Perishables is the winner of the publisher’s fiction chapbook contest, and it’s certainly prize-worthy work. Egnoski’s a fine storyteller and the four stories in this handsomely produced little chapbook provide strong support for the recent interest and increase in chapbook fiction.
“My Sister on Fire” is quirky sibling fantasy (who hasn’t imagined her sister on fire?) told in an original and engaging voice:
The chair my sister sits in is on fire. See, a simmering puddle of flames around the base of the legs, frayed tips of the shag carpet aglow: a brush fire that smokes, heats up and widens into a mischievous blaze. I snicker behind my hand. No, I won’t let on. She’s so smart, she’ll have to figure it out by herself. The same way she figured out that Jamie Marks is the one true boy of my heart.
“What I Saw on the Corner of Guava and Aurora” re-imagines and conflates the documented experiences of Zora Neale Huston in Florida in the 1950’s and the 1970’s.
“The Push of Gravity” recounts a mother’s experience of the loss of a child in exceptionally compelling prose: “I know love,” the story begins:
I know love. A coil of hair, warm skin, hollow of curved bone. The love of a lover, fitting back to belly, thigh against thigh in the deep part of the night, sleepy, not yet asleep. Easy touch, the flat of his hand on my face. Mother love, rose-bud mouth on my nipple, arch of his spine when lifted from the crib. My reflection in his unfocused eyes.
The title story brings together all of the author’s strengths: dynamic, smartly-paced prose; original voices; an authentic sensibility; emotional restraint coupled with emotional intensity; and a sense of immediacy: “Len wants me to pick like my friend Willa, slow and careful. I’d fall asleep. This, of course, isn’t her real job. Her occupation—preoccupation—is to look beautiful every minute of every day in every kind of weather.”
Egnoski understands the human condition and she understands how fiction can depict it. It doesn’t hurt that the chapbook is handsomely produced with its lovely glossy cover and polished production. Anything worth preserving likely began as something…perishable.