So We Can Glow by Leesa Cross-Smith

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.

19 comments

  1. I enjoyed the enthusiasm of your review. I can think of books I’ve enjoyed where the author builds up a picture by displaying one small section at a time. I think though the woman in the grocery store story should check out what the guy’s doing the other six and half days before she marries him.

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    • LOL! I’m hoping he’s just at home making wonderful meals with his groceries. Who knows? Perhaps he watches NASCAR and is a big game hunter, or any other collection of terrible attributes.

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  2. I always appreciate you giving definitions to different types of writing, I personally find it very informative! Also, is there a word for the type of fiction that you love while reading it, but then totally forgot about it after you’re done with it? I feel that way about lots of books I read LOL

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    • Hmmmm, I tend to think of that kind of fiction as immersive. It’s so important while you’re in the thick of it, but then when you put it down, you’re not in that moment anymore. You have other life to live.

      I’m glad the definitions help. I wrote in and learned a lot about different forms in my creative writing classes, and many of them don’t make it to mainstream publishers, so I want readers to know what they’re getting into if they pick up the book.

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  3. I really like the point you make about Cross-Smith taking her teenage subjects and their feelings seriously – that’s something that I don’t encounter often. I also like that she takes seriously the feelings of characters who behave in challenging ways, like in the story about a jealous partner behaving passive aggressively toward her husband. And I agree with you that Cross-Smith does an excellent job of submerging the reader in each character’s moment! I’ve never felt so immersed in a short short-stories before this collection.

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    • She’s a total pro in her genre, and I love it. I feel so at home with her teenage characters because I was a teen in the 90s myself. I know teens are teens, but the teens I know now are so much more serious and worldly that I ever was (all I had behind me was Columbine and an electric typewriter compared to teens today).

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  4. Ooh, great review! I’m glad this one seems to be as good as the synopsis made it sound, and I especially like the thought of returning to characters 100 pages later. An author who can make a character or thought impactful enough in just a few pages (or less!) to be remembered when it’s referenced so much later must really know her craft; it’s always impressive to see someone write with a good understanding of how readers will be affected by different pieces of the story. This is something I remember enjoying with Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyort as well- the book is about 1000 pages long, but with just a couple of words Ellmann could recall an entire train of thought or emotion from 100+ pages previously, and I loved that. I see my library still doesn’t have So We Can Glow in the catalog, so I may just go ahead and buy this one now. 🙂

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      • Usually my library’s online catalog will show when they have a book on order even if it’s not in yet, but it’s definitely possible they could pick this one up later on (or that their system is wonky in these pandemic days). I hope they will, with as good as you make it sound! But it does seem like something I’d like to have on my own shelf as well. 🙂

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    • Do you remember how you could buy a pack of lip gloss and it would be all these different soda flavors? 7-UP, Orange Crush, Dr. Pepper. The roll-on jelly sort of lip gloss was also popular back then, and it was notorious for busting open in your jeans pocket and ruining your pants with a greasy stain. And glitter. I wore SO MUCH glitter on my face and in my hair in the 90s.

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  5. “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.” Wow, I never verbalized this trope to myself but this is the best articulation of it! I NEED more romance like this! I find that flash fiction doesn’t always work for me, since I don’t have a very good memory and I just hate it when I can’t even remember what I just read, but this collection sounds fantastic. I’d probably pick it up for that last story you mentioned alone.

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    • For me, I don’t need to remember flash fiction, I just want to love it while I’m reading it. I think it’s a special genre in that way, one that doesn’t rely on us holding onto the memory of the story for a great deal of time.

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  6. I’ve tended to avoid flash fiction because I find the “holding on” to previous stories distracts me from what’s to come next. As a result, I’m just constantly disconnected. I bet I’d enjoy flash fiction like this, however — flash fiction set in a community where the same characters reappear over and over again. Is this something Cross-Smith does often, or just in this collection?

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    • I don’t remember Cross-Smith bringing back the same characters in her first collection, but it’s been a while since I read it. You might enjoy her novel more. It has a baby! Wait….okay, it might make you sad. Maybe a different book.

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