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.”