and I’m serious, Is this little book of “flash fiction” by Sippican Cottage: The Devil’s In the Cows. Yes, Sippican (Gregory Sullivan) is an old-time blogfriend but I am not being influenced by that. This is not hyperbole. The book, quiet, modest, sly, insidious, packs a wallop. It’ll blindside you and punch a laugh out of you in a public place, and only sometimes because it’s funny, which it often is. Sometimes it’s just startling — so apt and so unexpected.
It took me a long time to finish reading it and write about it, not so much because I’m busy (though I am), but because each one- to three-page story, and there are 37 of them, feels like a whole novel. A character falls into you like a stone into a well and the reverberations go on and on. A glimpse of, a momentary overhearing of a life somehow implies the whole life. How does he do that? It’s the compression of poetry with the witness of fiction.
The stories are responses to archival photographs from the Library of Congress. Their “narrators” are mostly farm people, laborers and craftspeople, who worked with their hands on things that had real substance; that is, they are voices of a nearly gone world and they transmit the wisdom obtained by wrestling with things that are tangible and heavy and unhurried, that have their own textures and dangers, that require respect and give back an inalienable self-respect, no matter what the world thinks.
I had to put “narrator” in quotes because Sipp doesn’t channel these people’s “voices,” exactly, although the stories are written in the first person and they sound natural, they have particularity, they would make great dramatic monologues in a one-actor show. (Dorothea Lange as Anna Deavere Smith?) But what they say is not exactly what these people would SAY, even to themselves; it’s what their being would say if given a voice.
Let me just quote you a couple of paragraphs at random.
The dentist Yankees drift by on the dance floor and you can see them eying the real woman you got, pushing the limits of her dress every which place — Bam! Boop! Bap! — and he’s got the skinny sorority girl who moves around like a giraffe in a straightjacket and you know right off that she moves like that everywhere. That’s why he can’t stop robbing a peek at the missus when he can; they always sneak out of the house in their mind in here, the white bread. They couldn’t handle a woman like I got anyway. They should stick to the ingenues who reach for the diazepam instead of the kitchen knives when you piss them off.
In other words, please be true. In other words, I love you.
* * *
He’s wearing the wrong clothes and toing a comical box of the wrong tools, and not enough of them, either, and his hands are like his momma’s, or more likely his daddy’s if he’s an ink-stained wretch. He’s wrong, all wrong, and in every aspect and from every vantage point — asleep or awake; in action or repose; drunk or sober — but he’s smart enough to look you straight in the eye and say, “I don’t know nothing but I’m willing to learn, if you’ll show me.”
A boy like that knows everything.
* * *
You can read a whole story here.
If you buy this book, see if you don’t end up buying a bunch more of them to give to certain friends, the ones who know what these people are talking about. My only regret is that some of the people I most want to give this book to are dead.