When words come to life

Bob Moyer says a lot in a few words about a book that does the same.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

KICK THE LATCH. By Kathryn Scanlan. New Directions. 144 pages. $17.95.

Kathryn Scanlan writes minimalist fiction. Not short stories. Not flash fiction. Minimalist fiction. She eschews verbiage, and dismisses the drape of narrative novelists usually hang over the essence of their story. It is unfortunate that her scant prose usually receives—well, scant attention. It is powerful work.

For Kick the Latch, she recorded interviews with Sonia, a horsewoman she met through her mother. She then distilled that narrative into 29 chapters, the longest being not quite four pages, and the shortest, one sentence: “You’re around some really prominent people, and some of them are as common as old shoes.” Though Sonia’s story is compressed, we still feel the life inside the words. The great essayist Lewis Thomas talked about words being small packets of energy that we store up to release later. Scanlan’s expertise packs much more into her parings than most novelists do into their prose. The life of the backcountry horse track circuit, the cheap motels, the harassment, the drudgery, rape, broken bones, broken promises, broken horses, all jump from the page. Unencumbered by any sense of solace, and certainly not any epiphany, the fictional Sonia’s truth accumulates in short sequences. It is a life writ small, and the larger for it.

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