by Karen Jones
I’ve been reading a lot of novellas-in-flash recently, and I’ve enjoyed them all, but the everrumble is unique, compelling and has an unforgettable main character in Zettie. Spanning time and continents and senses, the journey we take with Zettie is beautifully told by Michelle Elvy and wonderfully illustrated by Eyayu Genet. I read it in one sitting and then immediately read it again.
When Zettie is born, she hears a scream from somewhere distant, unknowable. Only much later does she discover what that scream was, where and who it came from and how it led to the connection with nature, in all its beauty and horror, that becomes the essence of her life story.
At age seven, she stops speaking. No particular traumatic event precedes this moment – she simply decides that she wants to listen, to read, to be in tune with the world, to feel and hear what she calls its ‘everrumble’. She feels connected to every animal, every leaf, every grain of sand and speck of dust. She wants to become part of the planet, rather than just an inhabitant.
We travel with Zettie back and forth through her life, learning a little more in each story of what she hears, what she learns, how all this knowledge affects her. A glimpse of how she hears everything all at once comes in the flash ‘Sea World: August 1971’:
Ice cream dripping orange peel brrriiippping turtles racing lemonade sourfacemaking wind whistling steaks sizzling corn popping newborn napping feet flapping palms clapping.
Zettie shares notes on the books she’s read and we see how they’ve shaped her. She shares her dreams and we see that this is where she transforms, becomes whale, tree, bird, earth, always that connection, being at one with nature.
She is a girl whose silence and poise cause some to question, some to take advantage, others to fear, to love, to worship, but everyone she encounters to stop and think. And that is the gift of this book, of Zettie as a character – you stop, you think, you learn and only wish that you could feel the world, care about the world, the way Zettie does.
Some of the stories are poetic, others harsh and sad, others funny and endearing. The Dreamscape sections, in particular, lend themselves to poetic language and kinesthetic imagery. ‘DREAMSCAPE III: willow and moon’:
And now she opens her moon heart and pulls it back in, envelops it in an embrace that gives it light, and now she’s willow and moon, holding sorrow in her supple arms and sending light up to the heavens and down through her roots and all roots of all trees.
All of the dreamscapes capture movement and emotion expertly, but this one in particular has such flow in the language evoking the elegant dance of the tree in the breeze.
Possibly the hardest flash to read, because of its subject matter and emotional impact, is ‘Silence’. Right from the opening line, ‘Uncle Roger knew she wouldn’t talk,’ there is a feeling of menace, of Zettie not being in control of this part of her story. And yet there is still a sense of strength here, of Zettie’s silence sometimes being her sword as well as her shield.
There is also light and love in stories like ‘Cartwheels’ where Zettie first experiences the desire to impress a boy, in this case her brother’s friend. And in ‘Ways of Seeing’, when Zettie meets Rangi, ‘the sky to her sea’, with whom she will have a different life, one that gives Zettie children and grandchildren and more love than she could ever have imagined.
What the everrumble as a whole gives the reader is a feeling of great love for the world – or, rather, for Zettie’s world, the one we can’t quite hear or feel but maybe could if we took the time. With Zettie as a guide to this ever-changing, maybe dying planet we inhabit, the everrumble is, ultimately, a story of hope and that is something we could all use right now.
the everrumble is available from Ad Hoc Fiction.
Karen Jones is a prose writer from Glasgow with a preference for flash and short fiction. She is addicted to writing competitions and is a perennial long/short-lister – Commonwealth Short Story Competition, Bath Flash Fiction, Bath Short Story, To Hull and Back, TSS 400, HISSAC– though she has reached the prize-winning stage with Mslexia, Flash 500, Words With Jam, Ink Tears and Ad Hoc Fiction. Her work is published in numerous ezines, magazines and anthologies. Her story ‘Small Mercies’ was nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize and is included in The Best Small Fictions 2019.