May 6: “Felecia Sassafras Is Fiction” by Susan Hope Lanier

Welcome to the weekend, Story366! Is it beautiful where you are? Is it? Because it’s beautiful here, seventy-seven degrees, sunny, with just a little breeze. I just got back from a Cub Scout event—yes, my son is a Cub Scout, so no, I don’t just creep out at random Cub Scout events—and there was a barbecue and kids laughing and rocks to climb and butterflies to chase around and in the distance, an ice cream truck playing its happy song. I petted eighty-three puppies, flew a kite, and stared at a rainbow. It’s that kind of day.

Oh, and as soon as I’m done with this post, me and the boy are going to see Captain America, which I love, love, love. Black Panther? Ant Man? All the Avengers hanging out, fighting each other, just like my action figures do? I mean, just like my son has his action figures do?!

Oh, and this morning, I went with my other son’s class on a zoo field trip and I FED AND PETTED A GIRAFFE!!!

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So, a good day. How about you?

I also got to read a few stories from Susan Hope Lanier’s debut collection, The Game We Play, out last year from my press, Curbside Splendor. I read with Susan a couple of times, in Iowa City and Chicago, so I kinda know her, and where you’re on the same press as someone, you’re kinda family. So I was glad to get to her book.

I read the first two stories in the book, “How Tommy Soto Breaks Your Heart” and “Cat and Bird,” and liked those stories very much, but when looking for a third, I just went by what the coolest title was. Enter “Felecia Sassafras Is Fiction.”

There’s a few different ways to interpret what’s going on in “Felecia Sassafras Is Fiction,” and I’ll give you my best guess. First, let me catch you up.

The first-person protagonist of this story is hanging out with an entity known as Felecia Sassafras, who is disappearing. It’s clear that she’s fiction, meaning she’s a construct of some kind, either literally or figuratively, but clearly doesn’t like disappearing. The narrator is trying to deal with it, telling he she’s not disappearing—a sliver of her thigh is first to go—but turning invisible. There’s a difference, because one means someone can’t see you and one means you don’t exist any more, and until Felecia Sassafras is totally gone, the narrator is just going to keep telling her she’s becoming invisible, unable to break the bad news. Even when physically and mentally Felecia Sassafras can feel herself wasting away.

All of this is really a small part of the story, believe it or not, as the story’s really about this narrator, this college student who has conjured Felecia Sassafras and has to deal with her. There’s no clear indication of exactly where Felecia Sassafras came from or what kind of creation she is, but the title of the story says that maybe this narrator has written her as a character in a story or novel. Really, where else would she get a name like Felecia Sassafras? There’s also a point when Felecia Sassafras is complaining and the narrator makes her stop, apparently, by shutting her laptop.

Interpretation time: I took Psych 101 back in 1992, at a junior college, so that means I’m pretty much an expert on all this. I say that Felicia Sassafras is an extension of the narrator, someone she created as an offshoot of herself, some part of her, most likely the id, and now that the story’s written (perhaps turned in to a CW professor like me), Felecia Sassafras has to go away. The narrator, though, can’t shake this version of herself that she’s created, and metaphorically, this alter-ego has lingered with her, is only disappearing gradually, some of her remaining, perhaps forever, the line between author and character blurred fastidiously.

Okay, I told you I took Psych 101 at a JC, so that’s what that $297 got me, got you on Story366. I mean, that’s an interpretation, and an easy one, but I don’t want to limit my reading of the story to that. In a way, of course that’s what this is, a writer’s character serving as an extension of herself, better than her in some ways, worse in others, the definitions of “better” and “worse” highly debatable. What makes this story so engaging and so good is that Lanier makes that pretty obvious—she’s not being coy about the metaphor of her magical realism here. The story then can work because of the voice Lanier employs—it’s similar to that in her other stories, especially “Cat and Bird,” that of a laid back college student just trying to get by, do her thing. The details Lanier gives this character—TV series binge watching, pubic hair management, etc.—separate her, certainly, from a Gabriel García Márquez character, even an Aimee Bender character, fifty and twenty years removed from those authors, respectively. Lanier has her own voice, so a short piece like “Felecia Sassafras Is Fiction” is a lot of fun, but can still surprise me. And it did: Perfect ending.

I like Susan Hope Lanier’s book The Game We Play, both on the page, and out loud. I’m happy to be in the same stable as her at Curbside Splendor, happy to hear another voice from Chicago. Now, off to see Captain Freakin’ America. Man, I really hope he wins the civil war.

 

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