12/17/20: Into the Archives: staff member Taylor Croft on “Fragments and Pieces” by Alisa A. Gaston, issue #19
Prism has published many great authors and many great works of fiction and poetry. Just one of those many pieces is a short fictional story called “Fragments and Pieces,” written by Alisa A. Gaston. This story stuck out to me because of how relatable and impactful the story is. The characters all compliment each other in a sharp and well crafted dynamic. The tensions are relatable yet outstanding at times, yet are also set in quieter scenes that are just as impactful.
“Fragments and Pieces” boils down to a young narrator, Fay, watching her aunt and uncle’s relationship dissipate into a separation. This story beings with an unspoken event that caused a rift between the narrator’s aunt and uncle. It’s ambiguously inferred that this event had something to do with fertility. The narrator usually lives with her mother but is often taken to live with her aunt because of her mother’s alcohol addiction.
Uncle Cal is a strong character, as well. When he and Auntie are working on packing up their shared home after they decided to separate, readers get a glimpse into the relationship between him and Fay. While Fay is trying to disassemble their bed frame, she’s having trouble with the screws. When he walks in, he gives her the advice to push into the screws before trying to unscrew them. It’s only after he leaves the room that Fay tries out his advice. It works perfectly. Uncle Cal is the only developed male character in the story. I think this is meant to emphasize his impact on the narrator. Fay sees him as a father figure just as much as her auntie is a motherly presence in her life.
Flashbacks within the story illustrate the strength of the narrator’s aunt, referred to as Auntie. She’s qualified for a higher paying job, but she chooses to work at a kennel because she loves working with animals. She’s the only person that stood up to her sister’s threats and near violence and poured out the alcohol that Fay’s mother was all too addicted to. Auntie regularly cares for Fay, often taking her from her mother when the home life is becoming too toxic or dangerous. Fay sees her auntie as more of a mother than her actual biological one.
Flashbacks also allow readers to see the kind of relationship the aunt and uncle had in the past. During family events, Fay used to be their messenger, running between the noisy and crowded living room to pass comments between the two such as, “Tell your auntie she needs to shave her legs,” and “Tell your uncle he needs a shower.” Fay reflects on moments like these, enjoying being apart of their laughing or their relationship.
This story also has beautiful moments of language and description. One particular moment that I love is how the narrator describes Auntie’s hugs, “Auntie always holds on with her hands pressed firm and flat on my back, forcing me in, and squeezing me tight.” Another moment is when the four were visiting Zion National Park, and two horses ran in front of their cars. Fay and her mother managed to dodge the horse in their vehicle, but the Uncle and Auntie weren’t so lucky, “It was a colt. Its body was curled in a way I never imagined a body could curl.…Clumps of black mane and tail hair stuck to the splashes of blood on the pavement,” These reflective and beautifully written moments lean into the characters, creating the impact of the sadness in watching this family’s life unfold.
The story ends with Fay’s sad scenic moment and her auntie driving Fay back to her mother after they were all finished with moving everything out of the uncle and auntie’s house. Fay is overwhelmed with emotion as she realizes she doesn’t want to go back to her mother and wants to leave with her auntie. When they get to the mother’s apartment complex, Fay runs out of the car, causing her auntie to chase her. When she finally catches Fay, it’s revealed that they both want to stay together because she views Fay as her child. The story leaves the reader with the inference that they were going to go tell Fay’s mother. The ambiguity of the significant points in the story is why I feel this was a strong and impactful story and why it was my favorite out of this issue.
11/28/20: Into the Archives: staff member Sienna Ruiz on “Set It and Forget It” by Jaquira Díaz, issue #13
While reading through a Prism Review copy this Thanksgiving, “Set It and Forget It” by Jaquira Díaz caught my eye. The strangeness of some of the previous stories in the issue, makes Diaz’s story, even though the subject matter is something more mundane, so much more striking with what goes on within the scenes. The banter between two characters, Ana and Cari, caught my eye immediately. Their dialogue conversation between one another is very strong. I could imagine the personality of the characters through their words. “Set It and Forget It” uses tension, tone, and impact within the story to make a strong communicable story that discusses a controversial topic within society in an evocative way.
“Set It and Forget It” is a story about a main character who goes with a friend to a clinic to get an abortion done. The two main characters are upset with the amount of time they are having to wait for the doctor to see them. It isn’t until two more patients come in, Ana and Cari, that the story shifts tones.
The tension between characters within this story is very strong. Ana and Cari are individuals that all the other characters in the stories are irritated with. Their personality and rudeness makes one as a reader sympathize with the others in the waiting room that have to endure the suffering of their inappropriate jokes. Throughout the story, this tension slowly builds until the end when we surprisingly sympathize for one of the unlikeable characters, Ana. By Díaz having this contrast in the characters personality, the impact in the end feels greater. Even this character who the others lacked compassion for is affected by the difficulty that is getting an abortion.
What Díaz does well is highlighting a societal topic that is controversial, but she doesn’t make it the foreground of the story. The two characters, Ana and Cari, are here causing most of the problems within the story. There is social commentary mentioned, but Díaz does a good job at making these women feel human by not focusing on trying to pick a side on what the women are doing.
The ‘elephant in the room: abortion’ isn’t used as the key focus of the story, it’s something one has to piece together. By not using the word, the reader isn’t allowed to come up with their own judgments or beliefs on what the women are doing. The main focus is the character tension.
Within the story, there are also so many nice subtle character tensions. One example of this would be the somewhat comical irony of The Maury Show playing while all the women are in the waiting room. Their uncomfortableness and Ana and Cari’s remarks make the waiting for the doctor more unbearable. All the women can relate to one another in the room. They all are there for the same reason and so even though they all aren’t talking much except for Ana and Cari, the small tension feels louder:
“I can tell the other women are getting anxious. The more jokes Ana makes, the hotter the room feels. Every few minutes someone walks out of the clinic, fed up with Ana’s comments and Cari’s outbursts of laughter.”
By the end of the story when the doctor comes the tone becomes serious. As soon as the jokes from Ana and Cari stop, the dreading of the situation finally becomes present in the story. But, Díaz doesn’t allow the reader to form their opinions on what’s about to happen, they take this moment to make the reader sympathize for the women. The narrator is worried about her friend and the fear she thinks her friend is feeling. Ana, the young woman who was making jokes is seen also upset by getting the abortion. In the end, the tone is more solidly empathetic as the Díaz focuses on the trauma the women are experiencing. Throughout the whole story, there is a strong juxtaposition in tone while having strong character tension, and this is why this story was my favorite out of the issue.