Know What We Are
by Mary Hamilton
Rose Metal Press
Awards: Winner, 4th Annual Rose
Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest
poked a dead rabbit with a stick. And then I took that stick and put
it in the train fire, and when, I twirled it in the air, I made words
out of the light the fire left behind. I took that stick and the coal
ash it made and I wrote a poem for my ma on the side of a garbage
Reviewed by Angela Readman
Do We Know What We Are?
I thought I did until I read We Know What We Are, then it was time to
reconsider. Everything was new.
I opened the volume
with no pre-conceptions. Mary Hamilton is the winner of the Rose Metal
forth annual short short chapbook contest. I wasn’t familiar with
the author or the press. We know What We Are is a wonderful
ambassador for both.
The collection begins
with When Me and Theodore Look At The Sky, We Pray For Rain, a
story burning with imagery and mood.
"I set myself down
there in the snow and I watched the fires burn on the train tracks.
Fires like the earth had opened and the heat was bursting out right
there in the middle of all that snow."
Vivid, often poetic,
description conveys the possible circumstances and feelings of her
characters. In When Me and Theodore Look At The Sky, We Pray For Rain the reader
is unsure exactly who the main character is and what they are
escaping from. It’s the use of language the author uses to
captivate us and lead us to character, in this case "another
outline. Another blurry shadow when the windows go rambling by."
In these stories
characters aren’t always forthcoming in spilling the contents of
their lives. Rather, we are seduced by beautiful writing into reading
between the lines. We discover for ourselves what it is a character
may not want to say.
Stories such as She Has an Ache and Hey There Stranger, Come On Over and Hold My Hand are dreamlike in their abundance of images and suggestions
of possible worlds. These very short stories seem to keep going like
an ache, within lie characters fighting for breath. They look around
and see everything. It feels fresh, a possibility. Sometimes it is
frightening, sometimes euphoric. So much depends on one line.
"If she could, she
would cut her body open. Her own body open. And she would crawl
inside and of herself make a tent… She closes her legs"
In Hey There Stranger... the list of what the narrator could be ("a jet
plane","a magic wand", "a shoehorn", "a blade of
grass to play a funeral dirge", etc) feels like a battle by the
lost to find her way out of grief and re discover life. Every story
is a triumph in its use of words, an awakening, painful and amazing
Writing about the
stories, I’m reluctant to say exactly what I found in many of them.
Their art is that the reader is invited to find the thrill in
discovering treasure. This is not work for the lazy reader, so much
is packed into such a small word count the stories pray to be read
over, to offer up new possibilities, keyholes that lead to worlds.
The range of the stories varies, from a moment as small as holding a
finger on a bow for a parcel, in the artfully done Never Ever,
to the narrative story of conjoined sisters in We Know What We
Are. This title story is, simply, as good as the short gets.
The collection is aptly
named. In We Know What We Are the writers use of words makes
us wonder who the characters in each piece truly are and are
redefining themselves to be. The execution of the writing
interrogates the ordinary. It simply insists that the reader slow
down and take a new look at so much life. The book is full of
transformation, one image evolves into another with the effect that
the reader is often filled with a sense of optimism when least
expected. In stories such as So help me, rock and roll, in
which people stop to praise sunshine and rain, the reader feels swept
into this song of praise. Nothing is taken for granted in the space
Mary Hamilton creates. The work is reflective, sad, yet joyful, "There is hope in our house washing away."
I opened We Know What
We Are with no knowledge of Mary Hamilton or the press. I closed it
knowing it will never really remain closed. Some books aren’t meant
to be. These stories are not open and shut. They are something caught
from the corner of your eye, a line, a moment that stays with you.
This is fascinating work. If a short story is a destination, I feel I
may never exactly arrive at one place and stay there with We Know Who
We Are. These short pieces are so full I may never be sure I’ve got
to the bottom of every story, or fully know each character, but it’s
a breathtaking journey. I’ll stop, look around, be amazed by the
view as I read these stories again.
|Angela Readman's poetry
collection Strip is with Salt publishing. She secretly loves stories.
find something to read: reviews
find something to read: interviews
find something to read: categories
find something to
Mary Hamilton is a writer, teacher, and optician living in
Chicago, where she is also the co-host and co-founder of the QUICKIES!
Reading Series. Her work has been published by Smokelong Quarterly,
Storyglossia, Pindeldyboz, Eclectica, Dogzplot, and Thieves Jargon,
among others, and has been included in the Best of the Web anthology.
She blogs about inspirational sports movies at
with Mary Hamilton