Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The central event in Big Little Lies is something that, in a different book or story, could be summarized in two or three pages of exposition. It’s a dramatic sequence, to be sure, but the trick of Liane Moriarty’s cunning novel is to tease this moment, then back away and rewind, then slowly peel back layers until the full context and complexity of the moment can be understood. Thus, when the scene finally happens, the impact of it and the shocking, fascinating, deliriously entertaining chaos of it are keenly understood and richly felt. It’s a master class on building tension.

The event in question is an unspecified tragedy that takes place at a fundraising function (a Trivia Night) for a public school in a small Australian beach town. The introduction teases the Trivia Night from a remote point of view and then backs up six months and focuses on the stories of three of the night’s key players, each of whom take turns with a deeply intimate third-person narrative style that I can only describe as arresting. As the story unfolds from these distinct points of view, Ms Moriarty takes great care to skip to just the most pertinent or character-revealing moments, and while the book is long and detailed, it has short, punchy chapters and is never, ever a slog to read. Throughout, reality-show-style confessional transcripts appear, discussing the events leading up to the Trivia Night, the night itself, and its aftermath in cleverly obscure language from the perspectives of some of the people involved.

These flashback-y transcripts are a gimmick, sure, but they’re one of the most effective gimmicks I’ve seen. The book reads like a screenplay, with sharp directorial cuts and a phenomenal sense of pacing. But don’t mistake this book for a disposable summer beach page-turner quickly forgotten once the back cover is closed. Ms Moriarty uses her ability to capture the reader’s full and suddenly ravenous attention to open the door wide for her remorselessly bladed and often downright hilarious insights. This may be one of the finest satires I’ve read since Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” and the book’s commentary about the politics of public schools, the collective hallucination of suburban existence, and the messy necessity of true friendship is so on point it pricks and draws blood. It’s scathing, laugh-out-loud funny, and absolutely horrifying all at once. There are so many insights on the inner lives of women: working mothers, single mothers, stay-at-home moms, women with supportive husbands, women in terrible marriages, directionless women, women with dark secrets, dark pasts, dark thoughts, personas, nuances, layers, contradictions, fears, truimphs. Big Little Lies’s characters are alive in ways most authors only wish they could manage and it’s all done in such an insightful, delightful manner that you don’t see it happening until it’s done.

The book is not utterly flawless. Ms Moriarty takes liberties with her three central protagonists when several of them appear on page together, hopping sometimes confusingly from viewpoint to viewpoint. She occasionally structures sentences in ways that tripped me up, and I found a bit of the transcript gimmick and a lot of the early character-introduction sequences needlessly confusing and overwhelming with lots of new names and relationships. Eventually the key names and connections did sort themselves out but there are places where a minor character reappears at a key moment and there’s a few minutes of disorientation until something re-contextualizes them. But it’s worth noting that there is another version of this novel that could have been written at twice the length wherein it might rival a Russian novel in terms of characters with their own point of view chapters. And next to the scope and skill on display everywhere else in this book, these are very minor complaints indeed.

I’ll say simply that I loved this book. I tore through the last two hundred pages at a breakneck (for me) pace, completing them in a single evening, and was thrilled to see the conclusion met every one of my sky-high expectations. I’d recommend this book to anyone, but I kind of especially want to recommend it to male readers specifically for the way it draws attention to the multifaceted ways that women view each other and themselves. After so much pop culture time spent distilling and generalizing women down to a set of simple stereotypes for the sake of “comedy” it’s so refreshing to see the real unpacking of women’s thought processes and self-aware complexities. And, it happens to result in genuine laughs that are much funnier than any of that other reductionist crap you usually see. It’s refreshing, dark, honest, hilarious, thrilling, heartfelt, and completely satisfying. Put it on your to-read list and thank me later.

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by Tara Bradford

4 U Leonard Cohen

Ex-InTransit via Creative Commons

She bent over, examining herself in the mirror, splayed in folds. She pulled her legs apart and saw the pink recede into darkness, becoming indistinguishable. It disappeared into her, silent, and she thought, no, this will never do. So she rubbed her finger and thumb together until it held onto the leathery tip between her legs. When she pulled, she felt a falling, a lengthening of herself into another place. It rounded in her palm and she let it drop powerfully between her legs. Yes, she said, better.

She felt it swing between her thighs and her confidence expanded with its girth. There were comments on the sway of her hips or the taste of her lips or the fall of her hair long and low down the curve of her back. She could not tell if these voices were echoes in her head or said a moment ago, a week ago, now. The extra girth gave her confidence, though. It bulged in front of her like a light leading her to this instance—this time. She knew, with this thing between her legs, that she would finally be taken seriously.


Tara BradfordTara is an international teacher with itchy feet and busy fingers. Having found inspiration in Japan, England and Kuwait, she is now venturing to Ukraine to see what new stories the ‘Old Country’ will reveal to her. Find Tara on instagram @tarajeana or her website www.tarajeana.com.

by Jeaninne Escallier Kato

Lipstick

David Moran via Creative Commons

“Moishe, darling, don’t forget your coat.” She has carefully placed his clothes on the bed, as she does for every opera night.

“And you look breathtaking, Ruth, my love.” He stares at her through her vanity mirror as if memorizing every feature on her face. “The black velvet suits you.” He swallows heavily, sweat beading on his brow.

She grins in that special way that says she wants him desperately. Applying red lipstick, she says, “The children are downstairs with your parents. I bundled them up in layers. It will be a cold night.” She turns away when the tears blur her vision. She knows he is studying her closely.

He runs his fingers down her exposed spine until he touches the top of the zipper. She grabs his hand and presses it to her powdered cheek. Her tears have left visible tracks through an otherwise impeccable layer of make-up.

A door bangs open. He runs downstairs to the children, shielding them from the inevitable intruders. She slowly slips into her mink coat. With trembling hands, she picks up the felted yellow star that has fallen to the floor.


Jeaninne Escallier KatoJeaninne Escallier Kato is the author of the childrens’ book, “Manuel’s Murals.” She has published short stories in various online journals, and her memoir essay “Swimming Lessons” is published in the anthology book, “Gifts From Our Grandmothers,” by Carol Dovi. Jeaninne is a retired, bi-lingual educator who is inspired by the Mexican culture. Much of her written work revolves around the people and traditions of Mexico. She resides in Northern California with her husband, Glenn, two German Shepherd mix dogs, Brindey and Bobby McGhee; and, one very fat Russian Blue cat named Mr. Big.

Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

 

by Jinapher J. Hoffman

I wade into the water. The boat drifts out further—out of my reach—forever. It’s still on fire, the flames a beacon for lost hope. Ma grips my shoulder, pulling me back.

VikingFuneral8

David Power via Creative Commons

“But, where is he going?” I ask her.

She kneels down and pulls the tips of my fingers to her mouth and kisses them.

I wipe tears from her cheeks. “Don’t worry. Pa said he’d always come back.”

She pulls Pa’s tags from her pocket and puts them around my neck. “Not this time, baby.” She kisses my forehead. “Not this time.”

Her head nuzzles into my shoulder and I stare past her at the empty pasture.

“Ma, where is everyone? Aunt Linda? Cousin Tim?” I pull away from her. “They should be here. Shouldn’t they? They should see Pa off.”

Ma trembles. “Not every hero makes a crowd, baby.” She tugs on my hand. “Come on, let’s go back to the house.”

I shake my head. “I want to watch him go.”

She turns away. She always turns away.

Pa is a blazing dot against the horizon. I reach a hand out, grasping at the flames, but my palm is left empty and the boat is gone.


Jinapher HoffmanJinapher J. Hoffman is the Founder and Writer for her self-named blog, author of the YA Dystopian Thriller Twenty, Co-Founder of Incipient Productions, Scriptwriter, Director, and a current student in Orlando – obtaining a BA in Creative Writing for the Entertainment Business. She’s had some of her short fiction published with 101 Words, Slink Chunk Press, and Flash Fiction Magazine. In her spare time, she is a DH Designs model, cat lover, and attempting to consume less coffee.

by Clive Tern

Sienna’s boots left holes in the soot on the street of her childhood home. The smell of rot and decay wasn’t overpowering, but it was there.

Bootprint

Ron St. Amant via Creative Commons

Voices unheard for over two decades echoed in her ears; ‘Ma, he threw a rock at me!’ ‘Sienna, it’s tea time.’ ‘If you kiss me, you’ll see stars.’

While the voices played inside she looked at the devastation, and continued towards her destination.

Number sixty-seven used to have a blue door and white net curtains at every window. Now it was a ruin. The door and windows were broken through, the roof was tumbled down. Instead of bright cleanliness it wore a suit of grime.

“I’m home,” she thought. “For the first time in twenty years I’m home.”

Home. The word echoed through her, disrupting the memories by fragmenting them into shards which meant nothing, but cut her soul until it bled.

Coming here had been pointless, an exercise in whim to demonstrate power. Still, what was point of authority, if you didn’t abuse it a little?

She unclipped a beacon from her belt and tossed it through the broken doorway. This would be the epicentre of re-terraforming. Humanity could come home.


Clive lives by the sea in rural Cornwall, England, and writes short stories and poetry. He has been published by Zetetic, Pidgeonholes, & The Quarterday Review. Occasionally he blogs about finding writing tough at www.clivetern.com.

by Kyle Hemmings

The boy named Mahlah came upon Alice White sitting alone in a ditch. There was a scattering of ruined barns, miles of hard clumps of dirt. “Why is it,” he asked, “that every time I find you, there is always that moldy grapefruit in your hand?”

Alice spoke without turning around. “It’s not just a moldy grapefruit,” said Alice. Mahlah sat next to her, offered her a carrot with brown spots. She refused.

The Ugli Fruit

Ariel Waldman via Creative Commons

“It’s what’s left of a boy who had beautiful green eyes.”

“Like that boy they once said had polio but had something else?” Mahlah asked.

“No,” said Alice, “It was from the last twister before your family moved into this area. The twister had an infectious pink eye. It spread through the lives of so many. My brother says it gave so many a disease of some kind.”

“No way,” said Malah.

“Yes. It made lives shorter,” said Alice, “mixed our souls with the dirt of the land, the fruits and flowers that will not bloom. All I have of him is this pink moldy grapefruit. At night, he sleeps next to me. I squeeze him and I hear him talk. He says, We all need love but none of us will be saved.”


Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Blaze Vox, Matchbook, and elsewhere. His latest chapbook is Cat Woman Sexy at Underground Books.

by Nolan Liebert

I had a phonograph once and just one record. It was a very important record. Nobody liked to listen to it except me. It was a shark.

“Listen to this,” I’d say to my friends. I’d put the record on and turn the crank. Out of the horn would come the wet crack and silence of a shark being harpooned. It was followed by a riotous cheer, the zip of the cross-cut saw, the wet flopping of the headless shark, and the helpless struggle suddenly stopping.

“Turn it off,” they’d say. “Nobody wants to hear that.” Or, “We can’t dance to that.”

They didn’t understand. I didn’t want them to dance. I wanted them to listen. Instead, they left and slammed the door.

Know where you're going

Aristocrats-hat via Creative Commons

The recording continued, seemingly forgotten, for some time—sailors shouting, the sound of wooden kegs being cracked, ale sloshing on the deck, laughter, singing. The shark was not in any of this, not from the beginning.
The sounds ended abruptly, much like the shark, but before the end, there were a few minutes of silence, like everyone had gone to bed. All you could hear was the ocean and the sound of the needle scratching the surface.


NolaNolan Liebert hails from the Black Hills where he lives with his wife and children in a house, not a covered wagon. His proximity to the Sanford Underground Research Facility feeds his obsession with dark matter, as his farmboy roots fed his obsession with plants, herbs, and alchemy. His literary experiments appear or are forthcoming in An Alphabet of Embers, Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and elsewhere. You can find him editing Pidgeonholes or on Twitter @nliebert.

elmer.

Samantha Celera via Creative Commons

by R.L. Black

It was the last day of school before summer vacation and Ms. Sweet’s first grade class was missing twenty-two bottles of glue. Where had they gone? Had one of the children taken them? Another teacher, perhaps? Ms. Sweet pondered the puzzle but could not come up with a conclusion that made any reasonable sense. What in the world would anyone want with all that glue?

Seven year old Tabitha walked along the sidewalk toward her home with a bulging backpack, a breaking heart, and a plan.
No one had known she was outside the door yesterday afternoon when the family doctor delivered sad news to her parents. It was something a seven year old should not have heard.

“How much longer does my wife have?” Tabitha’s father had asked in a broken voice.

“When will I … when?” Her mother sobbed.

“In the autumn,” the doctor answered in a voice so quiet Tabitha barely heard.

She’d gone to school and asked her teacher when autumn would come.

“When the leaves fall from the trees,” Ms. Sweet said.

Tabitha stopped walking, looked up and around. When the leaves fall from the trees. There were a lot of trees. A lot of leaves. She was going to need more glue.


R. L. BlackR.L. Black is EIC of two online journals and her own writing has been published across the web and in print. Find her at rlblackauthor.tumblr.com where she blogs and reblogs about writing and LOST.

 

 

by Mickie Bolling-Burke

The trees stood in the silent night, watching as the cottage door opened and children danced out, the adults laughing behind.

“All right kids, which one is our Christmas tree?” Father called out. “This one?”

“No, it’s ugly! We should put it out of its misery.” The children laughed, breaking its young branches. They ran deeper into the clearing. “Here, this one, this is our tree!”

Pre-dawn fog, Mount Rainier National Park

Justin Kern via Creative Commons

The children shrieked with glee, counting out each cut as Father chopped down the biggest, greenest pine. When it fell, he tied a rope around it and dragged it back to the cottage. They knocked the snow off and shoved it inside as they sang Christmas carols.

The curtains stood open, showing the family nailing the dead tree onto a platform and posing it in front of the window. Showing the children hanging gaudy objects from its branches. Showing the resin tears of the dead tree clinging to its trunk. Outside, the trees whispered to each other. Their limbs pressed forward, the trees in the back pushing through to add their strength, shattering the window.

The trees crowded into the room, surrounding the family. Held tightly in the trees’ embraces, the boughs suffocated the family’s screams.


mickie_bolling-burkeGrowing up on the east coast, Mickie kept her wrist watch at California time. When she finally made it to the palm trees and Pacific Ocean of the west coast, she knew she’d come home. Working as an actor fed her creative soul, until her beloved Los Angeles grew too big for her. She and her family now live in a small corner of the southwest, where she finds the sky as majestic and blue as she did the ocean. Mickie spends her time writing, reading, hiking and watching ‘The Three Stooges’ with her much adored rescue cat, Pal.

Mickie has three short story collections available on Amazon.

In taking stock of the year, I looked back over the site and I noticed something a bit depressing: there were a grand total of nine new entries here in 2015, assuming you don’t count new pages created for publications. And the year before was only about twice as active. Unlike in 2013 where I had only one child and averaged well over a post a week, that means this site has not exactly been a hotbed of activity for a couple of years now. And that’s a shame because I like having reasons to come visit this site other than just “hey there’s a new page for a short story I just got published.”

It’s a shame but it hasn’t been some kind of crisis-level circumstance. Because the truth is I like blogging and doing interviews and free short fiction but those things actively compete for the same time blocks as my regular fiction writing. I’m not currently willing to sacrifice the time I carve for writing on site maintenance. If I had the kind of time that would permit me both, perhaps that would be ideal. But I don’t, so for the past couple years I’ve played the hand dealt to me and tolerated an infrequent posting schedule.

3 o'clock

Hani Amir via Creative Commons

But upon reflection there is more than one way to flay a feline. If I myself lack the time to write special site content, perhaps I could instead solicit interesting things to post. Sure, it’s a little strange to have my site—ostensibly dedicated to my writing—populated by other’s work, but it’s not like it’s unprecedented. And really, this site is more about stories than anything else. I don’t have to have written a story for it to be worth sharing.

So, as an experiment, over the next year (at least), I’ll be dedicating the site to some different types of content beyond the journal-style blogging I may have originally intended to fill this space.

200 CCs

The most exciting thing I’ll be doing is revising my microfiction series as an ezine which will be integrated into the main site feed. Each Friday I’ll feature another flash fiction piece of about 200 words, written by an amazing author who is (probably) not me. If you are a writer and want to contribute, submissions are now open, and I’m a semi-pro paying market. I’ll collect each month’s worth of stories into an issue and will do at least two volumes of six issues. If there’s money and interest to support it, I’d love to release these volumes into a print collection as well.

I’ve already lined up several fantastic stories and you’ll get a special sneak peek next Friday as a bonus Christmas gift with the first guest 200 CCs story.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. Not just because it means I get to try my hand at the whole editor-in-chief thing, or because it means if all goes according to plan there should be something new here every week, but mostly because I really like the 200-word format. And, above all else, I can’t wait to see what other writers do with it. Already the stories I have to share are amazing and have stayed with me long after reading.

Publication Showcase

Another thing I want to open up the site to is book tours or published short story promotions. Other authors who have books coming out or who have new fiction publications and want to discuss the behind-the-scenes aspects of writing their stories can have their work discussed and promoted here. This is basically the book tour thing but I’m also interested in featuring shorter fiction than just novels. I have three pre-made questionnaires, one dealing with world building, one for the challenges of editing, and one for characters. If you have a publication you want people to know about, this is the way to get it done.

I would love to have at least one of these per week, but I also have seen other author’s sites get flooded with book tour posts so I’m not too keen on running more than two in a row. That means its probably a good idea to get requests in as early as possible. For more info and contact details, head over to the newly revamped Projects page.

5 Star Reviews

I’ve already been doing this for a little while but I thought I’d state officially that this was a Thing I’m Doing. I try to write at least a little something about each book I read over on Goodreads and for the past six months or so I’ve been cross-posting my reviews of books I rate with five stars here. The reason for focusing on only five star books is that these are basically my top book recommendations and I think it’s in keeping with the theme of the site (awesome stories) to highlight the books I read that mean the most to me.

Admittedly, this is a little tricky because I find occasionally I’m inclined to rate a book five stars (instead of a very strong four star rating) just so I can feature the review here. My internal rating system is a bit fluid to begin with and my opinion about rating things at all is fairly nuanced. But the more I’ve thought about it since starting this, the more I believe having the bar between four star book (which I usually think of as a book I’d recommend to pretty much anyone) and a five star book (which per the cross-posting becomes a de facto recommendation to literally everyone) is useful to have.

Because I read at inconsistent rates and there’s no guarantee about how many really great books I’ll read in a given period of time, these are going to be far less frequent and very unscheduled. Since I write them regardless of inclusion here, I feel it’s a nice way to talk about great stories here with no additional loss of writing time.

Love Story

Atilla Kefeli via Creative Commons

Other?

I haven’t totally abandoned the freeform, journal-style, or random unformatted fiction options, either. Like I said, I enjoy writing those; I just can’t justify the time commitment it would take to populate a site with them. And of course I’ll still be updating the Published Work section with new stories as they get published.

My hope, of course, is that all this will result in a site that is worth visiting regularly, especially if you’re in the mood to read or hear about great stories. It’s what I’m all about.