“At first, you think it’s snowing.”
This opening line of “Some of Your Favorite Things Aren’t Made to Last,” the first story in Laurie Marshall’s masterful flash collection, Proof of Life, sets the tone for an unexpected and wild, but, ultimately, very human ride. The white flecks seen by the child turn out not to be snow but something far more bizarre and gut turning. In the brief story, we get wonder, grief, and survival in the relationship between a father and daughter.
The sequence of stories flashes through time and space. Marshall brings us to suburban swimming pools, desert highways, the hills of Los Angeles, and a Midwestern church revival. Each story brings a sharpness and immediacy to the characters with titles and lines that buzz with originality. “Some of us say we are worried about Larry” opens with the line “Larry Macdonald is building an amusement park in his back yard.” In short order, we see Larry’s joy and heartache as well as how “we” respond to our neighbor with his strange preoccupation. We see outsiders and loners and the magic of human connection as when an unnamed single woman befriends an eight year old in “The Girl Scout Rule ca. 1972.”
Marshall is also not afraid to play with voice and form. One story is told from the perspective of a dog being walked. Another is a second person narrated instruction manual with the topic being preparation for a mammogram. And in one of my favorites, “Arithmetic for Read Life,” Marshall gives us the unraveling of a marriage in list form with some equations thrown in for good measure. Broken relationships, loss, and even death, recur in the stories, yet, the result is not an unhopeful one. Each story gives us enough playfulness to keep going and reach eagerly for the next.
The collection also includes several of Marshall’s original collages. This periodic and stunning artwork gives us a chance to catch our breath, and take in each image as its own story.
The stories vary in length from several pages to one sentence. A few of the stories were too short for this reader’s taste but perhaps that was the point, getting the readers to fill in the blank space on the page.
In the last story, we come across the line, “You’re a stupid mistake.” Well, if you’re a fan of short fiction, seeing the human condition in original and bizarre forms, and brilliant writing, missing out on this collection would be a stupid mistake. Read it now and then cue up for Marshall’s next effort.
Click here to pre-order Proof of Life: https://elj-editions.com/proof-of-life/
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.