‘Little Feasts’ by Jules Archer Reviewed by Al Kratz

Jules Archer
Paperback | 82 Pages
978-1-7345158-0-0 | First Edition | $16.99
Thirty West Publishing House| BUY HERE

Don’t let the title fool you. Little Feasts is a huge serving of robust storytelling. In these nineteen short-stories, averaging about four pages each, Archer works fast and forceful, with premises that are funny and new, shocking but never for gimmick but to deliver a message Archer seems compelled to send. She wields the extreme while discovering beautiful new truths.

The tone is set in the opening sentence:

I know she fucked the tree. A weeping willow; our yard; flushed, throes of passion, a guttural moan on its invisible lips. My sister passes by the window, wiggles her fingers, blows it a brazen kiss.

That certainly grabs a reader’s attention, but the narrator’s acceptance of the behavior, the treatment of it as conventional, a way to understand two sisters facing a fucked up world together, announces that Little Feasts will not be little. After a brief moment of worrying about therapy bills, the intimacy and love of sisterhood takes over with one quick sentence. “My sister loves nature.” The story then turns away from its shock premise, to one about sisters dealing with grief, frustrations with men, and with life itself. These characters want something out of life that is just out of reach.

All I want to do is eat and to fuck and I can’t even do that right. Hunger never felt so hard.

My favorite part of reading occurred about thirty pages in when I saw how the stories were working in conversation with each other, how they were using the extreme to embrace danger, get as close as possible to it without touching it, in order to understand it. There’s a common theme that occurs of The Monster. The Bogie Man. Even a Serial Killer ala Silence of the Lambs. But rather than taking the conventional approach of female characters trying to evade these monsters, Archer’s characters occasionally take a spin at wanting to get closer to them. This puts the collection in an awesome conversation with two other great books with similar themes but different approaches: The Missing Girl by Jacqueline Doyle and Ghosts of You by Cathy Ulrich. Doyle put us on the brink of danger, intense suspense, and gives life back to the missing girl. Ulrich refuses the anonymity of the female victim. She challenges society’s hunger for the murdered female and the fucked up balance of whose story it is. Archer’s characters aren’t directly threatened by these kind of events, but they are threatened by life, male domination, and they use this danger to find voice and meaning. In Hard to Carry and Fit in a Trunk, this takes the form of Ginny Hanover struggling in therapy to deal with ideas of weight and unique space it puts her: outside the Venn diagram of serial killer prey.

She wants to be equal. The youth and the thin win at everything, even if they’re ugly. She’s not ugly, but she’s fat, and this means Ginny won’t get the thrill of the chase. The thrill of being stranded with – stalked by- a stranger, The thrill of heart-pumping adrenaline and sweaty palms. Oh, the dreams she has.

This is heartbreaking. The extreme is necessary here to show the depth of longing. Ginny wants an identity that isn’t rejected. I don’t think it’s by accident that the next story to this, The Ice Cream Cone, puts its main character, the “you” of second-person, in a horror movie, being chased, “of course” by a man. This story gives immediate grace for Ginny even if she isn’t “in” this story. As the You runs away, her life flashes before her eyes, a conventional cliché, but used here to find something new. The You finds that surviving real life is harder than running away from horror movie bad guys. Surviving the patriarchy is harder. The You has done that and she is the hero.

…and while these memories are terribly sad, they are not necessarily terribly bad because they remind you that you have faced worse things in life that are not horror-movie related, and in each scenario, you did not run; you learned…

The danger of men is approached with a subversive levity that takes the power back or at least gives the female character the drivers seat on life’s road trip for meaning. In My L.A. Jerry, the twenty-two year old protagonist laments about the Iowa Jerry she is cheating with on her husband who is about to move her to L.A.

I wish you had a dick wrapped in razor wire. Maybe then I could leave you alone.

This humor gives her the power. When she finds her L.A. Jerry, he wants her to call him Charlie Manson, but she subversively fantasizes he is Tex Watson instead.

These are stories of Legacy. Of women, generation after generation, surviving the patriarchy. In Skillet, a girl is taught recipes from great-great-grandmother and the proper treatment of an iron skillet. “Eight generations of women who have learned to love wrong and swing high.” In The Lie Tree, a tree carries the legacy of lies told by a family, of punishments, and redemptions. The first-person narrator of this story rejects legacy. When her mother tells her lying is in her genes, she checks the pockets of her Wranglers to “make sure I wasn’t carrying around any of our family taint.”

These are stories of fighting for voice.

Once a month, ever since I turned twelve, my cycles synced to the sound of the garbage truck. Not the full moon or the new moon or the tides. I cramp and menstruate on trash day. But I can’t make a peep to anyone, because I’m just a garbage girl in a recycling world.

In a dystopian flash piece called We Will Set Anything on Fire, the armed fascist speaks the truth of rebllious voice:

Don’t you know?” he says. “Your voice is a match begging for fire.”

In the final piece, Contents of a Letter Found on a Stained Bar Napkin, Archer completes the arch of the brush with the Monster and finishes the conversation for now, but I totally hope she finds more matches in the future.

Jules Archer is the author of the chapbook, All the Ghosts We’ve Always Had (Thirty West Publishing, 2018) and the short story collection, Little Feasts (Thirty West Publishing, 2020). Her writing has appeared in various journals, including SmokeLong QuarterlyPankMaudlin House, and elsewhere. She lives in Arizona and looks for monsters in strange places.

Al Kratz lives in Indianola, Iowa with his wife Kristy and their cat Tom Petty. He is a Fiction Editor at New Flash Fiction Review.

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