Review by Michelle Panik
Splashed on the cover of Everything’s Changing is a woman in glamorous sunglasses and a headwrap à la Jackie O, her figure a 3-D image edged with bright colors. And, indeed, the people within Chelsea Stickle’s flash fiction are photorealistic.
Firmly entrenched in magical realism that bends both whimsical and darkly cautionary, place figures largely into the stories. Many are set in close communities—in one, a neighborhood is overrun by vandalizing peacocks; in another, people shoot cardinals in the desperate hope that they will bring good fortune. And while Stickle’s landscapes are richly imaginative, it’s the polychrome characters where the writing really shines. Because MER focuses on motherhood, this review will delve into stories that most directly address feminist concerns.
A controlling mother’s lasting, deleterious effects on her daughter are examined in “There’s a girl stuck in a block of marble.” At the story’s outset, a mother is chiseling her daughter out of a stone. But, such shaping doesn’t help the daughter learn to read, navigate friendships, find a career, or provide any other type of worthwhile parental influence. Rather, the mother’s tools “are sentences like, ‘You look washed out without makeup’ and ‘Are you sure you want to be friends with her?’”
The daughter finally asserts control over her life after the narrator tersely declares, “Only the daughter can see the outline where her skin should end.” Even though she begins shaping herself and her identity with sculpting tools, the story ends with, “But some things, like her barely attached arm, cannot be undone.” Although partly uplifting, the conclusion has no choice but to acknowledge a mother’s influential and permanent damage.
This theme of girls growing into their bodies and their strength continues in the whimsical and empowering “I Told You I Would Take Your Hand.” After a boy touches a girl’s body without asking, she cuts off his finger with a knife that has grown from her hand. “It was legendary,” the narrator comments. After sharp weapons emerge from the bodies of other local girls, the narrator says, succinctly and beautifully, “Their objectified bodies became objectively terrifying.”
Not only do the women stand up to their abusers, they do it via the very thing that’s being assaulted. This story ends with the next generation of girls born with weapons already visible, and it is the collection’s most empowering piece.
“I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream” examines another group of women in another town dealing with abuse. But, this time, they don’t fight back. Instead, some women go to their town’s edge and scream, and others take off in search of a better life where they won’t need to unbottle so much. And yet, neither option is ideal. The first group, once finished screaming, must return to the place that causes their stress. The second group, despite taking flight, never locate a new home and find themselves, “always reaching for a place that doesn’t exist.”
Everything’s Changing chronicles the lives of regular people as well as gods and ghosts. And each character—whether corporeal or mythical—is grappling with things in flux. Because of the close consideration given to each character, for whom there are no easy solutions, these 18 stories are weightier than the chapbook’s 37 pages might suggest.
Everything’s Changing is a well-made, handmade chapbook. Printed on sturdy, textured paper, it is the perfect home for these assertive women who are forever moving, seeking, thrashing about.
Chelsea Stickle’s stories have appeared in CHEAP POP, Chestnut Review, CRAFT, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. Her micros have been selected for Best Microfiction 2021 and the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2022. Her previous flash fiction chapbook, Breaking Points, was published in 2021. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and a forest of houseplants. In her spare time, she plays bass and embroiders. Read more at chelseastickle.com
Everything’s Changing by Chelsea Stickle
Thirty West Publishing, 2023, $11.99 [Paper]
Michelle Panik is a writer and elementary school substitute teacher who lives on the edge of California, in Carlsbad, with her husband and their two kids.