Nicolle Elizabeth’s chapbook, Threadbare Von Barren, is a slim volume comprised of 32 pieces of flash fiction. The individual stories read more like prose poetry and test the minimalist boundaries of the flash genre.
Take for instance, the fourth in the series:
We are on borrowed money, oxygen and enthusiasm.
On initial read, some of these smaller entries may seem underwhelming, but when the anguish that forms the organizing principle of the book begins to surface (a teenage protagonist diagnosed with infertility), Threadbare Von Barren stands revealed as a provocative, emotional work that announces the arrival of a promising new writer to the flash scene.
The power of Threadbare Von Barren lies in its brevity and re-readability. In an excerpt from the ninth piece, Elizabeth writes:
–you’ve changed how you touch my hand you’ve changed how the hair on my neck doesn’t react to you anymore you’ve changed how you walk you’ve changed what you’ve done to me.
These pieces, despite, and perhaps because, of their shortness imply so much more than is actually on the page. The best example takes place in the twentieth section:
My mother comes sleepwalking into my room she pleads with me she says please make it ten years ago, god, nicolle, make it ten years ago. I’m like proof it’s ten years ago but it didn’t count.
These pieces are story distilled to the very core and are almost too personal for narrative, too close to the surface to shape with illusions of form and structure. What we’re left with is a powerful rawness and urgency that only grow with each subsequent reading. Only then is the reader finally able to grasp the emotional gravitas at play.
As a narrative junkie, I felt a little nervous while reading the opening sections of Threadbare Von Barren. But despite missing the length and breath of the Traditional Short Story or even more standard flash fiction fare, Elizabeth manages to use a minimal quantity of words and pages to convey a heartbreaking amount of emotional honesty. Threadbare Von Barren is a quick read and can be finished during a single cup of coffee, but the work will stay with you like a rash, a pimple, a bruise. Elizabeth makes her own troubled concerns your own.
Threadbare Von Barren is available now from DOGZPLOT’s Achilles Chapbook Series.