by Gay Degani
a January blizzard pounded the cabin, my mother sat at the table
across from Carissa and me, her hair the color of moldy straw, her
body reduced to twigs. She picked at a scab on her lip, slid her eyes
away. 'I’m a junkie,' she said.
Reviewed by Annie Clarkson
Stories is a chapbook of
eight short stories. It spans 50 pages, and nestles somewhere between
flash fiction and short fiction.
These stories have a distinct style:
fast-paced, sharp, and loaded with Americana. They are located, for
example, "somewhere between Fountain Valley and Phoenix" or "along Highway 30 between Hilo and Volcano National Park", where
we find the "All-American House of Beauty", beat up Chevys,
Budweiser, Cherry flavor Icee, Copy-mart, a dog called Beau, corn
chips, Oreos, Dairy Queen and basketball. Gay Degani has a skill in
taking the reader straight into the physical and social geographies
of her characters. The landscapes are vivid and rich with details.
Her characters are probably all on the tough side, showing attitude,
wit and a sense of survival through some hard situations and
All eight stories explore or figure
relationships between mothers and their daughters. The title story Pomegranate, is inspired a modern day take on the story or
Demeter and Persephone. A girl is stolen by Oregon hippies and forced
to live for six years on a camp until she hits puberty and they can
marry her to a boy who was snatched a number of years earlier. The
story explores how she misses and then is reunited with her mother.
Although, I did find this aspect of the story more peripheral in my
interest to the story of how the girl felt about her chosen husband.
Other stories in this chapbook
examine how mother-daughter relationships are impacted on by abusive
or unreliable men or drug use, or explore the relationship between a
woman and her disapproving mother-in-law, or explore the pull of a
mother’s love when things go wrong and what happens when mothers
let their daughters down.
Some stories span years, others only
a matter of minutes. With some we are given a lot of background
context, others take us straight into the action or a dialogue and we
work it out as we’re going along. So, even though the writing is a
similar style throughout the collection, the subject matters and
approach is varied.
There is a lot to admire in Gay
Degani’s writing style. She has a quirky approach to description
and imagery, her dialogue is sharp, and the way her characters
interact feels natural and authentic. She explores some complex
dynamics, particularly between men and women, capturing for example a
tense atmosphere between the couple in Monsoon
through the narrator’s
memories of how her husband interacted with another woman:
Leo and that girl stood close to
each other, alone together in the middle of the dance floor,
memorizing each other’s faces. What else could they do in front of
all those people? I left my shoes under the table when I ran out.
is the last story and, in my view, the story that holds this
collection together, and gives it real strength. Monsoon
shows the power this writer can bring to her short fiction.
But, it was disappointing that not
all of these eight stories matched this achievement. There were a few
stories that I felt didn’t reach their mark or draw out the emotion
in the situations or characters enough for me. A story like Hawaiian
Hairdo is written
brilliantly, but was focused on an experience at a hair salon, which
I found hard to care about. Chair
Girl, is a strong
short-short story, but didn’t carry enough power to stand in such a
slim collection of fiction.
It’s interesting. I’ve read Gay
Degani’s flash fiction on the internet, and found it to be
powerful, beautifully written, with a brilliant appreciation of what
brief fiction needs to connect with the reader. This chapbook has
longer stories, including some very strong ones (Pomegranate,
Monsoon, Spring Melt and Rim Shot). But
the nature of
such a small collection
is that a lot of weight rests on each story. For me, not all of them
could carry this pressure.
is a brief glimpse into Gay Degani’s short fiction, and I want to
read more. Her writing in this collection is visceral, has punch and
explores the lives of characters that are not experiencing the
easiest lives or relationships. There is some beautiful imagery and
description and a very insightful approach to dialogue. Even though
some stories were less powerful than others, I would still say
Pomegranate Stories is
worth a read.
a poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her chapbook
of prose poems Winter Hands was published by
Shadow Train Books in 2007. Her short fiction has been published in
various anthologies, magazines and online, including Litmus
(Comma), Unsaid Undone
and This Road We’re On
(Flax Books), Transmission,
Succour, Mslexia, Dreamcatcher, and