Tiny tales that resonate far beyond their borders to remind us that, with the right kind of attention, “beast, bird, botany,...


A collection of short stories and microfictions that investigate the flash points in people's lives—the places where decisions turn into consequences—through the lens of the girls in the fairy tales.

Pursell (Show Her a Flower, a Bird, a Shadow, 2017) is a master of the atmospheric moment. In these 78 very short stories, some of which are only a paragraph long, a shift in the light, a stray sound, a familiar gesture made suddenly strange are the vertices on which the characters’ psyches balance. The women we encounter herein are mothers of grown, absent, precarious, and endangered daughters. They are lovers to distant, brittle, sometimes-brutal, often untranslatable men. They are daughters to stricken mothers, beloved in their exits, baffling in their frosty disinterest. Unlike a traditional fairy tale, where the plot hinges on a vulnerable character’s quest into the unknown against all advice, these stories could be categorized as ones in which nothing much happens. Yet, to ignore the depths of engagement Pursell manages to invest in the look that passes between aging parents, the smell of a daughter’s shampoo, the “airy bell” of an unattainable lover’s gypsy skirt “ringing around her hips,” would be a peril of a different sort. Precise, delicate, yet bloody-minded in their refusal to look away from the most painful moments of our tender lives, Pursell’s stories shine brightest where they allow themselves to dwell undisturbed in their instants. The collection as a whole suffers from some muddiness due to the sheer number of these moments, which inevitably include duplications of vantage and image. This encourages the reader to look for an underlying narrative pattern that does not quite materialize; yet, the joys of the individual stories sparkle so winsomely it is easy to ignore this quibble as we push forward, eagerly, into the forest ahead.

Tiny tales that resonate far beyond their borders to remind us that, with the right kind of attention, “beast, bird, botany, being—all [are] knowable.”

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-945814-87-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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