Audra Kerr Brown’s collection of flash fiction, hush hush hush, at twelve stories and under forty pages, holds its power in its brevity. It is the shortest collection I’ve read this year, yet it stands out with all the longer works. One of the shortest stories in the collection, “Illumination,” is about a woman falling in love with a light bulb after a miscarriage. A reader might have doubts that Kerr Brown can pull this off, especially in a story that is only seven sentences long. Then there’s this sentence: The bulb had an electrical heartbeat, a faint buzz, as if bees were trapped inside. The ghost of a dead baby must go somewhere, and “Illumination” makes it entirely plausible that this mother sees the ghost in a lightbulb. In this collection, there’s that joy of reading stories where an author pulls off magic, making us feel something we didn’t think possible.
The collection has an epigraph from Flannery O’Connor at the beginning of the book, and it is the perfect foretelling of what these stories deliver. Like Flannery O’Connor’s writing, these characters are disturbed, flawed, impoverished, and battling a sometimes sinister world. In hush hush hush are Girl Scouts who find a dead baby, a pawned prosthetic leg that stood in for a father, a ghost outside a kitchen window, and a haunted house. And while this may make some of the stories seem otherworldly, they are stories of genuine human drama and connection.
In the most straightforward story, “About Me Being a Big Brother,” a boy learns about the birth of his sister from a neighbor helping while his mother is in the hospital. It is a story with joy—a birth, a man in the boy’s life who seems like a stable, caring adult, and a bond forming between a brother and sister already—and yet an unspoken sadness that these lives won’t be easy. Then there’s the marvel of the last story, “When the Pregnant Girls First Arrive at St. Eulalia’s Home for the Lost and Wayward,” which prompts the reader to reflect on everything that came before it in the collection. It is a despairing realization of the often vicious cycle of life when you are battling loss, poverty, and trauma and how decisions that are forced upon us reverberate through lives.
Audra Kerr Brown’s stories have been selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 and Best Small Fictions. She’s also the creator of the YouTube channel, The Flashstronauts!, which explores the world of flash fiction. In Raymond Carver’s Fires: Essays, Poems, Stories, he says that the writer V.S. Pritchett’s definition of a short story is “something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.” I think this description is particularly applicable to flash fiction and to Audra Kerr Brown’s work in hush hush hush. In it, she gives us a glimpse of lives and yet an entire world to contemplate.
hush hush hush by Audra Kerr Brown
Small Harbor Publishing – August 2022
Emily Webber’s writing has appeared in The Writer magazine, the Ploughshares Blog, Five Points, Maudlin House, Brevity, and Slip Lip Magazine. She’s the author of a chapbook of flash fiction, Macerated, from Paper Nautilus Press. Find more at emilyannwebber.com.