A naked man walks forlornly through a sleeping town. A young woman mentally toggles between two unsatisfying relationships. A tailor delivers suits, espresso and comfort to beleaguered office workers from the back of a worn van. A manipulative narcissist throws a dinner party. A divorced woman negotiates her new reality with little success. And a man tries to bake his way to healing. These are just a few of the people who populate Thank Your Lucky Stars, the newest collection of short stories by South Side resident Sherrie Flick, just released by Autumn House Press.
Sherrie Flick and Maria Romasco Moore will read at White Whale Bookstore, 4754 Liberty Avenue, on October 19th at 7:00 p.m.
An early adopter of the form of flash-fiction, Flick has mastered it since she first started toying with the genre in the 1980’s. The economy it requires interests her, as well as the engagement of the reader. In a short piece, sometimes just a few paragraphs, the writer and reader are doing a dance together which requires the reader to participate. The form uses negative space and can demand that the reader use the time and space afforded to process the emotions and ideas of a piece.
“There is something, I think an inherent agreement in this form, that you have a contract with the reader. So a setting, for instance, is suggested. And the reader is, in a way, filling that in in his or her head to go forward in the story,” Flick says. “Some people who have read the stories and then go back. They forget how short they are. When they remember them, they’re much longer, because they’ve filled it in.”
For both the writer and the reader, it is a creative challenge. How does the writer create a whole little world in 300 words? Or even 1,200 words? And how does the reader fill in around that? What does the reader bring to the table?
It’s not just a writing exercise. As always, Flick writes prose with the thrift of a poet, creating a populated world in a sentence or two. From the first story in the collection, How I Left Ned, she demonstrates her keen eye for the magnificence of the quotidian:
“I thought about Ned, about his organic lentils and his rice cakes. About his fat content and antioxidant obsession, about his juicer. I thought about Ned spooning exactly one level teaspoon of nonfat sour cream onto his microwaved baked potato every Wednesday night as a special treat.”
This collection is a mix of both short and longer works. They are bittersweet and disquieting; others turn dark and creepy faster than you can say, ‘Flannery O’Connor.’ Mostly, they explore the darkest, most alone corners of our souls. In Lenny the Suit Man, a man gives in to the hopelessness and failure he feels after a breakup:
“I spent the last two nights listening to old country music. It’s what I do under duress. The Patsy Cline cassette tape has started to stretch with all the repeated playing and threw a high-pitched whine this morning while I was in the shower. After work, I’m buying a new one.”
In addition to this new collection, Flick is the author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness (2009) and the short story collection, Whiskey, Etc. (2016.) She serves as series editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018. She also teaches at Chatham University, both creative writing and in the Food Studies Department, and working with students who are doing things like starting fermentation clubs provides her with a nice change of pace from writing.
But with Flick, her happy place will always come back to those moments when she can sit in her kitchen and write, explore these weird little worlds, the nooks and crannies which rarely see the light of day.
Lonely people, heartbroken people, misguided people, struggling parents, difficult children, difficult adults, gritty people and peripatetic souls come to life under Flick’s watchful talents. Some reviews have described this collection as optimistic or hopeful. “I thought they were dark and weird,” she said, laughing at the notion. “That’s kind of warped. But we live in a warped world right now. So, maybe they are hopeful, in connection with the apocalyptic state we are in. I mean, these people are all trying.”
Jody DiPerna is a Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer. Contact Jody at firstname.lastname@example.org.