Image: Unsplash, downloaded https://unsplash.com/photos/Tcm3H_f9TZY (23.5.2021.)
Melissa Boles: We Love in Small Moments
ELJ Editions, Ltd. New York: 2021.
Reviewed by MK Sturdevant
In ‘Couplet,’ Melissa Boles’ narrator observes that love has “created individuals tangled together in a haze of pain and joy and wonder.” Her new collection of flash is a compelling entanglement in that kind of joy and wonder, made of a string of brief stories that operate on each other in their own unique ways.
The delivery and arrangement of these small moments are able to draw the reader into the complex and powerful force of love and desire, not just to think about it. This is what makes the collection so effective; it is not just about a topic, it enacts it. One example is in ‘Homeplate,’ where the main character reveals, “I am out of place.” An entanglement of desire has left her disoriented even in a familiar backdrop. The story explores the double challenge of feeling at home in one’s own skin, while knowing that when fully oneself, it isn’t always easy to feel a sense of belonging to those around us. Boles explores the propulsion into secrecy and intimacy that often results from these challenges, as her character finds a home with a lover, grounding her at least for that moment, “but [I’m] still here.”
Boles’ stories on their own are quick; they read like fragments or impressions. They are vivid scenes, effectively supporting the title of the collection and making a strong case for the power of the small and singular moments in our lives. Whereas we often think that our history of love and relationships needs to be told in terms of a whole context of location, geography, family, arc, backstory, or other weights of longer forms, Boles’ collection argues that the truth is in the off hours, the odd Saturday morning, that one time.
The brevity is not without gravity, as each moment strives in its own way to get into, or out of, the entanglement of love. That kind of inertia can be thrilling and dangerous, as noted in ‘When You’re Sure’: “god, I would follow him anywhere and it scares [her] to death.” In ‘Saint Petersburg,’ amid a fantastic exploration of multilingual exchanges and miscommunications, the narrator echoes that inertia, confessing, “I’m going to be where you are, I cannot help it.”
If love is indeed the entanglement proposed by Bole’s brief moments, then the girl in ‘Three Things’ leaves us with a final insight into the difficulty of writing about it: “being in it is something she can’t quite describe.” Despite the limits of description, readers of Bole’s collection will no doubt find that Bole is well able to lay bare the universe of love and intimacy, loss and desire.
About the Author: Molly Sturdevant's writing appears or is forthcoming in Orion, Newfound, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, The Great Lakes Review, The Westchester Review, The Nashville Review, The Fourth River, About Place, and elsewhere. She was a finalist for the Montana Prize in Fiction 2019 and a Pushcart nominee in 2020. She is currently working on a novel.