Chris Bower, Margaret Patton Chapman, Tiff Holland, Meg Pokrass, and Aaron Teel. Rose Metal Press, $15.95 paperback (328p) ISBN: 978-0-9887645-8-3
If you read the stunning 2011 release They Could No Longer Contain Themselves, you know the strength of Rose Metal Press’ compilations. My Very End of the Universe is no exception. The book, focusing on the novella-in-flash, is the perfect combination of hybrid text and education that the press is known for. Billing itself as “a study of the form,” the book is comprised of reprints of the 2011 and 2012 Rose Metal chapbook contest winners, Betty Superman by Tiff Holland and Shampoo Horns by Aaron Teel, alongside the novellas Here, Where We Live by Meg Pokrass, Bell and Bargain by Margaret Patton Chapman, and The Family Dogs by Chris Bower. Each novella begins with a craft-based essay by the author, and the collection is introduced by Rose Metal’s own Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney, exploring the genres and histories of flash, the novella, and the novella-in-flash and adding a new level to the reader’s interaction with the text.
Some works feel more traditionally like novellas, like Patton Chapman’s and Pokrass’, with arcs and resolutions. Teel’s flashes, while not linear, spiral around an event and around a boy’s coming of age, developing in the way we might expect from a novella. Meanwhile, Holland and Bower’s work take less traditional (even for a novella-in-flash) routes, Holland’s work resembling linked stories and Bower’s work similar to a set of monologues.
Not only does each separate novella explore the different variations of the novella-in-flash, but they are also linked thematically through stories of family. The book could be a study of mothers—Teel’s angelic figure coddling her son, Pokrass’ single mother undergoing chemotherapy and choosing the wrong man out of loneliness, Holland’s tough and candy-saturated Betty who “keeps her money in a Pringles can. She used to use a Benefiber jar, but then her husband got all healthy and found her stash so she switched places.”
It could just as well be a study of coming of age through the centuries, including Patton Chapman’s stunning period portrait of three children in the dirty slums of Chicago. Paul tries to be the man of the house, the only inheritance of his father, a picture of a naked woman dressed as Lady Justice “because it has a sword, and young boys love swords.” Angry middle-child Abe keeps a knife in his pocket and thinks, “I can hurt you,” when he sees strangers pass by. Bell, who was touched with the ability to speak at birth, gets her first lesson in reality when she allows a boy to look at her naked and he remarks, “You’re not much, really.” Her brothers later find her, “sitting in the parlor by the coal fire, her undergarment on the rug, half a box of matches burnt around her, singing her own name.”
It could be a study of the differences and similarities between boys and girls growing. Teel’s twelve-year-old Cherry Tree is trying out girls for the first time—“When she leaned over me, a cross on a chain slipped free from her shirt and I touched it with my tongue. I thought wildly that Dad, sunburned and tired with his baseball and beer, had never done anything like that,”—all the while torturing his best friend to win the affections of his delinquent stepbrother. Pokrass’ teenage Abby is getting used to her changing body and the attention she doesn’t want—“Junie says people who don’t like attention are gay, which makes no sense, and has nothing to do with anything.” Bower’s Al looks back at his childhood and laments that there were no pictures taken of him or his brother. All he’s left with are posed driver’s licenses and school pictures, which are “just mug shots, pictures where you don’t look like yourself.” Each novella also shows us the complications class brings to a family dynamic, while showing the reader the universality of family.
Rose Metal has made a mark with its study of hybrid text, but to the reader who doesn’t wish to be a student of literature, to the reader who only wants to read, My Very End of the Universe offers just what we need: beauty, grief, anger, humor, and some great stories. (November 2014)
Purchase My Very End of the Universe HERE.