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The Floating Order

Erin Pringle

"Inside is a person. She has red hair and no clothes. She’s alone. We say, You must be lonely. We know how that is."

Reviewed by Pauline Masurel

These are disturbing stories. A lost child finds sanctuary inside a piano, infants are drowned and buried, a baby-sitter disappears, a mother is kidnapped, a sister washes compulsively, a child goes blind and a goat is sick. This collection contains nineteen stories of childhood, which are full of dark, dangerous and deadly events that return to haunt you long after reading. There are no safe, saccharine fairy tale endings. This is contemporary Brothers Grimm for adults.

These stories capture the intensities of experiences, both fleeting insignificant moments in a life and momentous catastrophes. Many are told in the first person, either by a child narrator or a damaged or distressed adult. Losing, I Think is effectively a series of prose poems about a relationship between a mother and her baby's (mostly) absent father. In Looker, a father describes in painstaking detail what it felt like to be young and passionate, the night of a child’s conception.

"Believe me her body was a safe intersection without a blanket beneath the trees thatching above us. Her body a picture of yellow music. All was her hands rubbing my jeans her breath vanilla purest in the inch behind her ear.  Understand your mother was."      

One of the most chillingly terrifying stories is Why Jimmy in which a girl frees a boy from a rooftop accident. Equally sinister is Camp Zoom from Halfway There, in which lots of little girls get invited to a film camp in the middle of nowhere. Several months after reading I find that these stories have stuck in the sediment of my mind, only to bubble up to the surface when the silt is disturbed.   

The love of language, the way words sound and play together is integral to these stories. In The Floating Order, the narrator’s mother 'read books to me. She let me smell the pages.' That reverence for the sensations evoked by words comes across very strongly in all of the writing. But the style of the stories does vary widely between those which read as almost conventional plot-based tales to those which are more impressionistic, poetic sweeps, conveying their meaning and emotions by gradual accretion rather than in a strictly serial, chronological manner.  This gives a somewhat uneven texture to the collection, but conversely it provides a lot of variety as well.

Some of the stories effectively recreate an experience from childhood by example. At the end of The Only Child, I know what has supposedly happened before my eyes but I cannot be entirely sure of the meaning of what I have just seen - like a child who observes adult behaviour but cannot effectively decode it. You can judge the extraordinary nature of this effect for yourself because the story is available online (see link below). Although there is a tiny change to the ending used in the book, which to my mind improves it and illustrates just how much difference a subtle shift of wording can make to a story.

If The Floating Order sounds "difficult" and off-putting then I am truly sorry to suggest that but it would be foolish to imply the book is an "easy read" throughout. If you are looking for something light, airy and full of childish jollity, then this collection will disappoint. If, however, you are in the mood for a challenge and something tougher nerved then this book rewards the effort.  

In the title story, Erin Pringle writes "I save my babies in the morning. The sky very blue that morning. Like tiny hands smearing rivers down walls."  This is what words can do. They can be as very blue as the sky and, like tiny hands, smear rivers down walls. "I will say that words are babies, you must correct their sins or the evil takes over and they float away."  Only you can save the words in the morning. Smell the pages. Read them too.

Read The Only Child from this collection in Barrelhouse

 Pauline Masurel  lives by a river in South West England.  Words float past, face down, as she walks along the lane to weed other people’s gardens.  One day she will stop, net a few from the water, clutch them tight and plaster them, still-dripping, to the pages.

Pauline's other Short Reviews: Jim Crace "The Devil's Larder"

Mark Budman, Tom Hazuka (eds) "You Have Time for This"

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities

Carson McCullers "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe"   

Jeffrey Eugenides (ed) "My Mistress' Sparrow is Dead"

 Kasia Boddy, Ali Smith, Sarah Wood (eds) "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off"

Publisher: Two Ravens Press

Publication Date: 2009

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Erin Pringle is from Illinois. She teaches at Texas State University, where she obtained an MFA in Creative Writing.  Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Read an interview with Erin Pringle

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher: Two Ravens Press


The Author's Recommended Bookseller: IndieBound


Book Depository



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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What other reviewers thought:

Vulpes Libris