Hometown (V.Press, 2016) is the debut fiction pamphlet from the poet, lecturer, and critic Carrie Etter, whose most recent collection, Imagined Sons (Seren, 2014), was shortlisted for the 2014 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry by The Poetry Society.
The collection explores the lives of characters living in the American Midwest and is divided into two sections, with the second section detailing “the aftermath of a white man’s accidental killing of a black man in central Illinois” in a series of flashes. For this reviewer, the perfect flash is a complete story in itself, can be read quickly, but remains in the mind of the reader long after an initial reading, the type of flash you read and have to step away from the text so you can recover; if you’re looking for a collection of flashes that do exactly this then look no further.
From the first half of Etter’s collection, ‘Mauve’ and ‘The Find’ stand out; this is not to suggest that the others do not, merely that I have returned to these two particular stories many times after my initial reading of Hometown.
‘Mauve’ captures your imagination from the first line: “I opened the door to my ex-girlfriend Tricia, holding a purplish object the size of a football.” And so begins a tense exchange between two individuals whose relationship had broken down in the past, where Tricia is offering the apology she took three months to make – the purplish object. Through the story’s minute details, such as Tricia grasping her apology tightly then relaxing her grip, Etter roots ‘Mauve’ firmly in your own reality, as if you were there yourself yearning after Tricia’s apology.
‘The Find’ is very short, but a delicate flash demonstrating how much relationships can change over time and how our perceptions of those relationships are not always as we believe them to be. It tells the story between Liz and Alice, two estranged high school friends, via a book of Emily Dickinson’s selected poems. It reminded me of a time I purchased a book online and inside was a dedication that read ‘I hope this book finds you well, Sandra’, and then a separate note included saying ‘I owe you an apology, Sandra. Know that silence does not mean apathy. I value our friendship. Rachel’. The fact I had this book in my hands said so much about the state of their friendship (or, rather, the state of their friendship at the moment of time when Sandra decided to sell the book Rachel had given her). ‘The Find’ brings the intimate, personal nature of these types of relationships to the forefront of the reader’s mind, making you realise in the final line of dialogue how much Alice had misunderstood her friend Liz, and how much had changed between the two women over the years.
The second half of the pamphlet is as striking as the first, perhaps more so, and demonstrates how individual flashes can be complete within themselves and yet connected to a larger whole.
As a form, flash allows authors to experiment with different ways of telling a story, and ‘Eddie’s First Seven Visits to Nick in Prison as Questionnaire’ explores the inside of Nick’s mind over a thirteen-week period via a repetition of the same three questions. The insight this provides into Nick’s mind shows how the weight of his actions and his interactions with those who visit him are affecting him, but also what it is like to visit someone in prison; the idea that Eddie doesn’t know what to say to Nick other than the same three questions over and over. The form allows the story to be read in different ways; you can read the flash from beginning to end, or you can opt to read each week at the same time, as if you’re listening in on the dialogue between the two men. The latter way of reading the story, in my opinion, yields the most the flash has to offer, and, therefore, raises interesting questions about exactly what a flash should and shouldn’t be, and how one should or shouldn’t read it.
Regardless, there is only one action to take with Hometown: read it, devour it, and savour these stories in your mind, but be prepared for them to linger for a long time afterwards.