves around notions of temporality, especially as they relate to sex, love, and relationships. In Miller's stories, like "Angel," people circle each other warily, each mistrusting each other and reluctant to open themselves to the possibility of intimacy. Miller's protagonists, like the nameless narrator of "Open," are always struggling to reconcile their own hopes with their misgivings. Their relationships fail, inevitably, when the reconciliation cannot be completed. Not all of Miller's stories highlight romantic relationships, though, such as "Autobiographies of the Other Sister," which examines how connection is built and broken between siblings. Miller's pronoun usage often obscures which sister is speaking, suggesting a universal human condition of isolation from others. Her protagonists are each wounded, seeking a salve for their injuries in other people, never quite realizing that in the end, they must heal themselves before they can trust others.

The middle chapbook, Elizabeth J. Colen's "Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake," describes generational stories, the coming of age of parents, children, and the wounds they inflict on each other. Colen's chapbook almost feels like a unified work - a story cycle or a novella - but one that only shares themes, not characters or situations. Stories like Colen's "Curtains," "The First Time I Lied," and "Natural Selection" show us parents who are intimately human, and whose desires often come into conflict with their roles as caregivers for their children. Other stories, like "Jennifer," "Home Before Dark," and "Perfect Score" focus on childrens' perspectives, and how they internalize and (mis)interpret the adult world around them in their own search for identity and meaning.

The penultimate chapbook is the anthology's longest, Tim Jones-Yelvington's "Evan's House and the Other Boys Who Live There." Almost a novel in stories, Jones-Yelvington shows that even the densest, most maximal of literary forms—the novel—can have its most important features recreated by seventeen short flash fictions. A bildungsroman focused on the titular character, Evan, the chapbook is framed with two stories told from Evan's childhood house's perspective. The chapbook narrates an extended examination of Evan's maturing sexuality, as he discovers his attraction to other boys and matures into an adult with his own problems with intimacy, alcohol, and other dependencies. Jones-Yelvington paints a compelling portrait of Evan's family, especially Evan and his mother, but never seeks the kinds of resolution, epiphany, or closure called for in a form like the novel. Ironically, the two stories told from the house's perspective paint the house itself as the most...


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