Peter Conners, the author of a previous collection of poems and a forthcoming memoir about following the Grateful Dead, Growing Up Dead, recently published Emily Ate The Wind, a novella of extravagantly tiny miniatures. At five-by-eight inches, the book is the size of a boulder. It is as light as pumice stone. The surface feels like a hardened sponge with just as many gaps and holes as the matrix of what is there. There are repeated sentences with repeated characters engaged in oblique activities of daily life made all the more bleak and oblique because there isn’t any context for their actions. Many times the sentences themselves find themselves unraveling the mystery of the world documented here. “Emily tries to exit the bed on her left and hits a wall. There is no wall. Why is there a wall?” There is in the novel a Dan, an Amber, an Emily, a Lucinda. The events in the book have little to do with each other, and only the tenuous magic of same names, a book jacket, and Conner’s sharp syntax keeps them bundled together. One event happens at dawn one day, or another at dusk. Something happens in a rock quarry. Another event occurs in a trailer.
Narrative can suggest itself in even random occurrences. In a story, two things happening one after the other suggest a correlation and a cause. I learn that the black cats crossing my path are bad luck because of the time a black cat crossed my path and then a man driving an El Dorado shot a stop sign and parked the grill in my back seat. Emily Ate The Wind, however, manages to undo this false logic and reduce the characters to a succession of sentences, garage doors, dirty clothes, applesauce, and Kyle’s Bronco.
A succession of sentences is agreeable, but not necessarily a line of connected sentences. E.M. Forster asserts that the connection provided by narrative, by sequence, and ultimately causality, are essential to what we call fiction — in fact, causality is the defining feature of fiction. He points to the one novelist in his time who had gone the furthest in escaping from time. “Her failure is instructive,” Forster said in the lecture that became Aspects of the Novel. He said of Gertrude Stein:
She has hoped to emancipate fiction from the tyranny of time and to express in it the life of values only. She fails because as soon as fiction is completely delivered from time it cannot express anything at all.
The liberty of the short short story is that it is short and in two, or five hundred words, a reader can catch a glimpse, engage in the syntactical compression of something that might actually be called prose poetry. The term poetry (in prose poetry) emphasizes the lyric over the narrative values of the writing. But, the short short at the same time presents itself as a slice of narrative. Authors have occasionally tried to use this same form to escape narrative and yet create a kind of novelistic effect. Kevin Sampsell’s also great and also tiny memoir A Common Pornography, or the well-known House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros are two examples. Both of these books though, establish, in short bursts, novelistic patterns: place, characters, and story. In contrast, Emily Ate the Wind manages to keep Forster at bay and delivers novelistic prose from time and causality. Conners expresses the denatured, shirtless (without shirt), sockless, bralessness of existence.