Scattershot: Collected Fictions, by Amy L. Eggert, was released this past March from the new indie publisher, Lit Fest Press. Scattershot clocks in at 112 pages–14 pieces in all–which gives you an idea of the length of each story.
There were 2 themes that guided Eggert’s collection. First, change results in terrible confusion. An accident in a swimming pool causes a woman to feel confused about her relationship with her brother. A grandfather must live in a nursing home, causing confusion and denial that where he lives should be called home. An traffic/bicycle accident of some kind confuses both a boy (and the reader) as to what state the world is in (apocalyptic?). A brick changes a man’s world and sends him spiraling into confusion–and violence.
The second theme was death–and it was everywhere. Accidents, homicide, suicide, abortion; children and animals are not spared. Just mowing down lives (no zombies required). A child dies, a woman dies, another child dies, a baby dies, a mother and father die. Only one piece didn’t have death, and that one was about beating a mother and son until the boy is holding his teeth in his hands.
Getting to the death wasn’t always a straightforward route. Eggert tells a story backward or gives details without context and then slowly fills the reader in. Some pieces filled in the gaps using repetition, given the story a Sestina-like quality that I very much enjoyed. I wanted to quote some, but the stories are so short that I would have to quote the whole thing (a reviewer faux pas, yeah?).
Because the stories were often told unconventionally, I had to put the book down after each one and give my brain space to regroup. The language is so tight that losing my focus, even for a second, meant I needed to reread parts. One story was lean enough that it didn’t use the word “the”:
This was after Billy standing at top of stairs, ears plugged like cotton balls, a humming sound, watching mama’s silence, purple bruising her face, her arms, her body lying on the foyer floor, her eyes staring up at ceiling, one leg twisted beneath her, other leg propped up on stairs, head still balanced on second step.
Such phrasing made the story harder to read, but it also gave the form a disconnected, splintered feel, much like the content itself, which is violent and tragic.
In a couple of cases, the stories concluded in ways that seemed designed to shock-and-awe rather than follow the logic established in the plot. Most noticeable in “Chalk Dust to Dust” and “Parallel Play,” these stories were solid beginnings and middles that sped along, making me curious about what happened next, but left me thinking, “Well…huh” instead of an actual emotion.
Overall, Scattershot feels like a diary of psychological damage, one that tinkers with language and, occasionally, form (some of the “fictions” read more like prose poems). If you read the stories too fast, you may become desensitized to the death and violence, which is a bit like cheating your emotions. Scattershot is a recommended read that I suggest you ingest very slowly, perhaps in between bits of another novel.
*I want to thank publisher Jane L. Carmen for sending me this collection in exchange for an honest review. I have no personal, familial, or professional relationship to this author.