Review of Amy Barnes’ Child Craft by Francois Bereaud

by | Nov 8, 2023 | Bending Genres, Blog, Reviews

A mom, two kids, a jar of pickles, an abandoned K-Mart, and a flood walk into an Amy Barnes story … 

For the rest, you’ll have to read Barnes’ new hybrid collection, Child Craft, recently released from Belle Point Press. Whether Barnes’ punchlines hit in the gut or the heart, they don’t miss. Barnes’ weird and bountiful imagination and nimble prose make each flash story an adventure unto itself. In the second story, “Drowning on Main St,” the child narrator learns from her mother that the beer factory has flooded the town. This disaster is soon followed by others involving a molasses tank and the cigarette and flour factories. We suspect the mother may be an unreliable narrator, but the child vouches for the mom whether she brings home groceries or strange men to “read the Bible walls to her.”  In the end, this is the mother she’s got, even when the child takes over the mothering.

Childhood and mothering define the collection and the stories move from the child’s to the mother’s perspective. Barnes’ strange tales do not preclude touching upon political issues of the day. In “Amending Second Grade,” a mom scans a daughter’s report car pockmarked by bullet holes. Guns appear throughout the story and when the mom and kids go to the mall to buy a plastic gun with foam bullets, a banner informs “NO SHOOTINGS FOR 0 DAYS.” Barnes renders the tragic absurd, and thus even more tragic, when we consider its reality. 

“Stuck in Ligation” takes us from a mom’s sex education which consisted of reading library books to her difficult pregnancies, and, finally, to her teenage daughter, whose eyes are wide open on issues of sexuality, pregnancy, and abortion. Barnes’ doesn’t need to say it, but we are left to wonder if this story may soon be read in reverse with daughters no longer having the access to reproductive information and care available to their mothers.

Barnes has a particular genius for the short form and in building a whole world in just a page or two. She does so, in part, by giving us unique and lasting details on every page. Flipping through the text, we see a “cavernous, stained, and sticky” bus station interior, “leatherbound books on the history of shoes,” and “well-meaning nuns with gruel in one hand and a wooden paddle in the other.” My graduate school writing mentor exhorted us to write stories with images “he’d never seen before.” Barnes does so on every page. 

There are stories here which produce laughter and others which hurt, and, after which, I had to put down the book and breathe. Barnes hits emotional chords without giving in to sentimentality. I soon picked the book back up, finishing it all too quickly, left to reread and await the next work from this terrific and original writer.

To order your copy: https://bellepointpress.com/products/child-craft

Francois Bereaud is a husband, dad, full time math professor, mentor in the San Diego Congolese refugee community, and mediocre hockey player. His stories and essays have been published online and in print and have earned Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations. He serves as an editor at Roi Fainéant Press and Porcupine Literary. The Counter Pharma-Terrorist & The Rebound Queen is his published chapbook. In 2024, Cowboy Jamboree Press will publish his first full manuscript, San Diego Stories, which is the realization of a dream. More at francoisbereaud.com.

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