So We Can Glow is a brand-new collection of stories by Leesa Cross-Smith, whose writing I’ve always enjoyed. If you’re interested, you can read my review of her first short story collection, Every Kiss a War, and her novel, Whiskey and Ribbons. I also did a meet the writer interview with Cross-Smith in 2016, which you can check out here. Cross-Smith tends to write slice-of-life flash fiction celebrating all things girls-in-1990s. If you remember chap stick flavored like Dr. Pepper and loving all the boys, you’ve come home to your people. To clarify, slice-of-life is a story that doesn’t follow a neat arc, instead allowing you into characters’ lives for a moment or scene. Flash fiction is shorter than a short story, often no longer than four pages. Also called a “short short story,” the genre has been around for ages and was especially popular with Raymond Carver and Lydia Davis.
Although her subject is often teen-age girls, Cross-Smith takes it seriously, giving weight and heft to the feelings girls experience after they smell a musky boy, or the way the smallest thing he does can make her heart soar. There are adult characters, too, each carefully constructed so that you live with them the time you spend in their stories. While some writers use slice-of-life as a lazy way to get out of constructing a story, Cross-Smith submerges you in the characters’ moment. A description may bring you closer to the character you only know for 3-4 pages, such as this person in the story “Pink Bubblegum and Flowers”:
All I saw was Rafa’s black hair jump forward and back like a fussy-winged fruit bat taking flight as he punched Pete in the face.
In the middle of one story, you are so present, but when you move on to the next story, you sort of set aside the previous story in your brain. What this means is that you may not “hold close” every piece, you may even forget many of them, but while you’re reading them, it’s an experience you’ll enjoy.
While I thought I would forget each flash piece after I had consumed it, I was pleased to realize that some stories brought back characters from 100 pages before — and I hadn’t forgotten how they “felt” in my mind. Such magic denotes Cross-Smith’s skill in both genres, flash fiction and slice-of-life. I never felt like I was missing out or needed more, and her stories often hinted at larger lives that I wouldn’t mind reading, but didn’t need to be satisfied.
One story that I would have loved had it been a novel (because it was so good) is about a man and woman who keep running into each other on Wednesday night in the grocery store. She starts recommending recipes to him based on what’s in the produce section and comes to look forward to seeing him there. She realizes what love is:
The light in her heart flickered on, the loneliness scattering to the corners. Yes! Sometimes love felt like this too — like grocery store coffee. Like cheese and a knife. Maybe. No, yes. Yes, they would most certainly get married in the produce section on a Wednesday night.
My favorite sort of love story is one in which the love is odd, fits right into a pocket of society that wasn’t there before but now is because these two people exist. Cross-Smith can write such stories beautifully, and I highly recommend her work.