Baffled, Bursting, and Barely Contained

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A collection of flash fiction from five authors, They Could No Longer Contain Themselves unites distinct, compelling voices into one bursting collection.

They Could No Longer Contain Themselves made me LOL. That’s right. I laughed out loud. The stories are like the satisfaction you get from watching clumsy characters in home videos or the kid who licks the ice cream scoop off the cone and onto the ground. It’s sad. It’s sick. It’s kind of funny but with a sometimes shameful quality that blends heartbreak with hilarity to strike the perfect balance and quite possibly, the perfect equation for a truly great and profound story.

Published by Rose Metal Press, They Could No Longer Contain Themselves is an anthology of five flash fictions chapbooks by five writers including the winner of their third annual Short Short Chapbook Contest, Sean Lovelace, and finalists from their fourth including, Mary Miller, Elizabeth J. Colen, John Jodizio and Tim Jones-Yelvington. At first I had my reservations. I wondered: did Rose Metal Press include all these other finalists in the spirit of the saying that goes, “We’re all winners?” Can they really all be that good and deserving of publication?

Yet,They Could No Longer Contain Themselves speaks for itself. There is nothing monotonous, overly similar, or uninteresting about these writers. In fact, together all five provide a well-rounded book with each writer giving a different and unique voice to their own style and talents.

“Our baby swallowed a ninja star and then it swallowed a Baeklite button” is the first line that pretty much says it all for Joe Jodizo’s collection of stories, “Do Not Touch Me Not Now Not Ever.” This piece “Inventory” tells a story in which a couple’s baby becomes a suspected kleptomaniac after getting caught rifling through the medicine cabinet. Throughout his chapbook, Jodizio achieves a common ground of reader relatability and then leaves that ground, stretching to bizarre story lines that make you wonder where he gets these ideas. More than that, he forces you to sit back in awe at his creative imagination.

Elizabeth J. Colen’s stories, on the other hand, are full of quirky eroticism and dry humor juxtaposed with morose and somewhat serious plots. In “Getting Help,” a grief-stricken character in mourning is told she should think of getting help. Getting help becomes a string of sexual conquests with her psychologists. Colen’s ability to portray the mundane triviality of life is uncanny. This realism can be seen in “Natural Selection” in which Colen transforms a simple neighborly barbeque into something complex and full of tension, revealing truths about her characters.

Just as Colen uses setting to build her stories’ realities, Sean Lovelace has his own formula to express his somewhat stranger characterizations. In “How Some People Like their Eggs,” Lovelace humanizes egg preparation as character traits that reveal any given individual’s hidden core. His theories of the ways in which these celebrities like their eggs is comical and fitting: “Che Guevara; likes a bold omelet. He’ll add anything: asparagus tips, bread, a handful of spare change. He was the first to think of clarified butter.” Lovelace has a quick wit and overall intelligent appeal to his lines.

Tim Jones-Yelvington, meanwhile, crafts his characters to explore childlike themes, and through reading his individual stories, you see an over-arching coming-of-age story that is built upon the hardship of being not only young but also of grappling with being accepted by oneself and others. His collection “Evan’s House and the Other Boys Who Live There” constellates around a single character, Evan, but the narrator changes for each story to reveal truths about Evan through the eyes of others. “Housekeeping” expresses his mother’s view of the struggle with Evan’s identity, as she confides that she wishes her son was not gay: “I cannot lie by telling Evan I’m happy he’s who he is. I worry for his safety, just as I worry for the safety of a daughter if I had one. Men do not respect boundaries. Men lie.” Jones-Yelvington explores the growing pains of identity and displacement with grace notes of offbeat comedy that give him a distinct voice.

Not unlike the tales told by Jones-Yelvinton, “Aesthete” is a melancholy coming-of-age story in Mary Miller’s collection “Paper and Tassels.” “Aesthete” chronicles the aftermath of a wedding reception, pantyhose, and a groping session in the back of a car. Miller transforms poetry into beautiful sentences with a subdued romantic style that slides into dark humor. The title of the anthology comes from the end of “Aesthete” and is a testament to how Miller takes the plot points and turns them into a profoundly sad story of being young and awkward.

“We chose to title this collection They Could No Longer Contain Themselves because, for all the differences in writing style, technique, and theme, the characters throughout these five chapbooks are barely contained and bursting out,” reads the preface to the collection. What brings these writers together? Perhaps the results of the contest or a general theme of twisting the serious and dramatic with the absurd and unusual. Either way, They Could No Longer Contain Themselves represents five distinct voices. Like the title and publishers suggest, these writers have successfully pushed their imaginative abilities to leave the reader baffled, excited, and laughing out loud.

Michele Finkelstein is a recent graduate of DePaul University. She lives in Chicago and works as a barista, baker, and archivist. More from this author →