by Stefanie Freele
Lost Horse Press
Stefanie Freele was born and raised in
Wisconsin. She currently makes her home on a river in the
Northwest US. She holds an MFA in fiction from the
Northwest Institute of Literary Arts: Whidbey Writers Workshop in
Washington. She received the Kathy Fish Fellowship ‘Writer-in-Residence’ in 2008
and shortly thereafter joined the editorial staff of Smokelong Quarterly.
In addition, she is the fiction editor of The Los Angeles Review.
She will be the 2010/2011 Healdsburg Literary Laureate.
with Stefanie Freele
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"While Arlo’s parents
argued, he levitated. Seven months old, ready to put the
world in his mouth, and eager to jingle everything, he focused in on
Dad’s voice, then Mom’s while floating his head a few inches above the
Reviewed by Michelle Reale
It is obvious that not only is Stefanie Freele a writer with immense
talent, but one who takes chances with her writing as well. Reading
Freele’s collection is a bit like delving into a box of assorted
chocolates - you are not quite sure what you’ll get, but know you’ll
are 51 (count ‘em!) stories of various lengths in this collection. Many
have seen previous publication in journals such as American Literary Review, elimae, Smokelong Quarterly and Monkeybicycle,
both in print and online. The one constant in Freele’s story is the
level of writing: carefully crafted, finally honed and full of
surprises and a gentle unfurling.
The stories in this collection
are very much rooted in the quotidian, making them quiet kinds of
stories, but where amazing, often magical and transformative things
happen. But Freele does this in such a subtle way. While most (but not
all) of Freele’s stories would be classified as "flash" fiction, there
is nothing at all flashy about them - and this is a very good thing. I
will tell you why: because they make you believe, when reason would
tell you not too, but not being over the top. Even when a story veers
in a magical realist realm, Freele takes you along gently.
In Arlo’s Big Head,
one of my absolute favorites for an almost heartbreaking poignancy,
Freele renders the story of a seven month old baby who levitates while
his parents bicker, tenderly. In this story Arlo "raised both arms to
go along with his floating head", "floated behind his mother’s back"
and his big head even "led him to the kingdom of his Exersaucer." When
he allows himself to be "kissed by his mother, his cheeks caressed by
his father" you melt. When he utters, in all of his big-headed
softness, simply, "Goo" the reader is emotionally done for. I have read
and re-read this story so many times, because I believe it to be both
flawlessly written and emotionally satisfying.
preoccupations crop up with regularity, grounding the collection in
something real and earthy. She renders pregnancy and the act of loving
a child truthfully: that both are often fraught with bone level
exhaustion and emotional fragility.
In a Glowing Pregnant Woman,
a woman who is anything but, contemplates the act that got her pregnant
in the first place and has a reaction that leaves her husband
bewildered, to say the least. In the aptly titled She Tried Every Angle to Get Her Child to Sleep, She Gives Up & Scrubs the Shower,
a mother’s shoulders "ache nicely from scrubbing." She yells to her
toddler to make noise so that she can hear him while he entertains
himself. What she finds when she is finished scouring the tub is not
what one would expect.
Another favorite, Kalispell
is all of 72 words, is a breathless, dreamlike incantation about
staring out of a window in the night. There are so many other themes in
the collection - Freele tackles a myriad of worlds in each of them, all
the while hitting that bedrock of truth.