My poetry workshop recently concluded all poems are about loss. To a certain extent, all stories are too. Maureen Sherbondy’s short stories in The Slow Vanishing definitely follow this theme. The title is evidence, as are the stories inside. There are vanishing limbs, vanishing mothers, vanishing children, and vanishing commas. In many cases, Sherbondy literalizes an emotional loss. A husband doesn’t just feel like his wife is lost because she isn’t doing her normal routine; she actually is lost, and he has to deal with it. Parents don’t feel like they’ve lost their children when they head out on their own; the children actually fly away. This literalization is a wonderfully imaginative way to tell a story, as well as great way to raise crucial questions about life, and how it can be lived.
Making literal an emotion lends itself to surrealism, but sometimes the stories contain surrealist aspects just for fun or just because. My favorite of these stories is “Creatures,” in which animals are taking over America. “On the first day of winter the doorbell rang,” it begins. “I opened the front door to find a chimpanzee. He extended his hand and grinned, showing off a mouth of yellow teeth and pinkish gums; then he walked into my house.” My favorite of Sherbondy’s realistic fiction is “Last Respects,” the last story in the collection. After her daughter goes to college, a mother finds solace in visiting funerals of people she doesn’t know. One day she stumbles upon the obituary of a long-lost friend, and at this friend’s funeral, the mother is finally able to let her latent grief overflow. I love how Sherbondy’s stories range from the silly to the very serious.
Most of the stories in this collection are flash fiction, though there are some short-shorts and a couple full short stories. I read this book like I’d read a book of poems: I carried it around and read a flash piece in my five spare minutes somewhere, then mulled over that story until I had five more spare minutes to read another one. Her stories deserve mulling over, both because they’re artistically well-crafted and because they often have some main question they want the reader to ponder. Would lax grammar rules lead to less law-abiding citizens? I ask after reading “Punctuation Elimination.” Would it take a disappearance of mothers for some husbands to realize the vital role they play? I ask after reading “The Mothers.” Don’t I often live like worry literally drives my car? I ask after reading “Worry.” The fact that Sherbondy can raise such questions through couple-page stories is incredible to me.
If you want to read short, quirky, versatile, thought-provoking stories, read this collection. I enjoyed the book very much, and I intend to keep Maureen A. Sherbondy on my radar as I read literary magazines and navigate through the literary world.