Pomengranate Stories
 by Gay Degani

Lulu 2009
First Collection

"While a January blizzard pounded the cabin, my mother sat at the table across from Carissa and me, her hair the color of moldy straw, her body reduced to twigs. She picked at a scab on her lip, slid her eyes away. 'I’m a junkie,' she said. "

Reviewed by Annie Clarkson

Pomegranate Stories is a chapbook of eight short stories. It spans 50 pages, and nestles somewhere between flash fiction and short fiction.

These stories have a distinct style: fast-paced, sharp, and loaded with Americana. They are located, for example, "somewhere between Fountain Valley and Phoenix" or "along Highway 30 between Hilo and Volcano National Park", where we find the "All-American House of Beauty", beat up Chevys, Budweiser, Cherry flavor Icee, Copy-mart, a dog called Beau, corn chips, Oreos, Dairy Queen and basketball. Gay Degani has a skill in taking the reader straight into the physical and social geographies of her characters. The landscapes are vivid and rich with details. Her characters are probably all on the tough side, showing attitude, wit and a sense of survival through some hard situations and relationships.

All eight stories explore or figure relationships between mothers and their daughters. The title story Pomegranate, is inspired a modern day take on the story or Demeter and Persephone. A girl is stolen by Oregon hippies and forced to live for six years on a camp until she hits puberty and they can marry her to a boy who was snatched a number of years earlier. The story explores how she misses and then is reunited with her mother. Although, I did find this aspect of the story more peripheral in my interest to the story of how the girl felt about her chosen husband.

Other stories in this chapbook examine how mother-daughter relationships are impacted on by abusive or unreliable men or drug use, or explore the relationship between a woman and her disapproving mother-in-law, or explore the pull of a mother’s love when things go wrong and what happens when mothers let their daughters down.

Some stories span years, others only a matter of minutes. With some we are given a lot of background context, others take us straight into the action or a dialogue and we work it out as we’re going along. So, even though the writing is a similar style throughout the collection, the subject matters and approach is varied.

There is a lot to admire in Gay Degani’s writing style. She has a quirky approach to description and imagery, her dialogue is sharp, and the way her characters interact feels natural and authentic. She explores some complex dynamics, particularly between men and women, capturing for example a tense atmosphere between the couple in Monsoon through the narrator’s memories of how her husband interacted with another woman:
Leo and that girl stood close to each other, alone together in the middle of the dance floor, memorizing each other’s faces. What else could they do in front of all those people? I left my shoes under the table when I ran out.
Monsoon is the last story and, in my view, the story that holds this collection together, and gives it real strength. Monsoon shows the power this writer can bring to her short fiction.

But, it was disappointing that not all of these eight stories matched this achievement. There were a few stories that I felt didn’t reach their mark or draw out the emotion in the situations or characters enough for me. A story like Hawaiian Hairdo is written brilliantly, but was focused on an experience at a hair salon, which I found hard to care about. Chair Girl, is a strong short-short story, but didn’t carry enough power to stand in such a slim collection of fiction.

It’s interesting. I’ve read Gay Degani’s flash fiction on the internet, and found it to be powerful, beautifully written, with a brilliant appreciation of what brief fiction needs to connect with the reader. This chapbook has longer stories, including some very strong ones (Pomegranate, Monsoon, Spring Melt and Rim Shot). But the nature of such a small collection is that a lot of weight rests on each story. For me, not all of them could carry this pressure.

Pomegranate Stories is a brief glimpse into Gay Degani’s short fiction, and I want to read more. Her writing in this collection is visceral, has punch and explores the lives of characters that are not experiencing the easiest lives or relationships. There is some beautiful imagery and description and a very insightful approach to dialogue. Even though some stories were less powerful than others, I would still say Pomegranate Stories is worth a read.

Read a story from this collection on Fictionaut

Annie Clarkson is a poet and short story writer living in Manchester, UK. Her chapbook of prose poems  Winter Hands was published by Shadow Train Books in 2007. Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies, magazines and online, including Litmus and Brace (Comma), Unsaid Undone and This Road We’re On (Flax Books), Transmission, Succour, Mslexia, Dreamcatcher, and Pank magazine.

Annie's other Short Reviews: Anthony De Sa "Barnacle Love"

Laura Chester "Rancho Weirdo"

Daniel Grandbois "Unlucky Lucky Days"

Josephine Rowe "East of Here, Close to Water"

Mark Illis "Tender"

"One World Anthology"

Samuel Ligon "Drift and Swerve"

Alice Zorn "Ruins and Relics"

Ailsa Cox "The Real Louise"
Mary Gaitskill "Don't Cry"

Lori Ostlund The Bigness of the World"

"The House of Your Dream"

Ethel Rohan "Cut Through The Bone"

Alex Epstein "Blue Has No South"

Susannah Rickards "Hot Kitchen Snow"
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Gay Degani has published in anthologies as well as in online journals including Smokelong Quarterly, Night Train, 3:AM Magazine, Metazen and Emprise Review. She is the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles.

Read an interview with Gay Degani