The Flexible Truth

zIjgtAyJThe Flexible Truth

-Chapbook Reviewed by Kelsey Dean

Kayla Pongrac’s The Flexible Truth from Anchor & Plume Press is an entertaining collection of quirky flash fiction. Composed of twenty-seven tiny stories, believable voices emerge complimented by bright imagery and unexpected metaphors.

One of the most enjoyable pieces in the collection is “Picknicking with Catulle.” In this short, an orphan boy is scooped up onto the back of an elephant for a delightful ride. The picture conjured—“he giggles wildly as we cut more pieces of fruit, arranging the squares and slivers to create animal shapes that get launched into the air and into his open mouth, the juices staining his shirt as he chews”—is full of life and light. The collection contains other such whimsical pieces: “Bee-Begging,” a two-sentence story of a strange decision involving honeybees, and “Sentimental Smudge,” imagining handwriting that “slid off the edge [of the postcard] and landed on the Welcome mat” where the narrator stands.

Some stories offer pleasant surprises by placing everyday objects and occupations in a new light. For example, the sassy coffee mugs of “Impatient Chorus” and the gravedigger who is the star of “The Gardener.” Other stories offer a sense of nostalgia and satisfying details found in ordinary settings, or reflect on unknown characters. For example, “Holiday of Note” presents a somewhat neurotic narrator with a desperate mission:

I want nothing more than to see your birthday printed in size 10 font, center-aligned, and carefully placed at the bottom of February 18, where it will be in close proximity to that month’s phases of the moon.”

Who is this extra-special “you”? Who is worth such meticulousness? The rhetorical questions that arise from such teasing snippets of text are inherent to flash fiction and a significant part of the appeal of the genre. Storytellers have the freedom (and challenge) to leave readers to speculate outside of the confines of a page or even a paragraph.

Some of Pongrac’s pieces are set in slightly alternate universes where the extraordinary is completely natural, and each piece is told with care, a touch of humor, and often a hint of sadness or unease. Although loneliness, along with a sense of the inevitability of death and decay is a part of many of the stories, readers are not left feeling melancholy. Rather, there is a persistent sense that life goes on. Readers observe a character pondering “a seed I’ve yet to sow” or “trying to figure out how to put the wind back in her hair.” As one narrator puts it, “what a relief that today his stretcher isn’t for me.”

An advice column called “Dear Murph” resurfaces throughout the collection. While the variety of complaints and the fact that Murph never actually answers anyone’s questions are amusing, readers may find the column slightly disorienting and overly ambiguous compared to the more vibrant bites of fiction that make up the meat of the chapbook. The column is a feature that some may love, and others may not appreciate. Likewise, while most of the stories are told in a very conversational tone, some occasionally stiff or formal phrasing—”It is I,” or “upon which I stood”—render the voices somewhat theatrical. Overall, however, the narrators are very enjoyable to read, and they all have strong and introspective voices.

The Flexible Truth is a collection that beautifully exemplifies the genre of flash fiction. The title perfectly fits these tales—stories that bend reality into pleasant new shapes and bring earnest characters with something to share to life.


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