Friday Fictioneers – Fresh Start

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © ROGER BULTOT

An apology to Rochelle. When I first accessed the prompt this morning, my computer didn’t give me Roger’s prompt, so I went with Rochelle’s photo.

Fresh Start

White, pinched faces. Clothes that had once been smart, now heavy with grime and the sweat of fear.

The older woman kept glancing apprehensively at the younger, seeking reassurance. She sat lop-sided, as if she had been injured and never quite recovered.

“You are from Armenia?” I suggested. I could only imagine what they had been through.

The two women exchanged glances, and then the younger nodded assent.

“I have friends who will take care of you, if you like. They will help you learn English.”

The younger spoke to her companion, who wept.

“Thank you, sir,” she answered.

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Book review – Back When We Were Grownups, by Anne Tyler

Book review – Back When We Were Grownups, by Anne Tyler

Title – Back When We Were Grownups

Genre – Literary Fiction

Author – Anne Tyler

First published – 2001

Edition reviewed – 2002 (Vintage)

Enjoyment rating – 8/10

There are no spoilers in this review

*        *        *

Review

The novel starts with the sentence, “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”

The woman is fifty-three-year-old Rebecca Davitch, and the whole novel is constructed around this opening sentence. Rebecca wants – needs, even – to know whether the insight is true, and, if it is, what she can do about it.

She seems to be a joyous and extroverted person. Her late husband, Joe Davitch, had owned a large and rather distinguished house that he used as the basis of a business hosting parties; all sorts of parties, from children’s birthday parties to wedding anniversary parties.

“I was very different as a young woman,” thinks Rebecca. “I was quiet and serious. That was the real me.” How had she become such an outgoing person?

Everything had changed when she jilted her studious fiancé in favour of a whirlwind romance leading to marriage to Joe. The novel’s plot is based on Rebecca’s efforts to understand this event. This is worked through carefully and with insight.

There aren’t any sub-plots as such, but Rebecca’s daily life constantly intrudes on her search for understanding and fulfilment. Such is the quality of the writing that every scene from Rebecca’s life tells us more about her character, and more about her true nature.

The novel concludes with a ‘set piece’ of writing, which is an absolute tour de force. It’s an inspired way of finishing the story of Rebecca’s quest. It takes place in the midst of a party (where else?) and it sets the emotional tone perfectly. It’s satisfying, it’s beautiful, and it’s moving. It’s marvellously crafted, and I admire the hell out of it!

Friday Fictioneers – Only a cold

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © DALE ROGERSON

Only a cold

It was one of those late fall days, when clouds smear the sun like ice-cream and a chill wind rattles the last leaves.

Pastor Nicholas was coughing in the hallway

“It’s only a cold,” he said, irritably, to his wife, Maisie, and he slammed the door as he set off to visit his parishioners.

Maisie had made him a packed lunch, but he left it unopened. Despite his exhaustion he could feel God working through him, healing broken lives.

That night, Maisie had to call an ambulance. “Pneumonia, exacerbated by overwork,” said the hospital. Maisie was devastated when Nicholas died.

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Friday Fictioneers – The security of wealth

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © LIZ YOUNG

The Security of Wealth

Gold, silver and crystal thrust skyward in gigantic whorls that scattered mazy gleams from a myriad brilliant points. The billionaire looked and beheld that it was good.

People, ant-like, came from the slums and worked in the hotel of shiny surfaces, cleaning, toting bags, serving, making beds, all for the comfort of the guests. And if they were lucky the ants received tips. And if they weren’t tipped, they can’t have done a good job.

And that night, the billionaire felt his heart constrict, counted his racing pulse, sweated with the agony in his chest – and died.

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Book review – The Miniaturist

Book Review – The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton

Title – The Miniaturist

Genre – Literary Fiction

Author – Jessie Burton

First published – 2014

Edition reviewed – 2017, by Picador

Enjoyment rating – 6/10

There are no spoilers in this review

Overview

Petronella (Nella) Brandt is a country girl, the newly-wed bride of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt of Amsterdam. She arrives in Amsterdam to join a household of four people; her husband, Johannes; his sister, Marin; his man servant, Otto; and his sister’s maid servant, Cornelia. She has to learn how to fit in with the family, each of whom has secrets, in a city whose sole yardstick of value is wealth.

Or is it? Johannes gives Nella a realistic model of her new house as a wedding present. Nella wants model people to occupy it and contacts a miniaturist to make them. When they arrive, they are uncannily accurate and detailed. Furthermore, they seem to reflect events that are happening in the full-size house.

The sins of the present begin to reveal the secrets of the past, not just to the household but to men of power and influence, men who have no reason for covering them up. Slowly a storm of malice raises a surge that threatens to sweep away the household. How much will Nella be able to preserve?

Criticism

Despite its title, the book is not really about the model house, the seemingly prophetic dolls and the woman who makes them – the miniaturist. These are plot devices to keep you turning pages – which they do successfully. They are also part of an extended metaphor about the powerlessness of the inhabitants of the full-size house to be able to shape their own destiny. The miniaturist herself, we discover, is trying to build a professional life in a world where a woman is simply not allowed to do that.

And this is the heart of the novel. It is the struggle by each of the women, Nella, Marin, Cornelia and the miniaturist, to achieve self-realisation in a world where a woman’s only value in society is as a wife and mother.

I don’t think the novel fully delivers on this. It’s a feeling rather than analysis, but the characters’ motivations seem rather sketchy, and perhaps even unlikely. This hinders rather than prevents the development of the reader’s sympathy for the characters, and certainly I felt enough for them that the narrative hooks kept me reading.

Finally, the quality of the writing. Brilliant. Beautiful. Compelling. I’m not going to reveal the climax of the novel, but it’s clearly been constructed with intense care and the effect is dazzling.  

Friday Fictioneers – Insurance

PHOTO PROMPT © KRISTA STRUTZ

Insurance

I can smell the end of the season, a mixture of sunblock and stale beer.

Chuck has become evasive; “Busy”, he texts.

There’s no sign of him yet at Sol’s Bar. Good. I smile at Rob.

“Buy you a drink?” he suggests.

“Sure. Thanks.”

We’re laughing over our third beer when Chuck appears.

“Beat it,” he snarls at Rob, who looks questioningly at me.

“It’s okay, Rob. Thanks for the beers.”

I turn to Chuck.

“So it’s Florida for the new season?”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“Little bird told me.”

“Yeah! I was meaning to say. You wanna come?”

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Friday Fictioneers – Country Matters

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © SANDRA CROOK

Country Matters

“You go and get the hay in, Jack. I’ll be alright.”

Lucy patted her round tummy, and smiled.

“Well, if you’re sure…?” said Jack.

Lucy waited until she heard Jack whistle the dog and slam the back door before she slumped down. The smell of the bacon she’d cooked for Jack made her queasy.

There was a sudden pain from her abdomen, and a growing sense of wetness. Surely not? Not now!

“Mum? Mum!” Her voice held panic.

By the time Jack had brought in the hay, Lucy was sitting cuddling her new-born.

“He’s got your eyes, see,” she said.

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Friday Fictioneers – Before my journey

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © PENNY GADD

Before my journey

It will soon be time for my long journey, but I couldn’t leave without visiting the river one last time.

I have watched it in all its guises; spate when it is beaten to a cappuccino froth, and roars like a locomotive; a quiet trickle after weeks without rain; best of all, full but tranquil, with fish hiding in the shadows. I have seen kingfishers, and, once, an otter.

Today I have been blessed with warmth from dappled sunshine – but now it fades.

It will soon be time for my long journey.

I shall go gentle into that good night.

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Friday Fictioneers – In the Keukenhof Gardens

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

This week, I’m afraid my link to the prompt is tenuous. The picture is of a place in Holland, I think, so I’ve written a story set there.

PHOTO PROMPT © BRENDA COX

In the Keukenhof Gardens

I walk, gravel scraping beneath my feet, and a gentle breeze stroking me like the tender fingertips of a lover. Scarlet and golden blooms murmur beside the dark lake, their scent glowing.

Faint music hangs like wood-smoke in the air, luring me onward.

The music swells, raucous dance-music on a mechanical organ rasping in a harmonious dissonance, while people laugh and applaud.

All the world’s emotion shrills through those organ pipes.

I sing.

I dance.

My tears flow warm and comforting as I see my part in the dance of life and rejoice that it holds so much of love.

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Friday Fictioneers – Icon

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

PHOTO PROMPT © LISA FOX

Icon

As soon as Miles had parked the Harley and removed his helmet he heard the chanting, a thread of sound drawing him to the open door of the church.

The interior was dim, and fragrant with incense. The singing reverberated, thrilling him with reverence, as he drifted towards the glow of a hundred candles illuminating an icon.

The eyes of the icon seized his attention.

“Feed my sheep,” said a deep voice.

Miles blinked. “Pardon?” he said.

A white-bearded priest spoke to him about Jesus. Within two years, Miles had sold the Harley, and enrolled in a seminary.

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