Migration (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Each week, Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch hosts a flash fiction challenge. The February 23 cue: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a migration.

Jane snaps the gate latch shut and unsnaps Troubles’ leash. She’s making her way toward the back door, picking her way automatically around weeds and old bricks before she notices in the dim moonlight.

The weeds and bricks aren’t there.

Her fingers are shaking as she turns on her phone’s flashlight, casting a circle of light around her while Troubles sniffs around the door.


The rhododendron trunks are cleared of blown-in trash, the old bricks and broken furniture have been cleared out. In the bright wash of phone light, the brown grass even looks raked.

Oh, God, no.

Jill J Jenkins/Pixabay

This flash is a vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe. Other fun flashes can be found at the link above.


The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (Reading Challenge Book Review)

The CorrectionsThe Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, what is going to stay with me forever is the you’re-not-leaving-this-table-until-you-clean-that-plate scene. Good Lord.

When I was 8 or 9 I had a friend named Sandra, whose parents raised rabbits for food and who told their children not to get attached. Like that’s within the realm of possibility. And when they learned that Sandra had gotten attached, as a little girl could almost be counted on to do, and had actually named the rabbit she’d gotten attached to, why, they chose to teach her a lesson and butcher and serve that particular rabbit, on an evening when I happened to be a dinner-and-sleepover guest. It was horrific. Having guest status, I was not forced to eat what I’d been dished up (which I would not have anyway out of solidarity if not revulsion), but I did not rank highly enough to be given anything else to eat either, and was banished to Sandra’s room in the basement while her parents invoked the you-will-sit-there-until-you eat-that mandate for their daughter. I could hear Sandra weeping a floor above while I cowered and cried and tried to figure how I could sneak to the phone and call my mom to come get me and not be forever damned as a shitty friend. Sandra was eventually allowed to leave the table and we spent a hungry night together, but the following morning her parents employed their reserve food torture, that of serving for breakfast, cold, whatever dinner a kid hadn’t eaten the night before. Sandra was still sitting at the breakfast table, plateful of cold furry friend covered with shiny congealed grease in front of her and tears streaming down her face, her bacon-and-eggs-fed siblings bustling around doing the dishes and sweeping the floor and pretending Sandra wasn’t there while no doubt inwardly rejoicing that they weren’t her, when my dad arrived to take me home. I’ve been glad, relieved, overjoyed to see my dad lots of times in my life, but that was one of the top ones. My parents never let me spend the night at Sandra’s house again, although she was welcome at ours. I lost track of her after my family moved away, but I’d bet an entire paycheck that incident got hefty attention in some therapist’s office years down the line. I myself get nauseated at the thought of eating rabbit to this day, and I was only a peripheral casualty. I mean, what in the actual fuck kind of people do that to their children?

Well, Sandra’s parents, obviously. (Hi, Nancy and Ken! Yes, I still remember your names.) And Alfred and Enid Lambert as well. The Revenge Dinner scene in The Corrections exemplifies exactly why each of the Lambert kids turned out so warped. Not that I liked Chip; I didn’t. As other reviewers have noted, pretty much every character we meet is despicable. Alfred is a bullying asshole. Chip is an overeducated, arty-farty fuckup. Gary is Mr. Plastic, with the perfect banking career and the perfect house and the perfect lawn in the perfect neighborhood and the perfect kids and the perfect toys and the perfect SUV and the perfect wife, who is a perfect bitch if I ever met one, and all of these things are not because he really wants them,  necessarily, but because they inform the world that you are Winning At Life. And Enid. God, Enid. If I’d grown up with Enid as a mother I’d have been constantly wanting to stab her with a fork. Fussy, cheap, self-centered, judgmental, manipulative, the kind of person who says “matoor.” I did kind of like Denise, though many others did not. Perhaps that’s because her mistakes are the kind I’ve been known to make myself. (Actually, the Lambert family reminds me a lot of the Jordache family in Irwin Shaw’s Rich Man, Poor Man; I kind of liked Gretchen too. Both of them have that whole madonna/whore thing going on.)

I have mixed feelings about postmodern literature. A lot of it seems to take itself way too seriously and I can’t get into it (David Foster Wallace, Mark Danielewski). Other pomo stuff I love (Margaret Atwood, Truman Capote, Angela Carter). This book was #1 on my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book recommended by a librarian. The librarian-type-dude in question is my kid Monster, who loves pomo and DFW both. I don’t hold that against him, although pomo is always hit-or-miss for me.

In spite of bringing the 1972 Rabbit Massacre to the forefront of my mind and its largely unlikable characters (or perhaps because of them), The Corrections was a hit, happily. I give four stars to a book I really really like, and five to one I love enough that I might read it again. I may indeed read this one again, just for a second pass at all the Narnian references and the “wroth” scattered throughout like buckshot, much of which I probably missed. This book is cynical and grim and brimming over with flawed humanity and surprise sacrifices and not a little schadenfreude. The threads winding between the players and their circumstances are a finely-spun web. One or two of Franzen’s phrases did make me cringe: “Two empty hours were a sinus in which infections bred.” Ugh. But the story pulled me in and I found the writing to be mostly impressive. “The air on Catharine Street smelled like the last weekend of baseball.” Who does not know exactly what that smells like?

So, four stars, with a bonus star for the Oprah feud. The library copy I read was from the short-lived print run with the “Oprah Book Club” sticker on it; they might want to stop lending it and put it up on eBay instead.

New stuff:

Chaise longue. Every time I see this I think it’s wrong, that it should be “chaise lounge,” so I finally looked it up. I stand corrected. It is French (duh) and literally means “long chair.” I still think it sounds pretentious compared to the Americanized “chaise lounge,” but my taste runs more to mom-and-pop La-Z-Boys anyway. Maybe a nice Chesterfield, or an ottoman (nod to BNL).

Lagniappe. A small gift from a merchant to a customer making a purchase. Perhaps this is the highbrow way to say BOGO.

Bookshelves: literary-fiction, schadenfreude, plot-twists-and-irony, multiple-povs, reading-challenge, pomo, satire, social-commentary, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, five-stars-means-i’ll-read-it-again

View all my reviews

Second Look (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

Torry pops the gate open and looks quickly around the back yard, hoping to find it as cleared of overgrown weeds and undergrowth as the front yard. Get some cleaning people on the inside, and some nice lawn furniture, and this will be a tolerable spot for Monday mojitos. Maybe by the time the weather’s that nice, she can bring herself to tell her friends she’s been reduced to this neighborhood.

She looks around at not-acceptable-but-better-than-it-was, pulling out her phone while relatching the gate, and sees it just as she’s turning to go.
Dog poop, in her sort-of cleaned-up yard, her fenced yard.

Big, fresh poop.

This Six is a flash fiction vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe. Each week, Ivy at uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction link-up. This week’s cue was “second.” Fun flashes from other writers are here.


The Watcher (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

The Congress of Rough Writers weekly flash fiction challenge for February 16: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a watcher.

Torry aims her phone at rubbish in her newly-acquired back yard and clicks a picture. Turn slightly, aim anew, click. Turn, aim, click. These should let Juan-Jose-Jorge-whatever-his-name-is know what to haul off.

Her back to the empty house, she can feel it, a physical force between her shoulder blades.


She whirls toward the house. Upstairs, undraped windows stare like blind eyes. Lower, behind winter-bare rhododendrons tangled with weeds and trash, sun manages to glint off a dirty basement window.


When she’s done, safe in her car, her skin is still crawling. And she’s supposed to live here?


This vignette is from The Life and  Times of Jane  Doe. More flashes from other writers can be found at the Carrot Ranch link above.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Prodigal SummerProdigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. Because, coyotes.

This story is full of dichotomies – solitude and togetherness, birth and death, nature and nurture, male and female, sex and love, predator and prey, creation and evolution, God and science, macrocosm and microcosm. All of it weaves together, in the stories of a loner forest ranger with a hot summer fling, a newly widowed city girl alone on her farm, and a cantankerously righteous widower’s constant run-ins with his apple-growing, possibly-bra-burning Unitarian, probably-witchcraft-practicing, absolutely-not-to-be-borne neighbor. There is a lot of pollinating and ovulating going on here, plant and animal and human alike, and some tender love stories, and more trees and moths and birds and lynxes than I knew what to do with. Kingsolver’s writing is lush and lovely. I could feel the breeze and smell the humus of the forest floor and hear the singing of the coyotes as I read.

I’m shaving half a star off because, even though I’m a tree-hugging circle-of-lifer who agrees that our environment is a fragile thing that must be guarded rather than exploited, and who prefers companion planting to Roundup and GMO’s, by the umpteenth passage about the evils of chemical weed-killers I was feeling preached at and weary of it. I’m giving that half-star back for leaving me to wonder how that other green brocade chair ended up on Deanna’s porch. Some mysteries should remain mysteries.

And did I mention – coyotes!

This book was #5 on my 2017 reading challenge, a book with the name of a season in the title. I’ve discovered another writer I love, and can’t wait to read more of her books.

Bookshelves: current-social-issues, love-story-not-a-romance, literary-fiction, man-vs-nature, multiple-pov’s, reading- challenge, save-our-planet, social-commentary, this-is-all-the-romance-i-can-take, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, southern-writers, too-sexy-for-my-mom

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Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey (Book Review)

Babylon's Ashes (The Expanse, #6)Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a ride! The basic story is what happens when a not-unreasonable rebellion is taken over by a megalomaniac. I can only hope Der Pumpkinfuhrer gets the same treatment Marco Inaros does. From Naomi, no less. And there’s a sort-of-cliffhanger at the end that’ll be wonderful to see play out in the next book.

Speaking of which, I was happily surprised to see that the next in the series is out; Persepolis Rising was published in December 2016. I was sad to see that my library does not yet have a copy. But then, that should let the good stuff last a little bit longer. That’s the problem with discovering a really good series when it’s still being written. (I’m talking to you, George R.R. Martin.)

This entry in The Expanse series takes the multiple-pov to a new level. James Holden, Michio Pa, and Filip Inaros are the only pov’s that recur throughout. Everyone else (Fred Johnson, Prax, Avasarala, Bobbie, Dawes, Alex, Amos, Naomi) makes a scattered couple of appearances here and there. It works though; the story moves well. I liked hearing from bad-girl-turned-good Clarissa Mao, and would have liked more of her. (I was irritated at the way Amos always calls her “Peaches,” the only thing about Amos that annoys me. I love Amos, thug that he is. He is basically Jayne Cobb from Firefly, but that doesn’t make him not awesome.)

Action as usual; excellent writing as usual. I’m going to save Persepolis Rising, so I can savor it.

Bookshelves: action-with-a-body-count, futuristic, heroine-kicking-ass, manly-men-kicking-ass, multiple-povs, outer-space, noir, sci-fi, space-opera, this-is-the-stuff-right-here

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A Rock in the Road (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Every week, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge at Carrot Ranch. The February 2 challenge: In 99 words (no more, no less,) write a story about a rock in the road.

Jane trudges wearily, wondering what on earth made her think a walk was a good idea. It’s cold but she’s hot.Troubles has clearly never been leash-trained;  she’s not sure who’s walking who. It’s a pretty day, but it would be just as beautiful from the backyard.

She realizes what the problem REALLY is as she comes abreast of a boulder jutting dangerously into the travel lane. She perches on it and breathes a sigh as she works her shoe off and shakes out a surprisingly tiny pebble.

“Much better,“she says.Troubles whuffs happily and pulls her onward.

Photo courtesy of vargazs/Pixabay

This is a vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe. More flashes from other writers, and Charli’s great posts, can be found at the link above.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Book Review)

The Haunting of Hill HouseThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The only reason I didn’t enjoy this book more than I did is that I read it all wrong.

Bookshelves: classic, creepy-horror-stuff, ghost-story, heebie-jeebies, kafkaesque, literature-with-a-capital-l, supernatural, this-is-the-stuff-right-here, best-opening-sentence, metaphysics

Let’s start with Jackson’s writing, her character development, and sense of place, and intricate tapestry of timing and nuance and madness. Genius. She grabbed me with her opening sentence, one of the best I have ever read: No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. This is now in my Top Three Best Openers Ever. (The other two spots are held by Gabriel García Márquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude* and Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.**)

This novel is widely credited as the creepiest of all ghost stories ever and as the progenitor of an entire genre. One thing I did wrong was to wait so long to read it. Over the course of my life I’ve read so many others that were clearly influenced by this masterwork that they stole Jackson’s oomph. Had I read this back in the day, it would have scared the shit out of me. It’s not gory, which I can’t stand, but spooky, which I love, full of the kind of creepiness seen in the movie Paranormal Activity, which my husband and I drove 120 miles round trip to see in theaters and which left me clutching his arm and looking over my shoulder all the way home. (Caveat: I loved that movie right up until the cheesey ending, which pissed me off.)

The house! I mean, the house! I suspect this is what Danielewski was trying to pull off with House of Leaves, which failed for me because it tried too hard and only made itself inaccessible. Remember the K.I.S.S. rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Many scholars see allegory in this work and I’m not saying it’s not there, but if you’re not into standing around at cocktail parties, holding your drink with your pinkie sticking out while you discuss the symbolism of frustrated lesbian love or whatever other highbrow emblem might be here, the book is still a work of art. It succeeds without intellectualism, because it’s a damned good story.

My other failure was not making the most of ambience. It was eerie enough read in pieces on crowded, noisy commuter trains and during lunch breaks, granted. But to get the most out of this book, it should be read all in one sitting, curled in an armchair next to a window against which rain and wind are lashing, when the power has gone out and you are left with candle or oil lamp, on Halloween night. In my own defense, I tried. In mid-October I requested it from the library, from two libraries as a matter of fact, but it is so immensely popular that it did not become available until late January.

I would tend to give this four stars because it was excellent and I highly recommend it, although I doubt I’ll read it again. But for me not reading it right and its place as a spooky benchmark and that opening sentence, I’m bumping it up to five.

*Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

**It is the finest outhouse in the Dakotas. It has to be.

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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Book Review)

Madame BovaryMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s society’s fault, this consuming, materialistic, competitive society that knows so little of the value of a good heart and simple contentment. We all spend so much time and energy trying to have it all and giving the impression that we already do, that our lives are perfect. See, don’t you wish you were me? Emma spends the moments and the hours and the days of her life like franc coins, to have this and that and the other, because as soon as this is hers she can truly be happy.

I’m not being judgy. I spent far too much time like this (and I hate to admit it but I still fall into it sometimes), convinced I was the only person in the world whose life was a mess and trying to fix it with the result of fucking it up worse, because that’s how the-grass-is-always-greener works.

Or, it could just be that Emma was the original Desperate Housewife/Drama Queen. But her story is so beautifully written, it can’t be anything less than romantic tragedy.

It amuses me that this book was so controversial that Flaubert stood trial for obscenity. Seriously. To be considered risque in France, wouldn’t a book have to be really something? Not really. It speaks of sensual delights quite elegantly, but obscene – no.

New things:

Machineel tree: also called little apple of death, beach apple. Native to southern tropical North America and northern South America, terrifically poisonous

Ladies putting their gloves in their glasses: Table mannerism indicating they do not wish to be served wine

Bookshelves: banned-and-challenged, classic, literature-with-a-capital-l, romantic-tragedy-with-a-sigh, social-commentary, translated-to-english

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