Monday, May 4, 2009

Freight Stories/Andrew Roe/Meg Pokrass/Flash Fiction Review

Nominating Editor: Andrew Scott

Freight Stories
publishes new, emerging, and established writers, including many known to wider audiences: Robert Boswell, Patricia Henley, Mary Swan, Lee Martin, Cathy Day, Larry Watson, Gina Ochsner, Daniel Wallace, and more. One of our goals is to bring a rigorous editorial process to the endeavor, which is one reason we were the first journal to publish online the work of some of these established authors, but we also work to find new voices. Freight Stories—including in No. 5, which will “go live” in mid-May—publishes many emerging and debut authors, and we take pride in that.

Andrew Roe’s “Why We Came to Target at 9:58 on a Monday Night” features compelling characters in a difficult situation, and its narrative voice is relentlessly engaging. Roe’s story answers perfectly a request made in our submissions guidelines: “Fiction of all lengths and styles is welcome. We wish only that your work be driven by the exploration of the lives of believable, compelling characters, and that it help to illuminate, broaden, or in some way enrich its readers’ perspectives.”

Nominated Flash Fiction:Why We Came to Target at 9:58 on a Monday Night” - Andrew Roe

Reviewed: by Meg Pokrass

The narrator of Andrew Roe's remarkable flash "Why We Came to Target at 9:58 on a Monday Night" lets it be known right away that she is perceptive, nervous, and trying to figure out where she and her boyfriend fit. She is vulnerable—a young person in a flawed world. The landscape is our present America; economically, and spiritually diseased. A Target store serves as Roe's stark, though colorful, setting.

The power of Roe's writing is in how unconsciously he approaches the reader with tiny physical details that add up to a feeling of these two young people being overwhelmed by forces that feel out of their control: mainly, temptation vs. limitation. The narrator and her boyfriend are coming off being drunk and/or high—having fun in the Target store, right at closing—the way kids will do at an adult's expense because they have each other to play around with.

Soon, we realize that Roe's narrator is getting nervous, knowing that the store is closing—though her boyfriend, Donny, is throwing whatever catches his eye into their cart, and can't seem to stop himself: "The lights in the store dim (hint, hint). I say to Donny, Let’s go, over here, I think." The narrator's emotional landscape begins to match the physical, in that the odds of buying and paying for all this unnecessary merchandise (and we can extrapolate this out a few years) are heavily stacked against them.

There is a moment in which Donny realizes his mistake and throws the items on the ground, "so he dumps everything on the floor . . . and we bail. Some minimum job wage slob will have to clean it all up. Not us." Here, we are shown that she is acutely aware of status, and that she does not intend to belong in that minimum-wage world. She sees herself and her boyfriend in an elevated light, as if they were a different species. Later, she judges makeup the checker is wearing, calls it "spooky" and "old ladyish." Here we recognize her tragic flaw—the inability to see people realistically.

Roe also shows us in slivers that Donny is emotionally immature, possibly reckless. We don't know why he is acting like such a destructive clown. She says, "But I’m not laughing as much now, because I’m starting to remember why we’re here." Roe's narrator bounces in and out of awareness of her own judgment, and of her own fragile identity apart from this boyfriend. To me, this is a delicious part of what makes this story memorable, and what makes Roe's characters real. They are complex and we worry for them. He's a master at showing us the internal struggle, and providing an uncomfortable feeling that something bad is brewing.

Reading the story, I could not tell if they are planning to steal something, or buy it—and I don't want to spoil it. The thing they are getting at Target feels important, and we are not told until late in the story what it is, though we are given hints: "It’s not like we’re buying condoms or porn, we don’t have to mask it with other stuff you know." They are young, though not children. These are seniors in high school, Donny is an all-state wrestler and "can lift a keg like a six-pack."

The story remains very grounded in physical details. The reader is trapped in the scene, like it or not. We don't know what is going to happen; why they are there, what will happen in the checkout line, and what exactly they are doing. This tension is part of the reading experience, and adds to the overall power of the piece.

The narrator's observation of the checker (the only other character in the piece) and her scripted words that she is too tired to even SAY are funny and unforgettable. Soon after they leave the store we are thrust into the deeper truth of why the narrator is so attached to her boyfriend—inseparable from him. We see that perhaps, she is losing her footing as a young person coming into her own. She is being stunted, and the way Roe later lets us in on the "why" is seamless.

Roe's writing is smooth, subtle, at times humorous—and the dialog is spot-on. There is not one moment that allows for escape from this little gem of a story. One feels, when reading this—superstores are like planets we don't completely trust. Kudos to Freight Stories for its amazing pick.

Reviewer's Bio:

Meg Pokrass lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter. Originally an actress, her flash fiction stories and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in 3AM, The Pedestal, Toronto Quarterly, Mud Luscious, Juked, Pindeldyboz, Smokelong Quarterly’s Fifth Anniversary Issue,Wigleaf, Elimae, Keyhole, Frigg,Wordriot, The Rose and Thorn, Thieves Jargon, Eclectica, Kitty Snacks, Rumble, and various upcoming anthologies of flash, including Dogs: Wet and Dry. Meg serves as a staff editor for SmokeLong Quarterly, and will be mentoring with Dzanc’s Creative Writing Sessions. Her blog, with prompts and writing exercises can be found here.

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


katrina said...

What an amazing story--so much in so few wrods. Love the cadence of the prose. And excellent write-up, Meg.

bevjackson said...

Loved the story and enjoyed the Meg review very much!! Good stuff, as usual! Thanks TJ!

About T. J. Forrester said...

Thanks Bev!

I enjoyed this, too.

Antonios Maltezos said...

Great story... Mega-review! Thoroughly enjoyed both. Thanks, TJ.

About T. J. Forrester said...

Nice to see you, Tony. I'm sure the participants appreciate the kind words.

Andrew Roe said...

Greatly appreciated! Thanks all, and thanks T.J.

About T. J. Forrester said...

You're welcome, Andrew.