by Melissa Lee-Houghton
The poetry is to be found not in the prose but in the meaning of these
stories, which is always oblique, with a small window of
interpretation, as Johnson strays from telling us exactly what to
think, to allowing us to think for ourselves. She does not betray this
ethos by handing us a woven narrative with a conclusive ending, but
rather tells Americana parables where you can see where the story is
going but it never quite ends up where you thought it would.
In Vino Veritas, a
bookish librarian narrates an elusive tale of a meeting between his
wife and an old friend. It is the wife's profession which hold the key
to our understanding of the idea which pins the story down, and comes
as an artful focal point to the second-guessing and mistrust which
accompany the stranger to the narrator's house where his wife
is, "... dressed in a tight red dress,
necklace, earrings, the whole deal. The diet worked; especially for her
A hapless premonition in My Great Aunt Meets Jesus At The
Mobil In Montana, culminates in a tragedy that has a
lasting impression on the narrator, and in her later travels alone she
admits, "I'll never escape being lost." This piece of flash fiction is
brilliantly crafted and tinged with a kind of spooked sadness which
In Baby, Baby a young
couple beginning life as new parents are warned by the all-seeing eye
of the mother-in-law that, "life (was) a video. Avoid doing anything
you don't have the stomach to watch. The story itself is abject,
squeamish, and may make you very glad your other half is not the angry,
sweaty "creative-cusser" that the narrator's husband is.
Travel Inn, Circa 1979, translates such a vivid evocation
of a perpetually abandoned and re-united childhood, completed in half a
page of prose, that I was stunned that I took anything from it; though
it's difficult not to suffer sympathy for the child and also admiration
for the skill of the writer of something so compact and yet completely
In contrast, another short piece, Motherhood, deals
with the losses of both a dog and its owner; and although the piece
indeed feels complete it doesn't have the power and resonance of Tennessee …
is a lovely tale of the glorious love triumph of a wayward, or even
ordinary girl over the frightening religious rigour of an overbearing
mother. Johnson writes about the world of parents and mothers with the
startling tell-tale signs of universal imperfection. Many of her
characters are just people that made wrong decisions, or had bad luck,
or were just plain wrong; but there is occasionally that element of a
kind of good triumphing, in its own often quirky or ironic way.
There are so many stories to enjoy
in this packed volume, and this book is a perfect companion for
journeys, being that the stories can be so easily digested and many of
them encompass some kind of journey or moment in time marked by
realization or insight. The writing is taut and contained, without
being bleak. The subject matter can be dark without feeling overly
morose; and ugliness is not avoided though is matched by a feel for the
small, magical details which give back to the enjoyment of the read.
There were elements of the writer's style which I would have enjoyed
being fuller, but that is personal persuasion. I think that this book
could fill a gap on many a short story reader's bookshelf, especially
if they have a good feel for contemporary American fiction.
Read one of the stories from this collection in Smokelong Quarterly
| Melissa Lee-Houghton Poet, Author of Patterns of Mourning
(available from all good online retailers), and reviewer. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publisher: Keyhole Press
Book website: Oneofthesestories.com
bio: Stephanie Johnson lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in many top American literary journals including SmokeLong Quarterly and Night Train.
with Stephanie Johnson
this book (used or
Publisher's Website: Keyhole Press
The Author's Recommended Bookseller: Powell's
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