by RK Biswas
Pamela Painter, the adjudicator of the 9th Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest, in her
introduction to the prize-winning book, says: “Rosie Forrest’s Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan evokes a startling, often dark, self-contained world. And each intriguing title sets a new tale into motion, unspooling with a mysterious languid intensity.”
Two points of note here, which immediately give an insight into the chapbook. First, “self-contained world,” and second, “intriguing title.” Rosie Forrest’s tightly woven stories are independent microcosms that begin to move from the story titles themselves. Taken as a whole they resemble polished spheres in the firmament. When you draw back, after scrutinizing each (and each story calls for close attention), you can see a larger pattern. Much like an astronomer’s figure of constellations. Or a child’s join-the-dots activity book. The latter comes to mind, because the protagonists of each tale are children and adolescents.
In the first story, Bless This Home, “something is forbidden,” and therefore “the four winds conspire like a pack of wolves.” A young girl at odds with her mother and her mother’s lover defies rules set down (by her mother) both for her and the tenant. But is she really being defiant or is her behavior an imitative response? And who does she really want to share her “brokenness” with?
In the second, the title story in the chapbook, a disquieting scene unfolds where innocence is supposed to run free. Three boys claim three abandoned box stores, creating rules about play, about use of play-space. This “space exceeded them, billowing against cinder blocks. It was hollow inside and this hollowness dwarfed their ruddy boyhood…” Space they create with their boyish imaginations, but end up diminishing their childhood.
The third story, Moonbone, is about siblings, Forrest’s own Hansel and Gretel, except that in hers, it is the girl who tries to show her angry older brother the way. A tender story of two lost children (lost, because of who and also what they have lost), and a grim, but benign mother (as against the evil stepmother of the fairytale) and the woods. Something shines, though, not a white pebble or stone, but a “moon bone,” something they must “never let go.”
In Where We Off To, Lulu Bee? A rather ridiculous scene unfolds around a mother with an age-wise inappropriate gift for her daughter. Except for one thing, the underlying pathos, which bring forth a wince; not a smile. The fifth story We’ll Go No More A Rowing has two friends from two distinctly dysfunctional families hiding away in an abandoned Church, with sinister possibilities.
Unmoored is one of the longer stories with a longer narrative arc. It’s a heartbreaking story, because the protagonist, a little boy, doesn’t know what the reader understands straightaway. The child tries to make sense, create new relationships, but in that still boat, he “feels naked, like a thrift store trinket on display.” Paper /Boy is an unusual story, more for its format than style. On the surface a boy has written a note to a girl he likes. But the paper knows more about his actual thoughts than she will ever know, and like a mischievous ally lets us have a peak. What Happened On Wednesdays (As Told By Someone Who Probably wasn’t There) is a story about a game, a ghastly game, so cruelly adult that only the wild imaginations of children could think it up and make the rules. The sinister element begins from the title itself and doesn’t let go even after the story is told.
Gun Moll appears to be a make believe game carried over from Halloween, but its effects last far longer than normal. The Field, A Religion is a poignantly beautiful history of two families, one usurped from its home and the other not quite the usurper. Taps is about three adolescents in the snow, in the cold, on the shore of a frozen lake, but three is a crowd. Possum Kingdom is a story of two young girls who are sent to spend a summer with a distant relative and his wife, a couple living in impecunious circumstances, and how they cope with their disappointment. The last story He Showed Us a Road, is a touching, and yet also almost brutal picture of escape. It is at once every child’s nightmare and dream. One cannot help but wonder if our own parents too “had held opposite ends of a rope, and moved about…ensuring a taut line.”
The sentences in this collection are sharp. Chiseled to impale poems. There are recurring motifs and images, like lake and grass, road, and children left to fend for themselves, find their way through or back, which form a subliminal link between stories. One can read a story and then sit down with it and contemplate, at times returning to retrieve a meaning not observed at first. Like poetry, these prose pieces unfurl layer by layer. Projecting pictures in the air between eye and book. The pictures are not always clear. Often I felt the need to peer closely, and came away frustrated. There is an elusive quality to many of the stories, adding to their already weighty mystery. This is not a chapbook one can or should run through. The stories demand keen readers; those who are willing to give back to the narratives, sift them in their heads and make something new of the characters and the situations. And finally I am left with a quiet breathless feeling, as if I have been there and come back with the burrs of certain truths clinging on to me.
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RK Biswas’s novel Culling Mynahs and Crows was published by Lifi Publications, India in January 2014. Authorspress, India published her short story collection—Breasts and Other Afflictions of Women—in December. Another story collection from Lifi Publications, New Delhi is due out in mid 2015. Biswas’s short fiction and poetry have been published in journals and anthologies, both in print and online, all over the world. Her poem Cleavage was long listed in the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2006 and also was a finalist in the Aesthetica Contest in 2010. In 2007, her storyAhalya’s Valhalla was among Story South’s notable stories of the net. Her poem Bones was a Pushcart Nominee from Cha: An Asian Literary Journal in 2010. In 2012 she won first prize in the Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat Short Story Contest. She blogs athttp://www.rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com.