Book Review: Snowdog

Image of the book cover.In Snowdog, Kim Chinquee’s latest collection of flash fiction, the writing is clean and concise, the language unornamented. “[T]he best time to make fake snow is when it’s actually snowing,” she writes in the opening story. “Because of the conditions.” Readers could skate through such terse prose and humor, but to do so would be foolish. These stories do not live at the surface. They are stones tossed, rippling outward, disturbing the reeds and roots and damselfly nymphs. Who knows when they might reach bottom.

As I read, I was reminded of the weeks after my father died, of how extraordinary it felt to do ordinary things. I brushed my teeth, made the bed, made toast. I wandered the aisles of the grocery store. While simple, none of it felt so. Grief and mundanity layered in a surreal and difficult sandwich.

Likewise, Chinquee’s stories are not only about walking the dog or riding an elevator, but also about the lifetimes of fear and loss and love that came before. Toast and trauma.

I spend my worthwhile days mowing lawn, walking the dog and ironing some clothing. I’ll dust and tear away at the laundry. I’ll call my son and listen to his voicemail.

There was a time I told him Shh. Please, I’d said. I was tired then. I’m tired now, so I go to bed early, close my eyes, and here he is: face-to-face with me, as if I never left him. (“Walking the Dog,” pp. 60–61)

The text is sparse and finely polished—so difficult to excerpt well. Each word, each sentence feels essential to the whole. There are many lines that pop. “The water was enormous, the shore a mouth,” she writes in one story. And in another, “I looked out the window: the moon like clumps.” Yet a significant punch lies in the author’s surgical precision, simplicity, and repetition. At the close of “Wear Your Seatbelt,” the title repeats four times in a row, each time hitting a little harder. Quoting such a passage cannot capture how a tiny story might illuminate a childhood, both as lived and as remembered, while revealing a family’s culture and scars.

Though the cover claims to hold “Flash Fictions,” fiction and memoir must overlap in shifting Venn diagrams. Most of the stories unfold in the first person and include details and subject matter that mirror Chinquee’s own biography. She grew up on a farm in Wisconsin; she served in the air force. She’s an athlete, a parent, and surely a dog lover. But while I am not certain how many—if any—of the 46 short pieces might be essays, perhaps it does not matter. Whatever the genre, the stories feel true.

It is humbling to see how many words I have needed—so many more than Chinquee might have—and to what end? I have managed to describe only one reader’s experience of her work. Best to toss the stones yourself, to see what stirs before they settle.

Kim Chinquee‘s book Snowdog is her seventh collection. Her novel Pipette was published in Fall 2022, and her novel Battle Dress will be published in 2023. She is senior editor of New World Writing, and an associate professor of English at SUNY-Buffalo State.
Beret Olsen is a writer, artist, and part-time insomniac, as well as the photo editor for 100 Word Story. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, two teens, and a grubby, gopher-munching dog.

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