A review for Review Forward:
Together We Can Bury It is a collection of more than 40 flash fictions and short stories. Many of the stories are less than 500 words long, some less than 1000 words long and two are considerably longer.
As such, each story is tightly condensed, with each word being significant for the rest. The stories revolve around love, loneliness, connectedness, family life, childhood, youth, daughters, mothers, husbands, and wives.
There is an impressive range of age, gender, race and socioeconomic class of the characters, as well as variation in the mood of the stories, from the harsh and beautiful Foreign Film, to the experimental Movement, the surreal Searching for Samuel Beckett, the magical realism of Snow, the darkness of The Hollow, the evocative realism of Orlando, the satirical Baby, Baby and the science-flavored Space Man.
Although short, each story feels like an entire world in itself. Fish’s assured and poised voice deliver accurate and inventive descriptions and lines that chill you or make you laugh out loud, sometimes simultaneously:
“We thought maybe he’d changed his mind, was coming back down, when we saw his baseball cap copter to the ground.”
“He has a behavior disorder which involves beating people up.”
“She’s wearing a herringbone maternity suit with a large red bow at her neck. She looks angry and fat, but festive.”
“What your mother doesn’t know is that you’re terrified. You think about it all the time. Cancer cancer cancer. Cancer leg. Cancer arm. You’ve eaten too many cancer hot dogs and sausages in your life. You’ve gotten too many cancer sunburns. Cancer throat. Cancer head. Too much cancer sex.”
Maybe the strongest stories are those that deal with family, and especially dysfunctional family, such as Bear Spirit, Wild Yellow Dog, Giant Red Fox and The Shoebox; harsh and courageous, impossible to be indifferent to.
My personal favorites, however, were the quirkier ones, such as Snow – about a rather unusual snowpocalypse, Space Man; a touching tale that says everything one needs to know about life, death and love in just a few hundred words, and the light-and-dark Cancer Arm and Disassembly.
The worlds in this collection are often a little lopsided, a little worn, sometimes dark and piercing, yet always beautiful in one way or another. They never tip over into sentimentalism or conceit and give the feeling that anything can happen, good and bad. But whatever does happen, you know it will be brave and honest, in the most human sense of the word.
Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian writer whose stories have or will appear in Elimae, SmokeLong, Metazen, decomP, Unstuck, and other literary journals. Her novel, The Empty City, is a story about silence and is reviewed here. Berit’s short story collection, Beneath the Liquid Skin, will be published by firthFORTH Books in late 2012. Find out more at beritellingsen.com.