Review by Barbara Renel
Publisher: Ad Hoc Fiction
Alligators at Night (AdHoc Fiction, 2018) is Meg Pokrass’s fifth flash fiction collection. You only have to turn to the back of the book and read the ‘acknowledgements’ to appreciate the quality of this new work – stories have first appeared in publications such as ‘Best Small Fictions’ (Braddock Avenue Books, 2018), ‘New Micros’ (Norton, 2018), ‘Wigleaf’, ‘Jellyfish Review’ – the list goes on.
I first read Meg Pokrass in My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-In-Flash and a Study of the Form, (Rose Metal Press, 6 Nov. 2014). Her novella-in-flash, Here, Where We Live, bears what I now know to be the hallmarks of her work – emotionally powerful, poignant, witty, ironic – and her essay on the form, ‘Breaking the pattern to make the pattern: conjuring a whole narrative from scraps’, with its talk of crazy patchwork quilts, fragmentation, layering, juxtaposition, stitching stories together, concept albums, had me hooked.
Alligators at Night is a love song, a ‘concept album’ of love stories, celebrating everything that makes us human. I read as a reader and I read as a writer and slow reading is what Alligators at Night demands. ‘What you sometimes want is to never actually get there,’ Meg Pokrass writes in the title story of this new collection. And you want to spend time with these stories. You want to take the long, glorious walk to the Seven-Eleven to the soundtrack of the alligators ‘crooning’. I imagine the playlist – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Andy Williams.
Meg Pokrass has a unique voice. Here she is writing about a variety of ‘smiles’:
My mouth stretches sideways and upward like a circus trick. (“The Landlord”)
We smile securely’ (“Our Man”)
A smile obscured her face, a moonish smile, the kind of smile most men would take a photograph of if they had the right camera.’ (“Piano Hunting”)
A smile that stretches around his smile lines.’ (“Probably, I’ll Marry You”)
And I smile at her description of a penis as ‘friendly-looking’ (“Separation”) and another as ‘crouched like a worried squirrel’ (“Wouldn’t You Like Some Sun?”).
There are some brilliant first lines:
Sadly, I slept with Eli again. (“Sin Diary”)
My sex drive walked back in the door with a broken suitcase. Her name was Ruby (“Ruby”)
A strange smell is coming from Lydia Davis’s dog, our Chinese-takeout food, or me. (“Imaginary Chinese Takeout with Lydia Davis”). And a great title too.
I love the concision in the writing:
‘Mammaries,’ he whispered. The baby didn’t need them anymore, had switched to soy. (“Mammaries”)
… he with his therapy cat, called Uma Thurman. (“Therapy Cat”)
Mom reminds me that a healthy couple needs high ceilings. (“Chicken Man”)
We ordered crab and the cat looked angry. (“Therapy Cat”)
My period starts right then, and I’m wetting my pants. (“Mating”)
Four miscarriages in the last two years. Each time we adopted a rescue animal. (“Separation”)
And the sensuality of the description:
I could smell baby shampoo on his neck. (“Water Damage”)
Looking at her meaty arms, I thought of pie-crust dough. (“Invisible”)
His sperm is rising – hopeful and stupid. The room smells like fresh bread. (“Separation”)
Everyone will have their favourite characters and stories in this collection. Let me introduce you to five wonderful characters I have met in just two of the stories. The couple in “Probably, I’ll Marry You” is unforgettable. In this brief story where Johan proposes to the storyteller in the backyard and she/he is more worried about him staining his trousers on the wet grass, where I learn about the different shaped noses of the protagonist, the ex-husband and the woman he left her/him for, where I learn that Johan ‘has lice from a hat he bought at the Salvation Army’ and that ‘rat pee dries quickly and there is almost no smell’, where all these things feed into the completeness of this beautiful story, I, as the reader, am totally in love with this couple and so hope they live happily ever after.
“Barista” (Best Small Fictions, 2018) is an extraordinary story. On first reading, it was words on a page, but words both intriguing and compelling. The barista standing in the ‘social area’, his ‘invisible espresso bar’, the outburst of the teenager who ‘in a way … belonged to all of us’, the protagonist who ‘wasn’t sure that I wanted out’ – three characters who, as you understand the setting, and as you read and re read this story, rise up out of the page like a pop-up card. Here are three characters you care about, deeply.
Recently @megpokrass tweeted:
It’s How You Tell It: Ultimately, a story’s success lies in how you tell it. It can be a story about anything; you don’t need to come up with a brilliant idea. Originality andauthenticity of voice are what win us over. Use your unique way of seeing the world. (September 20th 2018, 9.29pm)
And that’s just what Meg Pokrass does – with bells on!
Barbara Renel: Winner of a number of flash fiction competitions, her work has appeared in print and online publications including FlashFlood journal, Structo and A3 Review. She enjoys working on multi-disciplinary projects; Fire Station Ghosts is a site specific sound work for The Old Fire Station Arts Centre in Carlisle. She enjoys performance and has read at the Arachne Press Story Sessions, the Literary Kitchen FlashFest and is a regular contributor at her local Speakeasy. She originally trained as a dancer, has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and five children. She can be found on Twitter @barbara_renel.