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PIPETTE by Kim Chinquee


by Kim Chinquee

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-73691-690-2
Publisher: Ravenna Press

A woman confronts her personal demons against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic in Chinquee’s novel in flash fiction.

Elle appreciates order. She’s an Air Force vet with an adult son (who is currently serving in the military himself) and lives in Buffalo with her partner, the fitness-obsessed Henry, and their four dogs. She teaches fiction writing at a local college. She jogs. She tries to learn to ski, though she finds it exhausting and terrifying. In therapy, she explores her relationship with her late father and the ways his schizophrenia affected their relationship. She also consults her spirit guide—whom she imagines as a man in a beret—who helps her reconnect with her memories of childhood. Henry’s emerging Trumpism proves a strain on the relationship—one that gets even worse when he loses his job at a car dealership. Henry kicks Elle out of the house they share, and immediately after she moves into a new neighborhood, Covid hits. In this new life of isolation, Elle adjusts her priorities. “The mattress in the guestroom is comfy, and the frame is broken, so the mattress just sits on the floor…Sometimes I fall asleep to the TV. Some nights I get up and go to the master bedroom, which is clean and organized. Most nights I fall asleep in one bed, wake in the night and move to the other.” As the pandemic wears on, she confronts her troubled relationships with the now-dead men in her family—her father, her uncle, her paternal grandfather—as well as her attachment to dogs and her compulsion to stay in shape. But will greater self-understanding require her to relax her grip on the ordered life she’s long struggled to build?

Chinquee’s measured prose breaks over the reader like shallow, slow-moving waves. Here, Elle jogs in the early days of the pandemic: “The park is pretty bare now. I miss the bustle of bikers, children, people on the golf course. There’s a zoo on one portion of the park and I see some cars there. The zoo is closed. I breathe and take my steps. I opt for another loop. My legs feel heavy. My heart feels heavy. My lungs are pretty healthy.” The novel unfolds as a series of flash fiction stories, most less than a page long, each with its own title. The reading experience is not so different than that of an autofiction novel—The Department of Speculation (2014) by Jenny Offill and The End of the Story (1995) by Lydia Davis come to mind. The narrative unfolds slowly through the accumulation of trivial details: the positions of the dogs on the couch, the exercises Henry is doing, the meals Elle makes with her Vitamix. Chinquee’s moves are oblique, and they often take Elle and the reader away from the most engaging material in favor of the mundane. In doing so, however, the novel replicates a bit of what it’s like to repress or avoid or deny one’s personal issues, sprinting (or biking or skiing) ever forward in hopes our problems can be outrun.

A quiet, fragmentary novel about the chaos roiling beneath life’s surface.