Review of “Mouse House” by Amelia Brown, published in Four Way Review

We meet all relevant characters in the first section: our first-person narrator along with her boyfriend, Eddie, and Eddie’s mother (Susan). We’re also introduced to a mouse along with the home in which this story takes place. It’s Susan’s home located in sprawling bucolic Maine where everything is quaint and perfect and people keep tea times (and probably tee times). We’re also “two hours north of [the couple’s] cluttered apartment in Boston” where they probably don’t attend open houses just to see “decorated parlors” and “underground entertainment systems” which is Susan’s idea of an ideal afternoon.

The story deftly juxtaposes the narrator’s modest upbringing (with the “broken-down Mazda…in the backyard”) and Eddie’s mother’s tea time expectations (not that the two are mutually exclusive). And this alone would be a compelling story full of conflict and compelling situations between the three characters, but the event that propels this piece forward is a game of cat and mouse. Remember that pesky mouse we meet upon arrival from cramped Boston to sprawling Maine? Susan says, “…something has to be done about this mouse.” Susan is not keen on keeping company with rodents, but instead of using a traditional mousetrap, the narrator convinces them to use a live-catch trap. The next morning Susan fetches a “box trap” so the narrator won’t “feel guilty.”

With this goal of catching the mouse, a series of extraordinary—though bizarre—events take place. I won’t mention any of them to you. They’re just too good to name on this page, and so you’ll have to read them for yourself. A small clue: the events in question show in clear detail how out of touch with reality the potential future mother-in-law has become.

This is a fascinating story. I couldn’t stop reading.

Amelia Brown’s essays and reviews have been published at the Masters Review, CRAFT Literary, Full Stop, and the Ploughshares blog. She lives and writes in Boston.

Review of “Water in the Blood” by Megan Pillow, published in Triquarterly

Mother’s Day was over a week ago, but perhaps we ought to do ourselves a favor and read “Water in the Blood” by Megan Pillow, a story, essentially, about everything going to shit—when your world, dreams, husband, and own body fail you, what’s bound to happen? This is Laura’s story. To say Laura is under a lot of stress would be a sick understatement, and this story is a cautionary tale of what happens to a mother (or parent) under constant barrage from all people and situations in her life.

In grad school, one of my teachers used to talk about stories as nothing more than mounting pressure on a protagonist. Put the protagonist in a vice and keep turning until the character or the vice breaks. I was reminded of this astute writerly advice while reading Pillow’s story. Her main character, Laura, is stuck at home, but it’s a new home in a new neighborhood where she knows virtually no one, while her husband is literally halfway across the globe in “fucking Antarctica” romping around and writing “beautiful” articles about his adventures. But Laura, we understand, is a better writer: “You would’ve done better,” the husband writes back after Laura reads one of his newly posted articles. Perhaps she’s the one who should’ve penned the article. Perhaps she’s the one who should be out galivanting around the arctic ice and writing about her adventures while waiting for shout-outs from adoring fans: “Take me on your next adventure?” writes queenbey9122 to Laura’s husband.

Meanwhile, Laura’s taking care of three kids and trying not to bleed out. Her last pregnancy and delivery left her with complications spurred on perhaps in part by a condescending male doctor who, of course, knew what was best for her. All the while, as all of this plays out, “There’s something in the woods behind the house” and a Florida storm is brewing.

The brilliance of this story is the melding together of all of these mounting pressures. It isn’t simply one of these conflicts that’ll break our narrator; instead, what Pillow’s showing us is what happens to someone who is under constant micro and macro attacks at all times and from those who should be there to help and support (the doctor, the husband), but there’s no one to help. Only her and her three needy children, one of whom was born only months ago.

We return now to the original question – what’s bound to happen to someone in this situation? When “…she is a great white-hot mass of rage, and she can feel the small dark thing opening its maw, and then she clamps it shut again.” What happens when she can’t “clamp it shut”? When the protagonist’s anguish and frustration are simply too much? Megan Pillow shows us the answer, but you’ll have to read the story to find out. Here’s a hint: Grab your personal flotation device and maybe an extra oar.

Check out this fantastic, heart-wrenching story here.

Megan Pillow is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Kentucky. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in, among other places, Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, The Believer, Brevity, and Gay Magazine. Megan has also had stories featured on the Wigleaf Top 50, an essay honored as notable in the 2019 edition of The Best American Essays, and a story honored as distinguished in the 2020 edition of The Best American Short Stories. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her two children.

Review of “Good Teeth” by Leslie Walker Trahan, published in New Delta Revew

Good Teeth” was the 2020 winner of the Ryan R. Gibbs Award for Flash Fiction. After reading the piece, you’ll understand why. My brief review here:

This story is tied together by braided storylines with a compelling sense of time and excellent use of white space. The braids include: A creepy dentist/landlord. The narrator’s obsession with a stranger – a man – who may or may not exist. And the narrator’s deceased father. The two men — the stranger and the father — look alike and share a love of the violin. We see wonderful images and details that lend credibility to this: callouses on fingers, the “sleek neck of the violin case.” Meanwhile, the dentist gives a “months free rent” to the narrator if she goes out on a date with him. He also gives her free exams—sticks his fingers in her mouth and talks while the narrator “…[doesn’t] say a word.”

Throughout this very peculiar piece, the observations coupled with the braided storylines are enough to signal the alarm, but then we find out more of the narrator’s frame of mind through conversations between the narrator and her sister who asks: “Have you been taking your meds?” We hear that question a couple times, once near the beginning, and once at the end, and by the second time, we too wonder how much help this narrator might need. We readers aren’t exactly sure. But we do know one thing: we won’t call the dentist to come help.

Read and listen to the perfectly crafted and detailed story here.

Leslie Walker Trahan’s stories have been featured in The Forge and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other publications. She lives in Austin, Texas. You can find her on Twitter @lesliewtrahan.

Flash Friday Review: “The Little Details” by Jody Keene, published in JMWW

A familiar story: a wife endures the daily grind—kids who don’t clean up, a husband too forgetful (and maybe unmotivated) to change the kitty litter, and a host of other things that add up. But “he’s a good man, your husband;” the narrator says, attempting, perhaps, to convince herself. There’s a sadness in this piece made more so by the two coyotes shot and killed by the husband (opening line: “Your husband is in the garage with two dead coyotes.”). One of them, pregnant, with “stones in her belly now rather than pups.” This—a revenge killing for the two coyotes allegedly killing Juno, the family’s dog (“…pieces of her all along the creek bank. The steam from her innards drifted over the water, away from you.”). All of this intermixed with memories tied to motherhood, as the narrator recalls breastfeeding, her children at her chest—how fleeting, abrupt, a life can be. Narrated in the second person, the story takes us through a circumstance not unfamiliar to most who endure the daily grind where the saving thought or hope, on a particular day, is how the stylist might cut one’s hair; when the one strong emotion emerges from being “determined not to let the stylist talk you into bangs this time.”

Check out the story here.

Jody Keene is a writer and social media coordinator living in Little Rock with her family and as many dogs as possible at any given time. Her work has previously appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine.

Review of “Dead to Me” by Elle Nash, published in Adroit

The storyline in “Dead to Me” is based on a disgruntled married couple (husband/wife), and the story itself narrated from the POV of the wife. A host of issues linger in the foreground—depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, a couple brimming with insecurities, and the wife cyberstalking (or cyber-spying on) her ex. Oh, and a kid to punctuate the situation (“He cried every night, after dinner until bed.”). And let’s not forget about the narrator’s scarred relationship with her own mother (“Lately, [my mom] never asked how I was doing…”).

In the same way Carver could write about everyday people with deeply intimate nuance, so too does Nash, but I won’t fall into the trap of comparisons (though I recognize I just compared the two, but only for the sake of pointing out differences) because there’s much more here—in Elle Nash’s story— than a domestic tale written in the vein of the venerated short story writer. Afterall, you probably won’t find threesomes, anal beads, or social media obsession in a Carver story. But here, with the release of her debut story collection, NUDES (in which “Dead to Me” is included), Nash is—pardon the pun—carving out her own place in short story lore.

The story “Dead to Me,” ultimately, is about a wife running away, but what’s so impressive here is that Nash moves back and forth from current story to back story (though we mostly follow the former) and from storyline to storyline (husband, friends, kid, mother, ex) without losing a single note of tension, even in the most so-called mundane scenes. “…I found myself sitting at a dining room table where my son curled up in his chair, oatmeal smeared across his chin. I picked up a plastic spoon with soft edges.” Even the detail of “soft edges” harkens back to the very real threat of this narrator potentially doing harm to herself (“I felt suicidal”). As readers, when we find out the spoon has soft edges, we know the likelihood of harm finding her or the kid—at this particular moment—is present, but dulled knowing the spoon is “soft.”

But for as seemingly unhappy as the wife might be—her name is Lyla, a lovely name—it’s not because she doesn’t care. If anything, what Lyla is guilty of is caring too much. She wants to be a good parent, daughter, mother, friend, and she wants to stay alive. “So in our sadness we made a pact. To stay alive, to hang together, the way we vowed on our wedding day.”

And she wants, more than anything, connection; something or someone to steady her manic thoughts and ideas. “We texted back and forth a few times after the dinner party, but nothing came of it. The last time I’d texted her, I asked how she was doing, and she replied, “Good.” And that was it. She never sent another text.” Perhaps what Lyla needed here was a simple reply from the neighbor/friend, asking: “How are you?” Not the superficial kind of “How are you” that has become a meaningless greeting. But instead, a real question–“How are you?”–asked from a place of care and concern. You might remember, Lyla wanted this from her mother as well, to ask how she was doing.

I was glad to find Elle Nash’s work. Two of my favorite short story collections have been published by SF/LD Books—Dylan Nice’s and Mary Miller’s—and I plan now to order Nash’s. If the collection as a whole is anything like “Dead to Me” I’m in for one of those rare—and treasured—reading experiences.  

Read the story here. And check out her story collection here.


Elle Nash
 is the author of the short story collection Nudes and the novel Animals Eat Each Other (Dzanc Books), which was featured in O – The Oprah Magazine and hailed by Publishers Weekly as a ‘complex, impressive exploration of obsession and desire.’ Her short stories and essays appear in Guernica, The Nervous Breakdown, Literary Hub, The Fanzine, Volume 1 Brooklyn, New York Tyrant and elsewhere. She is a founding editor of Witch Craft Magazine and a fiction editor at both Hobart Pulp and Expat Literary Journal. She teaches a writing workshop called Textures. Find her on Twitter @saderotica.