By Sherrie Flick
Tomorrow Music, winner of the 2020 Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Prize, published by Map Literary is an intense series of linked flashes that expose the exquisite and bizarre fragility of human relationships coming together and falling apart.
“Inventory of a Collapse” is an 8-section story with a roving point of view from section to section exploring both Sara and James’ unlikely coming together and disintegrating apart. The opening section “The Venom is the Juice,” is a brilliant take on lust, love, danger, and risk. The failed attempt at snake charming begins like this: “We bought the snake from a guy on Craigslist who said he was an expert. He claimed this rat snake would be perfect for what we wanted, that it was docile and possibly depressed.”
What I love about this chapbook is how it examines the fragility of our emotional state through fascinating and unexpectedly used objects: A snake, an egg, a spool of thread, a sock, quiche, a broken spade, and a truck, among others.
As is suggested by the chapbook’s title, music also plays a role throughout. From story to story we’re given a soundtrack of lives as they try and fail to meet expectations, culminating in one of the strongest stories in the collection: “Beethoven’s Fifth in C Minor” (originally published in SmokeLong Quarterly). Sara and James have agreed to swing with another couple for a night, more James’ idea than Sarah’s. “This is our first time opening ourselves to others. The couple on their way is experienced in manners of the flesh and with sharing, and they assured us that everything will be fine, without worry, a night of new beginnings. I am not so sure. And is it my fault? Probably yes. The song of my disdain was sung too softly, the notes discarded by my husband in a wash of wine and drips from his chin.”
In the second long sectioned story “Oral History of the Lansing Motors Second Annual Truck Touch (as Transcribed by Lisa Poole, Assistant Manager)” there is another interesting use of complex point of view, as the story is seemingly told via 6 competitive truck touchers. The title lets us know that these points of view are filtered through Lisa Poole, however, who also has her own section: V. She says, “The best I can do is record the horror these people go through, so that this grotesque display, this contest, will never happen again.” As readers, we’re privy to each character’s thoughts and back story and some dialogue, but this is all constructed by Lisa as witness. The layering is effective and bittersweet, as “24k Magic” by Bruno Mars plays on repeat from the DJ stand.
It seems to me many writers don’t understand the chapbook, how these small books are most effective and poignant when they work on a theme, when they seem exquisite. Pete Stevens has thoughtfully curated just the right mix of stories here. I was pulled into his fully unique worlds and spit out at the end, changed.
Tomorrow Music by Pete Steven is available from Map Literary.
Sherrie Flick is the author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness and two short story collections, Whiskey, Etc. and Thank Your Lucky Stars. Her stories have been performed for Selected Shorts and appear in Ploughshares, New World Writing, and wigleaf, as well as the anthologies Flash Fiction Forward, New Sudden Fiction, and New Micro. She served as series editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018 with guest editor Aimee Bender and is co-editor for Flash Fiction America, forthcoming from Norton in 2022.