REVIEWED BY MEGAN DOUGLAS
In Sherrie Flick’s Whiskey, Etc., a woman dreams of putting her dog in the microwave, another seduces the paperboy, and a man gets hit by a car then buys the driver breakfast. In the short (short) stories of her second story collection, Flick explores the complexities of relationships–of romance and family–and the roles of men and women. With female protagonists a major theme throughout, each deal with an underlying sense of loneliness.
The collection is broken up into eight sections: songs, pets, coffee and tea, dessert, art, cars and canoes, soap, and whiskey. Each section has the recurring object or subject in the stories and, in each, Flick tells of the struggles and complexities of human companionship–the struggle of forming and sharing love with others.
In one of the longest stories in the book, “All Night Long,” a woman, whose true name we are never told, picks up a young man new to the city and takes him to a bar, where she gives him her attention, but then quickly abandons him to spend the night with another man with whom she’s having an affair. It is an old story for her, the same choice she continues to make over and over again, believing each time that it’s a good one. Flick writes:
“And she knows there have been many moments like this before in her life, moments where she believes she has made all the right choices. She puts the key into the ignition and twists. She grimaces as if it’s painful, and she knows of course, it is. It’s painful starting and stopping. It’s hard only knowing the chorus when some people seem to know the whole song from beginning to end.”
Flick’s collection keeps readers engaged with her crisp and lyrical writing. Her eye for detail is poetically rendered, and she turns the mundane into the beautiful. She can create a character who seems to have nothing going for her in life–no aspirations or social life, no kids or partner, one who has very few friends and hardly ever leaves her apartment except to occasionally go to a bar–and Flick will write the character’s story into something remarkable that lives in the reader’s mind long after the book is finished.
In “What Was Said,” Haley forms a connection with a Russian through voicemail. Haley only gives her number out to men she inevitably finds boring because there is another who holds her attention, and she can’t move on. She screens her calls and tells herself she wants to avoid complications, but with the constant messages left by the Russian, she finds herself interested. He serves as a distraction from her emotions for her married landlord, who ended their affair. Haley, hardly ever leaving her apartment, drinks whisky while she listens to the messages of the Russian as her solace; it’s his voice that keeps her company every day.
Familial strains are approached in “Family Dinner.” A Thanksgiving meal is prepared by Martha who tries to make the holiday special for her mother. With a father recently deceased, she tries to bring the family together again, but when her sister cancels last minute, it leaves only her mother to arrive for dinner. Martha and her mother eat a Thanksgiving feast of stuffing and gravy, soup, cake, and wine, among other things, all by themselves. Flick compares the food to emotions and people through Martha, who is cooking:
“I’m the squash soup. Chopped up and muddled, glowing orange here on the sofa. The soup itself bubbles for real on the stove. But I’m angry, so its simmering seems like a gaping mouth. The soup froths. Me, on the stove.”
Published by Queen’s Ferry Press, Whiskey, Etc. is a collection that presents us with a multitude of characters, each with their own narrative. Many of the stories are flash fiction, some only the length of half a page. The brevity of the stories allows the reader to see only moments–to see little glimpses into each character’s lives. This absence produces meaning, and the narratives build to create layers of experience. We are shown human companionship and the loneliness we all face. Like our lives, these narratives are complex and composed of moments, and like ourselves, these characters are trying to find their way. Flick’s stories, one after the other, will leave the reader recognizing themselves and wanting more.