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.

Flash Friday Review: “Delusions of Grandeur” by Laura Todd Carns, published in CHEAP POP

A story about a precocious child, now an adult, with the ability to connect with living things in a unique way. Is it only our imagination that lessens as we grow older? A child will believe anything. Or rather, anything is possible to a child. The weight of the world hasn’t yet snuffed out their keen connections to the living world. “It seemed impossible, the more she grew and learned, that one small person could be any kind of bulwark against the careless cruelty of the world.” What a heartbreaking moment of realization. Or is it a tale of success? Even alone, she can do so much.

I’m not sure if what I’m writing here is as much a review or more so a reaction to Laura Todd Carns’s story “Illusions of Grandeur,” which is a meditation on the way we interact with the world—how we might make it better; how we might use our gifts to enhance other living creatures. But there’s an underlying sadness to it all—that we can’t save everything, everyone. And in some cases that means ourselves.

Perhaps the conditions that stretch our capacity for belief or believing (in something) more than anything is our… mortality? Or maybe just our current situation. I don’t know. Look death in the eye and, for a person who wants to live, they’ll believe almost anything. We need only point to religion to prove death’s power over us and what we might believe, however preposterous it might be. Still, there’s a connection here that takes place—a story about a person who still believes that belief itself is a worthy notion. “But she thinks, perhaps, that she can believe, for one moment, in her own grubby-kneed girlness.” It’s like the more philosophical version of Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” In this case, “If you believe, then…”

Or maybe not. Maybe belief is simply the final goodbye.

Read Laura Todd Carns’s thought-provoking and heart-wrenching story here.

Flash Friday Review: “And This Is How It Ended” by Yasmina Din Madden, published in Fractured Lit

If Shannon Ravenel is correct and a good story’s ending will kiss the story’s beginning, then the end of this flash piece, by Yasmina Din Madden, told in reverse, would most certainly be a chilly goodbye peck on the cheek.

But kissing and story structure aside, there’s so much to admire in what Madden can do in so few words. We don’t need the blow-by-blow details, but one line will do it: “I surprised David with small gifts while I cheated on him with a fellow teacher…” That’s the one and only time we hear of it, but why go any further? There’s no need when economy (of words) is a prized possession.

Weed killer is apparently another prized possession. I’ve always thought weeds are simply misunderstood flowers or uncommercialized edibles, i.e. the gorgeous dandelion, but there are weeds of the noxious variety that do “choke out other plants.” These are the weeds that need attention pronto otherwise they might rot an entirely good garden plot full of lush, nutrient soil that could grow the tastiest of tomatoes. I, like Madden, live in Iowa, and there’s nothing quite like an Iowa grown tomato—something about the rich soil coupled with the intense July heat and humidity. I couldn’t choose a more favored and flavorful fruit to occupy any garden space, however big or small, in the Hawkeye State. Hell, we need at least one thing to brag about (we’ll see about the basketball team this weekend – let’s hope they don’t pull an Iowa State last time they played a #15 seed).

As we move forward (or is it backward?) in the story, we see the couple in question (David and the narrator) initially meet in a garden. This happens over a year prior to the first paragraph of the story. The couple shares time and space and eventually their relationship blossoms. But we quickly learn that what’s true of the tomato—that regardless of how “misshapen,” they’ll maintain flavor and “juiciness” and a resistance to “pests and disease”—unfortunately cannot be said for the most noxious of weeds; that a dandelion might live and flower and die back within a week, but the most invasive, as David well knows, needs to be cast out at the first hint of existence. Otherwise, inevitable ruin. David says it to the narrator in simple terms: “…a weed is a weed.”

Check out Yasmina’s story here.

Yasmina Din Madden is a Vietnamese American writer who lives in Iowa. She has published fiction and nonfiction in The Idaho ReviewPANKNecessary FictionCleaverHobartCarve, and other journals. Her stories have been finalists for The Iowa Review Award in Fiction and The Masters Review Anthology: 10 Best Stories by Emerging Authors. Her flash fiction has been shortlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions and Pulp Lit’s Hummingbird Flash Prize.

Flash Friday Review: “All the Wrong Questions” by DJ Hills, published in Wigleaf

A story about someone who is trying to keep hold of a fraying rope as she dangles off the side of a building/bridge/cliff. Or more directly, “I do not feel at peace.” This short, declarative—and very effective—line guides this flash piece from beginning to end. “I wanted so desperately to be popular.”

What is it like for someone’s life to spiral out of control or get launched—maybe literally, maybe figuratively—off a cliff. The fraying rope pales to the bus (with kids) which she acknowledges in the first paragraph: “Why did I drive the bus off the cliff?” Again, with kids in it (she did have an “abortion…in the early years of… marriage” which would support the metaphorical bus flying off the cliff, with kids). The bus was pulled out of the ocean. The narrator is now falling in love with the man who saved her.

Does it matter if any of it actually happened? No. Because we know what’s real: a failing relationship, loss at every turn, unmet needs/desires, and a general sense of unhappiness, despite a moderate effort: “I threw house party after house party trying to make friends. Where are they now?” Remember, she wanted to be popular?

When the narrator refers to being “dead” is it dead-dead? Or is it dead-to-the-world dead? I’m going to choose the latter here, because the one glimmer of any hope in this very powerful piece is when asked by the kids if it’s worth wishing on stars, even while dead, the narrator says, “Yes. Always. Let’s wish on one right now.”

Check out the story here.

DJ Hills is a queer writer and theater artist from the Appalachian Mountains, currently living in Baltimore. They have work in or coming from Appalachian Review, Cold Mountain Review, SmokeLong Quarterly and others.

Flash Friday Review: “Symbology” by Betsy M. Narvaez, published in The Brooklyn Rail

Many years ago in a short story workshop, one of the teachers, while discussing dreams in stories, said something to the effect of: “Share a dream, lose a reader.” Meaning, dreams, like in real life, are never as interesting to anyone else other than the dreamer herself. No one gives a shit about your extended slumber-time adventures with your third-grade pen pal on a balance beam overlooking some strange and muddy river.

But take a look at “Symbology” by Betsy M. Narvaez which opens with the line: “My mother began sharing her nightmares with me the same year I unfurled and grew taller than anyone had anticipated…”

So maybe nightmares are more compelling than dreams. Maybe when the nightmares and dreams are connected to the transition between childhood and adulthood, the meaning is more pronounced, more urgent. I’d say Betsy M. Narvaez proves that dreams/nightmares are indeed compelling, and I would argue further that her use of these dream/nightmares proves to hold deft insights into the characters of the story.

“Symbology” is a flash fiction piece where each stanza or section acts as a stepping stone toward the final realization which brings one of the mother’s nightmares (almost) to realization. The nightmare involves a hospital, her death. And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to announce that the mother doesn’t die. That would be too spot on and meaningless to the story. Instead, what we get are these tender moments that unfurl. The narrator, after what she’s heard about the nature and importance of dreams, by the end of this story, wants to share with her mother something “that might convince her that dreams hold messages richer than warnings.” That life is more about life and less about death. And since the certainty of that notion should render us free in some way (yes, we all die), we need not preoccupy ourselves with something so predictable, but instead bask in the gorgeous unpredictability of being alive.

Check out Betsy M. Narvaez’s story here.

Betsy M. Narváez is an Ecuadorian-American writer and translator. A native New Yorker, she was born and raised in the Bronx and now resides in Washington Heights. She earned an MFA from Rutgers Newark and a B.A. in English and American studies from Wesleyan University.