A fast-moving fusion of microfiction and free verse that peers into the places where people keep things most deeply hidden.
Vaughan (Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits, 2013, etc.) is quick to identify his own motivations for this project. In “Fallout,” one of the shorter flash-fiction vignettes included in this collection, he writes: “He wants to photograph the seed pods, transfixed by the way they morph while they float….He hopes to capture their essence, as if by shooting them, freezing them frame by frame, he might see his own life oozing before him, undulating like festering wounds.” Whether photographers, tourists or children, Vaughan’s narrators approach their own circumstances and feelings with a scientific attention to detail, slicing each specimen down to the thinnest membrane before studying it with a thorough, distanced objectivity, always seeking some answer and often finding something festering. What they discover is that the most powerful addictions have little to do with substances and everything to do with patterns of behavior and belief. “Basements are unsafe” since they’re where loss occurs and, worse, where truth might be found. When his wife calls him pathetic, a stumbling drunk has to admit, “The truth is we’ve been this way for so long, I think I believe her.” Another husband accuses his wife of paranoia for worrying about his revealing their camping spot to a stranger, but inwardly, he thinks, “I wasn’t willing to admit it: he creeped me out, too….I chuckled but knew she was right.” For all their seeking, the truths they find invariably turn out to be their own inadequacies: “I said: // ‘Tell me the truth.’ / And he said, ‘I don’t believe you— // to tell the truth.’ ” Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the collection is its emotional evenness. The scientific examining persists; there is little judgment, little compassion, only observation. The young woman who loses her friend on a trip and the possibly sociopathic teen threatening sexual violence share a kind of detachment bordering on a lack of affect. These attempts to examine the human animal prove to be the collection’s strength, draining though they can be. In his dissections, Vaughan uncovers an astonishing resilience, but it is often wounded and ugly. The few emotionally charged exceptions, such as “On the Wings of a Dove,” are welcome relief.
A fascinating study of human attachment and loss.