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Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

TWO-WAY MIRROR a review by Meagan Lucas Joseph Mills. Bleachers: Fifty-Four Linked Fictions. Press 53, 2019. Krystal A. Smith. Two Moons: Stories. BLF Press, 2018.

MEAGAN LUCAS, born in Northern Ontario, now lives in Hendersonville, NC. She teaches English at AshevilleBuncombe Technical Community College and is the Fiction Editor at Barren Magazine. Lucas has a BA in History from Wilfrid Laurier University, an MEd in Curriculum and Instruction from Ferris State University, and an MA in English and Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire State University. She received the 2017 Scythe Prize for Fiction and has been nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize.

Joseph Mills’s debut fiction collection Bleachers is described on its cover as fiftyfour linked fictions. Each piece is connected to the others in time, Saturday morning, and place, U11 Rec League’s Fields 1 and 2 (intentionally vague enough in location that it could be any soccer field in any suburb), and narrated by the spectators, parents and facilitators of a youth soccer league. Each piece is in the flash form, giving a brief but intense glimpse or impression of the inner lives, the fear and joy, the hope and sorrow, of the individuals populating the stands. “Family” begins in the quiet poignant way that the reader will come to understand as Mills’s subtle voice with Ahmed, a father, restraining himself from explaining to his daughter in the Target aisle how a soccer ball is like their family, “each piece alone being nothing. They can’t all be the same. There have to be different ones, and they have to be joined. Integrated. In the right way. When that happens, lines and planes and angles become curved, became a sphere, an orb, a planet, become the perfect form of nature, become a coherent container, holding air, breath, nothing, everything” (31). The soccer ball Ahmed loves, and the center of the game that this collection is crafted around, is also an excellent metaphor for the collection itself, a group of pieces, all different, yet all connected, creating a whole that is greater than its parts.

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The collection is cleverly organized, with each fiction placed within a section named after the timeline of a soccer game – Pregame, First Half, building to the Post Game – creating natural narrative progression. While the structure of the book as a whole reflects that of a novel or short story, a reader who comes looking for a novel in flash will leave disappointed. These nuggets are connected, and while some build toward a shared mystery revealed in the end, it is not this revelation that pulls the reader through the fictions, but rather Mills’s gift of delving into the characters’ deepest desires and revealing the profound through the most mundane of moments. One is likely not to consider a woman’s decision to buy folding camp chairs as a compelling subject for a piece of fiction, but of course the first story in the collection, “Aging,” is about much more than a shopping trip. Through the narrator Colleen’s reflections on her desire for, and purchase of, the “blue chairs,” the author explores compromises people make as we age. Mills also reveals universal truths of parental existence through Colleen: “parenting, at this stage felt mostly like being in a waiting room,” and “[m] ost marriages, like most plants, won’t thrive in full sun” (4). Mills is particularly adept at character development, allowing the reader into the mind of his narrators with such gentle and subtle revelations of quirks and motivations that

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2020  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2020  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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