ALEXANDRA GILLIAM Reviews
BESIDE MYSELF by Ashley Farmer
(Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014)
[First published in eleveneleven: A Journal of Literature and Art, Issue 17, 2014, Editor Hugh Behm-Steinberg]
It is not the end of the World.
from “Diary of an Ex-Precedent”
As a poet, I crave personal connection from prose. I crave the type of prose that pushes boundaries and straddles the fence between poetic language and story telling. Farmer will bend you with her flash fiction collection, Beside Myself, with its woven four-part narrative full of accidents and beautiful little truths.
“Snow/ Sunrise/ Ambulance” gives a narrative oscillating between the gentleness of falling snow and the wears of the body after disaster, bringing haunting truth and beauty pulled through memory. “Tornado Warning” sets us up for chaos of the landscape complimented with particulars, the neighbor knotting his boat to a tree and the sky as it “rolls up its green belly.” This chaotic landscape brings us to a discombobulated perception of our surroundings, it could be winter or summer. At the end, we are left with a pseudostillness and pushing our identity as readers against text and landscape while compared to precious threads just waiting to be shown the world. In part two, “Where Everyone is a Star,” we rediscover language through the world of a gymnast teacher, bend bodies and push the limits of relationships, straining love. We are left with inevitability of gravity. “Brother(s)” delves into the multiplicity of not only siblings but of the self, with odd quirks and fits of rage, and little moments of tenderness that often times go unseen, revealing our bridges to ourselves and how to burn them down.
“Diary of an Ex-Precedent” allows us to dream with tributes to Reagan and the heart-warming images from space. We are woven into the narrative “our silver linings on our sleeves,” the readers assimilate into the narrative left to rediscover our childhood, our mistakes, and handed over to the simple and vast truths. We are just left to float, bending time, redefining our generation. We are momentously pulled into part four to memories of young girls at the beach rediscovering the body, as we are left dreaming of high school pulling our old memories out and scattering them across the floor and picking out the sun filled pieces to put up on the window sill to stay awhile, as the young girls transform from women to babies exposing their beauty and soft spots.
Each flash piece exposes a new side to itself giving each narrative many different faces, each like a field embedded with jewels or precious metals. Farmer’s narratives leave us pushing the idea of reader and narrator, forming a new relationship with the text and ourselves, leaving us to unearth memory and expose it silhouetted with detail. We invent the narrator of our own personal landscapes.
Beside Myself is dynamite, pushing beyond the cliché of a page-turner, needing to be read more than just twice. Farmer’s collection redefines prose, opening the door to not only how we interpret fiction but also how we interpret beauty, exposing the utter urgency of literature. A book we have all been looking for since we started dreaming.
Alexandra Gilliam (MFA Writing , 2015) writes poetry and lives with her cat in Oakland.