Reviews

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               Nancy Stohlman’s flash story collection The Vixen Scream has been screaming off the page and through my mind for the last two weeks. There’s a kind of cannibalistic glee in digging into another writer’s work, and there’s so much meat between those two covers that I’ve felt like a very lucky cannibal, and realized how hungry I’d become for something new and different. That’s exactly what I found: new and very different flavors, the excitement of masterfully prepared combinations of sweet, savory and spicy, a feast for the starved literary soul.  A lot to chew on.  

               Start at the beginning, with Death Row Hugger, a quick punch to the gut. In three short paragraphs, Stohlman gives us enough potent imagery that we can feel the inmates’ suffering, and the sometimes tender surprises felt by the narrator, the person hugging these people before they walk that last mile. Does the narrator talk about emotions per se? No. She does what any great storyteller would do: give the reader a visceral picture and let them feel the thing. Besides, the emotions that Stohlman evokes in this and all the stories that follow, are complex. Subtle. Rare. And therefore they can’t be named so easily, which is a good thing. Don’t tell me about the meal—put it on the table.

And there it is, on your coffee table, your desk your nightstand, or maybe you like to read at the kitchen table. Still hungry? Keep reading.

The promised Bible Stories are here, and they’re mostly hilarious. You’ve got your well-known episode—Lazarus, Jonah, etc.—and you don’t really know what to expect, what Ms. Stohlman’s going to do with it. Turn it on its ear, that’s what—usually with an acerbic punchline. There’s a serial about a Red Fox—not to be confused with other foxes: the narrator of these stories clearly knows where her affections lie, and gives the reader textbook information on her beloved Red, as well as on fox life in general, and that information helps enhance the flavor of the series—spread throughout the book. The fox stories are perfectly spaced: they provide a mysterious thread through the collection, and act as a kind of palate-clearer, the ginger between your different types of raw fish.

Or meat. I know it’s the second time I’ve mentioned meat, and started the review with that cannibal thing, but I can’t seem to stop these references. They fit the material being reviewed. There’s a ferocious intelligence at work in these brilliant shards, and like a broken mirror, those flashing pieces are both fascinating and dangerous. There isn’t a whole lot of bloodshed in these stories, but a detached violence is often suggested, that of a carnivore. I’m not saying there aren’t flowers to nibble on here—there are, definitely, moments of tender beauty throughout the book—but their beauty is more striking when placed against the cool darkness of a lot of these stories. There are also lots of laughs: a week after reading what Mary said when she realized she was pregnant, I’m still laughing about that one.

This collection has an order and shape to it that compels me to strongly suggest reading as I did, from beginning to end. The structure of the book feels intentional, like Stohlman wanted to weave all these smaller stories into one larger one, and as each story has a shape, so does the entire book. Most of the stories are less than a page long, and there are about 80 of them, so the whole book could easily be read within a day or two by a hungry reader, but again I have a suggestion: don’t do that, do what I did. I took about a week and a half to do it,  because I wanted to let the stories sink in, try to “get” where the author was coming from, and let the over-and-undertones expand in my imagination. Like I would imagine a good Paleo meal would, this book seems to require a good digestive process: there’s a lot of raw stuff, and some flavors that may feel somewhat shocking to the system, but it all ends up feeling surprisingly health-giving.

Flash fiction engages the reader, encourages a participatory relationship with the story, more than any other form of fiction I know of. It’s feels a very near cousin to poetry, where all that space on the page feels like a snowfield you can run around and play in—and where you absolutely should, because otherwise that space would be wasted. The way Nancy Stohlman writes, that encouragement to play along, let your imagination run wild and foxy, is almost palpable. The voice heard under these stories breathes in our ears, and says, “Look at this, look at this weird world. And then that one. Come on and play in them. Consider this. Consider that. And that over there—ain’t that a kick. Is that crazy or what?”

I can’t resist, who would want to, so I enter the playworld. And the first thing I know, I’m face to face with a Red Fox, who says, “Bet you wonder why I’m here.”

I did. I found out why the fox was there, and one of the reasons was to feed me.

“That’s some mighty strange and wonderful food you got there, Mr. Fox,” I said.

“Ain’t it now,” he said with some satisfaction.

April 2015

The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories is available at The Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, through Amazon, or from Pure Slush Books: www.pureslush.webs.com

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Nancy Stohlman

Have you ever read something that made you feel the space of the characters, like what you’re reading isn’t about someone else—some fictional them—but a very real and present you? Nancy Stohlman’s The Vixen Scream takes you there, whether you want to go or not.

The room smells musty, like wet clothes were shoved and left to die in all the corners. (Death Row Hugger)

Stohlman offers a you a seat on a rickety coaster ride—not one of those break-neck affairs that rushes you from start to finish and leaves you unsure of what happened, but that one ride at the carnival you’ve always been afraid of because there are things in the dark that sneak up and grab you unawares. What do you say about falling in love with a homunculous of your boyfriend? If you’re Lazarus, do you long for Jesus or the tomb? What is the “regular life” of a Jehovah’s Witness like?

I’m not saying I’m proud of how it all went down. But maybe if those collection agencies hadn’t been calling me all the time. After avoiding another 800 number last Saturday morning, I looked over at you sleeping, lips pursed, eyelids fluttering, all mussed up like a baby koala, and I thought: there are plenty of people out there who would pay good money for that. (I Pawned My Boyfriend for $85)

vixen-cover-final

The prose is hauntingly beautiful, to the point you bite your lip because you know something is coming, but you don’t know what and the anticipation is killing you and then, there it is: the vixen, ehem, just had fox babies and let them run off. Of course it’s fantastic, unbelievable, impossible, but is it really? If you readThe Quickening, you’ll believe. Stohlman answers every question you’ve ever thought to yourself in the darkest night, including “what’s the cost of a broken heart?” and “what would a sculpture of my spite look like?”

There are tales that will make you laugh and then immediately look around in wonder, because it might not have been appropriate to giggle at such an experience. To wit:

One morning Mr. G woke up without his penis. It was just missing. There was no blood, no struggle. He tried to remember when he’d last seen it. Certainly he’d gone to the bathroom before bed? Yes, the unflushed toilet confirmed. (Missing: Reward)

The snickers are sure to continue as Mr. G looks for his lost appendage in the bedsheets, piles of clothes, and ultimately in the butter dish. There are moments that will make you wonder if you should stop and cry, or simply agree and keep reading. And just when you’ve gotten in the groove with the vixen and the fox, there are real fox statistics to make you think. Yes, Stohlman educates as well as entertains.

But there is an underlying something that adds a shiny brilliance to each piece. You want more, but the stories are so very complete. Of course you want to know what happened next to the magician’s assistant, but psychically, you already know. As you let out the breath you’ve been holding for a hundred-plus pages, you realize you’ve reached the end, and you want more. Find it atwww.nancystohlman.com.

____________

Andree-New

Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

Skylight Press Review: “A Few Strange New Hybridities in Literature”

Vixen ScreamThe Vixen Scream & Other Bible Stories by Nancy Stohlman
(Pure Slush Books)

As I have found out for myself, there are no limits to what a mixilating group of short stories can become. A veritable championer of Flash Fiction, Nancy Stohlman embarks upon a strange and irreverent series to situate the reader with death-row volunteers, stewardesses, Avon-lady stalkers, magicians and homunculi just for starters. There are some flashes to be sure but these stories aren’t mere formal reductions or glib plot encapsulations come about by editorial stripping. This is a strange and enticing grouping of vignettes where skeletal structure is ruled by omission or by the vague projections of causality. We traverse momentary realms from the surreal to the absurd to the mythopoetic, often propped up by illogical scaffolding or some labyrinthine state of limbo. There are hints of Kafka, Hoffman, Borges – even more contemporary types like Jonathan Carroll or Angela Carter perhaps. But among these twisted miniatures runs two seams that hint at some totalizing purpose; the first being a set of blasphemous biblical paraphrases and the second offering the on-going presence of the Red Fox. This is an odd and intriguing juxtaposition but the returning fox, although via unconventional treatments, seems to offer the same totemic reverence often found in Native American and Scandinavian myths. So often cast as the trickster, and here infiltrating a world of literary tricks, the presence, although tragic, is a grounding one.

Read whole article including other reviews from Skylight Press here

 

 vixen cover finalThe Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories
Nancy Stohlman
Pure Slush Books 2014

 “How much are you getting paid to do this, he asks, a
crease in his forehead.Enough to pay off my loans, I said as he begins to tattoo
the Coca-Colo logo across my face.”~ “Indentured”These delectable shorts from Nancy Stohlman are sassy, sophisticated, sometimes sweetly naive, and always brilliantly ironic. From the woman who hugs inmates on death row and the sexy homunculus, to the pawned boyfriend, the missing penis, and the mermaid who is no longer a mermaid, we are scooped up and taken to the craziest, zaniest, most unimaginably strange places; and yet in each place you find human-ness… tender vulnerability, the need to please, or at least understand.
Do you feel old now? she asked.
I shrugged. Do you feel young?
We shared a soda as the Midwest rolled by.~ “I Met My 20-Year Old Self in the Lounge Car of the Amtrak”And then, of course, there is the fox… seductive, mysterious… the vulpes vulpes marking its territory with urine, its anal glands smelling of violets. Who can resist? Not you, if you read even one of the stories in this absolutely top-notch collection.Read original here
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