On Kim Magowan’s ‘How Far I’ve Come’ from Al Kratz

Flash Fiction and short fiction readers should love Kim Magowan’s newest collection How Far I’ve Come from Gold Wake Press. (And if you haven’t already, you should also check out her previous books: Undoing which won the Moon City Short Fiction Award, and the novel The Light Source published by 7.13 Books.) How Far I’ve Come extends Magowan’s artistic strength of writing deeply alive characters and boldly exploring the sides of relationships. In 60 quick stories, she entertains the reader (and possibly the writer too) by often taking form to new places in order to tell classic plots that have earned the right to be told again because they show what it means to be alive. With Magowan’s voice and her form exploration they also do that in new ways.

These are the stories about women and men and often about the ex-men. In ‘Useful Information’ the men aren’t even given names. There is simply Boyfriend One and Boyfriend Two. They each have their plusses and minuses. By the time we get to know them, we end up knowing the narrator too.

Triangles beget triangles. The one between me and One and Leticia produced the one between me and One and Two. I wonder if Two has found his own Two. For his sake, I hope it’s someone less judgmental, someone who doesn’t spritz his barstool with hand sanitizer or say, “You’re squashing me. With Two, I suspect I’ve become One.

The ex-men have a certain power. They are the tension. They are the clock that decides if the narrator is moving forward or backward. They are the gauge.

Here’s one of my favorite opening paragraphs ever:

My ex-boyfriend owns a pub called The Rascally Rabbit, and every time I go there he tries to convince me to fuck him. I say, I’m married.

It doesn’t get much more Flash Monster!!! than that. That is the definitive hook. That is the big bang, the immediate creation of a world.  You immediately know these rascals and you have to keep reading.

In ‘Fromage’ the lovers and the ex’s just want silence. They want a break from the mandatory dialogue of love.

When my husband moved out, he claimed he was trying to get clarity, and in order to do that he needed radio silence. Cliff wouldn’t communicate with me, but he also promised not to communicate with his lover, Dolores.

These are tensions of love and ex-love and trying to keep it together. These are the representations of Elizabeth Bowen’s idea that dialogue is not what characters say to each other but what they do to each other.

These are the stories about parent and child. As if the dynamics between lovers wasn’t challenging enough—enter the children. In ‘Home Economics’ their daughter June is a thief. The narrator is a high school teacher who has learned the difficulties of teenagers in the class and in the home. She remembers hearing that perfectly normal teenagers receive identical Rorsach scores as psychotic adults. This is a somewhat longer story, a wider scope than some flash, but it’s told in quick little mini flashes, almost a novella in flash in one story. It’s refreshing to get to stay a little longer with these characters. To get the lingering of flash in subsequent bursts rather than one.

In ‘When Vic Wanted to Walk to Crescent Street’ we get a little more traditional look at parenthood and every parent’s worst nightmare. We get a fast deep dive into grief and absolute loss of control. We get a new truth about grief:

People talk about “hitting bottom,” especially in AA. But Maggie feels not as if she is falling, but flying, a runaway kite shredding in the sky.

These are the stories that break form. In ‘Three Sprigs’ the cocktails and the herbs do the talking. In ‘Madlib’ the word game form is used to tell a new story. Here the great Magowan characters come alive again through a conversation between narrator and mother about a guy named Ron. Here the misplaced verbs find the new truths.

Mom, I don’t SNORT you, I know how SUGARY you’ve been, but I fucking CARTWHEEL him. Ron said if I KNITTED you, he would FLY me, and besides, you would never WHISPER me.

In ‘Worksheet: Conditional Verbs’ the IF THEN construct of logic and programming drives the narrative. In ‘Now You Know Your ABCs’  the letters drive the narrative and find the new truths. My favorite here was the very compressed:

Y is for Yet.

That standing by itself is so powerful. It’s the tension both of the bad and the good things. All the things that are bound to happen or you want to happen, or you don’t want to happen. Yet is the only thing keeping them from you.

Yet.

These 60 stories might not be connected, but they are absolutely united. Magowan has such a strong voice and approach to story that I don’t think she could write a disconnected collection even if she wanted to. Just take a read through How Far I’ve Come and stand it up next to The Light Source and Undone and truly enjoy seeing how far the writer and the reader have come.


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