Split Lip REVIEWS
THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS by Sherrie Flick
by Kathryn McMahon
In Sherrie Flick’s Thank Your Lucky Stars (Autumn House Press), stars invoke gratitude, an awe for the infinity that floats just above our heads, and an appreciation for the strange ways in which life often plays out. Flick, whose previous books include I Call This Flirting (Flume Press, 2004), Reconsidering Happiness (University of Nebraska Press, 2009), and the 2016 fiction collection Whiskey, Etc, (Autumn House Press), writes with prose so clear and sharp she carves the breath out of the reader. The stories in Thank Your Lucky Stars, which Flick herself calls the flip side of Whiskey, Etc, contain the briefest flickers of micros, as in the fable-like “Crickets” where a few sentences contain an entire world, as well as short stories of several pages. Nothing feels squeezed or stretched. Every word and detail shines in its place. In all, there are four sections of fifty stories scattered across America and beyond. We’re sent pinging back and forth from San Francisco to Nebraska, and then we’re off on a train ride in “Czechoslovakia” or touching down in Wyoming and Kansas. We “reverse pioneer” when we’re transplanted to Boston and stand on a hill searching for just the right perspective, searching for the right way forward.
Many of Flick’s stories are aware of each other, peering uneasily into the darkness. Stars, fireworks, candles, and headlights are pressed into beacons by characters looking for direction. There are traces of magic, from the fabulist “Pittsburgh Women” where women set fireworks and then read fortunes with their
Thank Your Lucky Stars
Autumn House Press | September 2018
ashes, to “What It Would Look Like” where real life, normally full of missed cues, becomes perfect when it’s imagined as a movie. Many pieces are linked by recurring characters, objects, places, and themes to create a nuanced constellation of stories that glimmer with truth and compassion. Bottles of wine, mugs of coffee. Cats and dogs. Gardens and coffee shops, neighbors and orange armchairs, even sound—these slip from one story into the arms of another and always under the same infinite, starry sky, even as the characters themselves are reaching for things they’ve lost or left behind. With titles like “Looking for a Sign,” it’s as if Flick wants to make sure we don’t miss the meta-fiction. Her stories are palm readers studying the hand of Fate and looking for patterns, signs, and connection—always for connection. The end of each story is not filled with an empty void but with the dim glow of the coming story. Cumulatively, this has a comforting effect. Flick deftly arranges her stories like signposts all leading to a final question: Can we ever know what will become of us?
In “Open and Shut” we learn the end before we learn the beginning: John will walk down the stairs and out of Sarah’s life. This back-to-front story asks us, do we dare continue even when things take a turn for the worse? Yes, we do (“The dark feels good rippling out beyond them. The car draws a straight line on the road. For the first time Sarah isn’t afraid of anything, John or the stars or the future”). In the heartbreaking “Snowed In,” time is once again unmoored when a woman discovers a phone message left before her husband died and feels as if everything must be pre-destined. Maybe our stars are not always so lucky.
Flick asks us to consider why things happen. Maybe it’s not an outside force. Maybe it is, at least in part, a pattern of behavior. In “Rise and Settle Again” Ellen waits for her husband and thinks how “it isn’t his fault as much as his destiny to push everything away, to work too hard and drink too hard. To fight sometimes, late at night at the bar. He works and works and works until he loses sight of himself and makes his way home to her.” Characters here repeat their decisions: starting a new relationship, leaving a broken one. Somehow still hoping to stay put. In “Back Porch” two people are drinking together and one thinks, “And what I’ll remember is you, sitting on the crooked steps beside my crooked back porch chair. You leaning toward me and asking, ‘Can I kiss you?’ And me, looking at you and silently thinking, Can I do this all again?”
The search for joy and discovering the small miracle of a boyfriend and cat tolerating each other in “And Then” or finding a calm before the next door neighbors start arguing in “The Last Good Day In The First Garden”—these moments of pleasure twinkle throughout. As the narrator says in “This Is What I Want,” “We all sit very quietly waiting for the signal that means it’s okay. It’s all okay. This life of yours—good choice, keep going.”
And as for Thank Your Lucky Stars? Yes, it’s a very good choice. Keep going.
Kathryn McMahon is an American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog. Her stories have appeared in places such as FLAPPERHOUSE, Third Point Press, Atticus Review, Booth, Passages North, The Cincinnati Review, Jellyfish Review, and here in Split Lip. Her work has received various nominations and has been selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50. Recently, she was a finalist for the SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction. She tweets as @katoscope. Find more of her writing at darkandsparklystories.com.