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The Sky is a Well

Claudia Smith

  My sins are folded into doves and stars. I won't tell him what they are. I hope, buried beneath the earth, they tangle up with the roots of the tree. I want them to stay down there, get strangled by the roots and eaten by worms. One night, I dreamt the doves came alive, tried to chirp, then suffocated. Evil, dark, dank thoughts."

Reviewed by Stefani Nellen

The Sky Is A Well and Other Shorts won the first Annual Rose Metal Press Short-Short Chapbook Contest. The beautiful cover and binding are designed by the Museum of Printing. Contest judge Ron Carlson says in the introduction that each of Claudia Smith's short-shorts is "a tilted memory of love and loss."  

Many stories are told from the perspective of a child or adolescent confronted with absent or unreliable parents, friends, and siblings. Often, the eerily precise language captures a sense of fear and wonder often associated with childhood-memories – or nightmares: The girl in Possum describes life in her foster family, the gruesome tales about her predecessor and false tokens of beauty such as left-over make-up and a ballerina with painted-on shoes. 

The narrator of Toads witnesses her brother kill an exotic frog. Brother and sister in The Sky Is A Well bury their "sin" in a mysterious ritual. Ballerinas and dolls reappear in this world of morbid games and intriguing details (frozen pudding pops, icy cubes of urine, hanged dolls dangling from tree branches) – an indication of the beauty permeating the uneasy tales. 

The language is always graceful and precise, abundant with unexpected word choices and lines of dry wit reminiscent of Amy Hempel: "My prom date was gay. He wore a beautifully fitted tux. We went bowling instead of doing it afterwards." (I Tell I Don't Tell, p. 26.). These moments of humor release the pressure created, at times, by the collection's dark or "heavy" topics and the poetic density of the language. As it is, The Sky Is A Well is intriguing because it appears to be a collection of well-written, bite-sized "pieces" at first, but eventually turns out to have the resonance of a novel. Each story implies a world beyond it, of which it offered only a glimpse. The characters don’t stop existing after the "flash." I recommend reading this collection more than once. 

Stefani Nellen is a psychologist-turned-writer who lives in the U.S. and the Netherlands with her husband. She writes literary and science-fiction stories. With Julia LaSalle, she co-edits the Steel City Review, an online Quarterly that also appears as an annual print edition.

Stefani's other Short Reviews: Mary Anne Mohanraj "Bodies in Motion"

Heather Beck "10 Journeys Through the Unknown"

PublisherRose Metal Press

Publication Date: 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Chapbook

First collection?: Yes

Awards: Rose Metal Press Short-Short Chapbook Contest

Author Bio: Claudia Smith lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and son. She attended Bard College, the University of Texas, and the Writing Seminars graduate program at Johns Hopkins. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, her fiction has appeared in Redivider, The Mississippi Review, Juked, Night Train, Elimae, Failbetter, Opium, and Word Riot, among others. She is a contributing web editor for Hobart. Her stories have been anthologized in Norton's New Sudden Fiction: Short-short Stories from America and Beyond and So New Media's Consumed: Women on Excess.

Read an interview  with Claudia Smith

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Rose Metal Press

Author's recommended bookseller: Powell's


And...don't forget your local booksellers and independent book shops! Visit  IndieBound.org to find an independent bookstore near you in the US

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Amy Hempel "The Collected Stories"

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