There’s this thing that Meg Pokrass does in her new flash fiction collection, Alligators at Night (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2018). She drops you right into a scene as though you were already in the thick of conversation with the narrator, throwing you a seemingly mundane line or bringing up a commonplace situation—a conversation in a café, a new neighbor down the street, a woman leaning against a wall to cool off. Then she trips you. She knocks you flat with the poetry of a phrase like “…alligators crooning like deranged, nocturnal cows,” from the title story, or an uncomfortably frank observation, as in, “There is no right way, I told myself, and no right person,” from the story “Water Damage.”
Difficult relationships, awkward sex, loneliness, coercion, illness and love in various forms. Pokrass tackles these universal motifs in 72 very short stories but through a unique lens, one which may leave you chuckling at the bleakest moments. In several of these tales, characters slip between the thrill and the abyss, unkindness and humanity, all in one or two pages. A couple of the stories seem more like scenes than narratives but worth a read for their memorable imagery or ideas.
If you read a lot of flash fiction, you may have read some of the stories in this new collection, as some of them have appeared in other publications. The title story, first published in Atticus Review shortly before the launch of the book, was chosen for Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2018 and another story in the collection, “Barista,” was selected by Aimee Bender for the Best Small Fictions 2018 anthology.
There’s another thing that Pokrass does in her collection, which runs counter to the approach mentioned earlier. She’ll just grab you right out the gate with a killer line or a bizarre image. One of my favorites is, “On their final date, he broke down in the aisle of flavored waters,” from the story “Nourishment.”
Pokrass is deft at mining off-kilter relationships and she also reveals herself to be a master at portraying tenderness and love in complex situations. The stories “The Bug Man” and “Playing Chicken” come to mind, as do “Mrs. Polifax” and “The Benefits of Krill.”
Pokrass is the author of four other collections of flash fiction and one award-winning collection of prose poetry, Cellulose Pajamas, which received the Bluelight Book Award in 2016. Her stories and poems have been widely published and anthologized and her novella-in-flash “Here Where We Live” is published in My Very End of the Universe, the Rose Metal Press Guide to the form. Among other things, Pokrass is also Founding Editor of The New Flash Fiction Review, an instructor and curator of the UK’s Flash Fiction Festival and two-time judge for the Bath Flash Fiction Award’s Novella-in-Flash competition (2017 and 2018).
Since writers tend to know other writers, there may be no need for a disclaimer, here, but there’s a reason to mention this: I first met Pokrass after she chose a story of mine as the winner of a novella-in-flash award (Bath, 2017). I entered that competition because I’d noted that she was the judge. Her writing had repeatedly set off a ding! in my mind, one which reassured me that there were many, viable ways to walk a reader into a story and lead them out. Pokrass’ new story collection is an inventive, varied and entertaining reminder of this tenet.
Alligators at Night (ISBN: 978-1-912095-65-0) is available through the UK-based publisher, Ad Hoc Fiction.