This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month Short, Vigorous Roots edited by Mark Budman and Susan O'Neill.
I have no musical training. Never took piano lessons; can’t keep a beat or even move rhythmically. I assume this is why I don’t often listen to recorded symphonic music. However, I do love attending the symphony (even if I haven’t been able to do so for quite some time).
When I can see a large group of musicians each contributing to a singular work, it’s like magic. The way the music progresses and builds is made clear to me in a way that I often miss when I hear the notes alone, disembodied.
I’ll usually find myself, when watching classical musicians, thinking about the experience of inhabiting the music. What physical demands are placed on them, the time spent waiting for their next part, and the anticipatory visual cues that this creates for the audience.
Maybe it’s due to the degree to which I miss experiencing the symphony, but it was what immediately came to my mind when I read Short, Vigorous Roots
, edited by Mark Budman and Susan O'Neill, and published by Portland’s own Ooligan Press. A collection of flash fiction (1,000 words or less), Short, Vigorous Roots
contains stories by forty authors, each about some aspect of the immigrant experience.
For me, reading anthologies is very different, and often more difficult, than reading works by a single author. I am usually just getting into one author’s voice when the next one takes over, and the primary sensation I am left with is being out of sync with the book, most of the time. The length of the stories in Short, Vigorous Roots
avoided this experience by preventing me from ever getting too comfortable; I always knew that I was getting a glimpse — a moment of insight — and then it would be time to move on.
This quick tempo contributed to my sense that these stories — unrelated beyond theme — were, like a stage full of musicians, collaborating on a joint effort at expressing something both unique and universal. Seeing the work of forty writers, reflecting on that single theme, is also like magic.
The characters in Short, Vigorous Roots
have endured epic journeys and fraught resettlements. Their tales are told in quick succession, but to the reader they feel parallel. This impactful book may be comprised of a series brief glimpses, but when read together, they are like single voices that have united in chorus.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month