April 17, 2016: “Breakfast” by Sherrie Flick

Hello, Story366! Here I am with another late post, but hey, getting this up means I’ve made it through the four days Karen was in Ohio. She’s up in bed now, asleep, along with the boys, meaning we all survived the weekend, short story blog intact, ready for another April week, just three left until the end of the semester. Hurrah!

Today’s book comes from a friend, Sherrie Flick, whom I’ve known in this writing world for quite some time, about as long as I’ve been in the writing world. I just ran into Sherrie at LAX on my way home from AWP, where we were way too early for our flight to Denver, which also ended up being delayed a bit. We had a nice talk about all things writing and teaching writing, and it made for a nice final event for the trip. I probably got as much out of that talk with Sherrie as I did from most of the rest of AWP, knowledge-wise. She also sent me her latest book, Whiskey, Etc., just out from Queen’s Ferry Press, which I was thrilled to read for today.

Whiskey, Etc. is a book of shorts, and what a book it is. It features fifty-seven stories divided into eight different sections, sections with headings like “Songs,” “Pets,” “Coffee & Tea,” and “Whiskey” (hence the title). I read a couple of stories form each one of the sections, enjoying each story, seeing, more or less, how each story fit into each subheading. “Pie Inside,” from “Dessert,” is pretty self-explanatory, while “Gravity,” which has a cat in it, makes sense within “Pets.”

I almost wrote about “Gravity,” as its title is one of those titles that could almost be the title of any short story, and I wanted to dote on Flick for not making some corny metaphor with things weighing on the characters, the world’s gravity bringing them down—she doesn’t go there. That’s worth at least a Pulitzer nomination in my book. Still, I’m going to write about “Breakfast,” the second story in the book, which ranks as my favorite.

Like any book of shorts, especially one with fifty-seven stories in it, the author has a lot of room to experiment. Since many of the stories are one-pagers, the premise is often immediate, the payoff right on its heels. Fifty-seven stories mean fifty-seven protagonists, fifty-seven ideas, and of all the stories I read, “Breakfast” has the most distinct characters and ideas.

“Breakfast” is about a mother and her son, living on a chicken ranch, and, well, that’s about it. To say this three-page story has much of a plot would be overstating, as it’s really more about the tone and the type of relationship Flick establishes between mother and son. If George Singleton, whom I covered just a couple of days ago, can write full-length stories with minimal plots, then Flick can certainly pull it off in a much shorter length. And she does, over and over again.

The mom in “Breakfast” is manipulative, for sure, getting her son to bend to her whims throughout. She wants chicken, then she wants eggs. She gets breakfast, then she wants him to leave. She plays enfeebled pretty well, which adds to her power. As the story flips POVs at the drop of a dime, we get the son’s perspective as well. It’s a limited mindset, this sixteen-year-old boy, longing for the day he can move out, wrestling with himself over whether he should beat off (…).

Like a lot of the stories in Whiskey, Etc., “Breakfast” doesn’t really have a discernible arc, doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere in particular. But that’s not the point, and often isn’t, not in shorts. The joy of “Breakfast,” and all of Flick’s stories, is the reading experience, to see where she takes her characters next, what she has them do, and more importantly, what kind of fantastic sentences she employs. “Breakfast” isn’t Casablanca—it’s more Psycho, actually—but It was the second story I read out of two dozen, and it’s the once that stuck with me, still does.

Sherrie Flick is one of the best and more prolific short writers publishing today. I’ve always admired her work, and the only thing disappointing about her new book, Whiskey, Etc., is that it’s new, meaning it’ll be a while before there’s another. Glad I have the rest of this one to still enjoy.

Sherrie Flick