- Collaboration without a Net
Aimee Parkison and Carol Guess
Fiction Collective 2
170 Pages; Print, $16.95
There is something inherently performative about collaborative literature. Two writers setting each other up, yes-anding each other, occasionally laying each other traps. As a reader, the experience can be like watching a high-wire act or a pair of jugglers flinging machetes: one admires the ability but part of the thrill comes from wondering whether they'll get away with it, whether this will be the time that the foot slips, the blade whirls perilously out of control.
Girl Zoo, a collection of mostly flash fiction collaboratively written by Aimee Parkison and Carol Guess, showcases both the thrills and dangers of literary collaboration. Some of the stories operate in a lyrical mode, moving forward by image and tone; these stories often seem most successful in traditional terms—that is, they're successful in the same way a single-authored story might. Other stories show their seams a little more clearly; you can feel one line tugging at the line that precedes it, urging the story in this direction rather than that one. At times, this gives rise to a sensation like
Brechtian alienation. One reads with some part of one's brain detached from the fiction, busy trying to figure out the process—did they trade paragraphs? Did one author write the text while the other cut and added at will? Did they open a Google document and just go nuts?
The collection's first story, "Girl in Clock," begins strange and keeps pushing further into strangeness, following a building, dreamlike logic. Two grade-school students are examining a clock that contains a tiny girl; the nature of time is discussed; several paragraphs after we learn the name of the students' teacher, we learn that they have tied him up and left him in the closet. One girl asks: "Should we let Mr. Baxter out of the closet?" Her compatriot shrugs. "I guess. But will he do it again?" Do what again? We don't yet know, and I suspect that Parkison and Guess don't, either. They're riffing, discovering the full territory of the story as they wander through it. Mr. Baxter's mistake, we later learn, was playing with the girl in the clock:
Since the girl in the clock was often trapped and cute as a button, men thought it was safe to steal her. Being an embryo, she could [End Page 21] wiggle into noses and blow heads apart as she grew inside a skull, often emerging fully formed like Athena from Zeus.
"The Girl in the Clock" begins small—two girls discussing something bizarre in a classroom—and ends in a huge and mythic space that feels both right and impossible to predict.
At the heart of this collection is the question of the violence and the oppression of women carried out by men—and, occasionally, the ways women, out of self-doubt, out of a feeling of powerlessness, out of politeness, collaborate in this violence. In "Girl in Doubt," the narrator can't decide whether she's being kidnapped or whether she's on a date, a situation that highlights the lack of agency in either: "I can't choose my own adventure because I'm not writing this story," the narrator says—a line which seems to purposefully call attention to the fact that this story is being written, and being written by female authors. At the end of the story, the narrator greets her potential abductor/date with a "smile so wide my lips crack and bleed," literally wounding herself in her efforts to appear polite and docile.
Many of these stories—perhaps a third of the collection—take the form of a main narrative with copious footnotes. I found myself assuming (without any way to know for sure) that one author was responsible for the main text and the other for the notes. In some cases, we are presented with a text that would "naturally" have footnotes—a medical or legal text, for example—but mostly the footnotes...