Queen’s Ferry Press
tl;dr summary: Collection of short (and short-short) literary stories showing the everyday lives of a variety of characters.
Read this if you like: Writing and reading flash fiction
Flash fiction is a tricky beast. It calls for an author that can do a lot in not much space, an economy of language more similar to poetry than most prose. To be true flash fiction, though—rather than a prose poem or other hybrid form—it also needs to have a narrative progression, along with the well-developed characters and setting expected from longer fiction. Given that, it’s not surprising that there seems to be a lot of debate in the literary community about what is and isn’t true flash fiction, or that so few people do it well.
The 50-odd stories in Whiskey, Etc. are grouped together based on their thematic content. While they feel like they all take place in the same general universe, each tells its own story and concerns its own cast of characters. The stories range in length from a few hundred words to around 15 pages (which, admittedly, is no longer flash, but is still on the short side). The stories that are around 1-2 stories in length read the best to me. Some of the shortest pieces, like “Half-Full,” have enchanting language but feel more like the set-ups of stories than complete works, arguably falling more on the prose poem side of the equation. Longer ones, like “Unlocking,” don’t have the same tight snap; sometimes reading more like chapters in a novel than contained pieces.
Sherrie Flick’s choice of details are what make her flash fiction so successful. Character routines become stand-ins for their daily lives, sometimes taking on new meaning. The dinner preparation in “Boiled Clear” springs to mind as one example. It opens on Suzy slicing brussels sprouts and chopping garlic, at the same time her boyfriend Neil is dying in a car accident; normal life kept marching on, uninterrupted by his death.
Common objects also frequently stand in as touchstones for emotions or states of beings. Various forms of food are used to establish context and build characters, like the Manhattan Up in “Winter Storm” that represents the life Evelyn didn’t live. Cars feature prominently in several stories. As the cause of death and emotional catalyst in “Heidi is Dead” and “Boiled Clear.” The car is nostalgic freedom in “Road Trip” and potential freedom in “You Have a Car,” which forms the character’s present by looking at her possible futures.
Another key to the success of these stories is their tight focus. This is perhaps why I was less of a fan of the longer stories that take up more in-world time. Few of the stories in this collection span more than a single day; some last only a few minutes. The character’s whole life might be revealed in the narration, but the in-story action is often a single event or meal or moment, and this gives the story room to breathe within that moment, lets it stop and show all the small details that build the emotional and narrative tension.
I have to say that while some of the stories in this collection spoke to me more than others, they were all a joy to read. I was trying to read more from a craft perspective, and even so found myself slipping into “reader” mode, getting sucked into the story and having to go back and re-read with more analytical eyes. Whiskey, Etc. turns a microscope on daily life. What it shows is sometimes heartbreaking, often optimistic, and invariably beautifully written.