Wednesday, May 14, 2008

FRiGG/Daphne Buter/Bonnie ZoBell/Flash Fiction Review

Nominating Editor: Ellen Parker

FRiGG is a quarterly online-only journal that features short stories (flashes and longer stories), poetry, and occasionally creative nonfiction. Sometimes we showcase photographers. Online since spring 2003, FRiGG is an odd little venture; the stuff in it tends to be dark, idiosyncratic, sometimes profane, often funny, revelatory, maybe a teeny bit sick. All the stuff in it is smart. People are initially struck by the stunning artwork throughout FRiGG. Most of this artwork is done by Al Faraone, a high school teacher, husband, and father who lives in rural Virginia where he doesn’t even have cable Internet! (He has dial-up.) He creates artwork in Photoshop, so it’s all digital art—meaning it doesn’t exist on paper or canvas; it’s just pixels. FRiGG is just pixels and HTML code, which is a lovely concept, really, and we don’t archive the issues in their entirety—we archive only the stories and poems individually—so once an issue is no longer live a lot of the material is gone ... although all it remains forever somewhere in cyberspace, if you’re clever enough to find it. Google has it cached. Perhaps this is not comforting.

On second thought, it’s not true that FRiGG is just pixels and HTML code. What it is, mostly, is people’s words. It’s stuff people have written that they want you to read. These people are talking to you. The artwork serves as a lure to get you to read these people’s words.

This story by Daphne Buter appeared in FRiGG in spring 2004, along with four others by Ms. Buter (and you should read the others, too, because they're all short and they go well as a group). Daphne Buter is a fiction writer who has published books in her native Dutch language, but she didn’t start writing in English until recent years. These stories are among her first attempts to write stories directly in English—her previous stories had been translated from Dutch into English—and when I first saw them, I flipped my lid. She speaks to us with a voice and a point of view that are singular. Her diction is often startling. The fact that English is her second language only enhances the power and poignancy of her stories because she says things in a way that native English speakers would never have thought of.

Nominated Flash Fiction:Don’t Buy Me This Crap, Will You?” - Daphne Buter

Review: by Bonnie ZoBell

The no-bullshit narrator of Daphne Buter’s wonderful flash, “Don’t Buy Me This Crap, Will You?” lets it be known right away that she ain’t fitting into any status quo if it means acting like the humans she observes, especially her neighbors. And by the time she finishes giving us the rundown of their phony shenanigans, we’ve been completely won over by this candid yet endearing narrator.

The beauty of Buter’s writing is in how subtly she encourages the reader to fall into the mind of this unnamed young woman. The language is so fluid and nuanced in exploring her flawed neighbors that before we know it she’s got us laughing at ourselves. We ARE those people she sees out her window, though we’d prefer to identify with this quirky narrator who sees through it all.

Nothing is as it should be in Buter’s narrator’s offbeat world. This young woman awakens the birds in the morning, rather than their waking her. Her cat is named A Dog. The angel in her world is happiest refusing to speak to people and threatening to kick them to death. That would be because the only angel in her life is a neighbor, Angel, who is “so colourless and dull, he should be buried right away.”

What she sees is much more real than what most of us see, certainly more real than what her neighbors do, and yet who knows what’s real, especially after spying on these the people whose property abuts hers? Buter’s protagonist is natural and nuanced; her character guileless and unaware she’s revealing so much. She’s an annoyed young woman looking out her window, but with so much charm it’s easy to see why the work of Daphne Buter, who lives in Amsterdam and writes in both Dutch and English, is so highly regarded.

Every last one of the neighbors in her story loves to garden, and plants the exact same two flowers until our protagonist becomes nauseous at the sight of one more bed of gardenias and chrysanthemums. First one neighbor, then soon all the rest, build nature in their backyards—fake pools lowered into the ground with fake birds—and somebody’s idea of a joke, Dwarves whose red penises recycle water.

Is it any wonder that even the “Angel” overseeing the narrator’s life is willing to kill live cats to protect his precious goldfish and phony yard, discourage live herons from flying down and ruining his phony one that stands on one leg next to the penis-wielding dwarves?

Buter’s potent narrator is yelled at for her live cat attacking Angel’s fake heron, who cost a lot of money, and who is there to protect his yard from the real heron, who was in fact the one who stole the live goldfish. This is told from the unsophisticated voice of our heroine, who doesn’t need to leave her home to see the irony with which we homo sapiens have agreed to live.

Kudos to Buter for allowing her colorful character full rein in exploring this comic but telling world view. The writing is seamless, the dialogue rapid and precise, and the reader is never once taken out of the fictive dream. Kudos to FRiGG for its uncanny eye in continuing to find these subtle gems.

Reviewer's Bio:

Bonnie ZoBell has received an NEA for her fiction and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award for a story that was later read on NPR. She also won the Capricorn Novel Award and an Honorable Mention for the James Jones Novel Contest. One of her stories was included in American Fiction: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, edited by Joyce Carol Oates. ZoBell’s work has appeared in such print magazines as The Bellingham Review, The Greensboro Review, Art & Understanding: America's AIDS Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and The Cimarron Review, and in online magazines like Insolent Rudder, Pequin, SmokeLong Quarterly, FRiGG, and Hobart. She has held residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, VCCA, and other colonies. She received an MFA from Columbia on fellowship and has been teaching at a community college in San Diego for some years. Some of her current work:

“Storks” in Insolent Rudder.

“Slaves” in Hobart (web).

“People Scream” in Static Movement.

Thanks for visiting Five Star Literary Stories and reading about this flash fiction.


Myfanwy Collins said...

Great story and great review!

T. J. Forrester said...

Ditto to those sentiments.

Love the voice in this story.

T. J. Forrester said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bonnie ZoBell said...

Thank you, Myf and TJ! Daphne Buter is a great writer. Can't wait to read more of her stuff.