Buzzed Books #98 by Bethany Duvall
Jasmine Sawers’ The Anchored World: Flash Fairy Tales and Folklore
The title story of Jasmine Sawers’ The Anchord World, Flash Fairy Tales and Folklore suggests that the book is for those of us condemned to live in this world, where heroes don’t have sharp enough wits or weapons to bring down the monsters, but where the monsters easily veil their secret and awful power. Our tales have betrayed us into thinking we can win, the Western ones, anyway. The lore from Southeast Asia that weaves through bits of the book poses an honest warning—the big monster always wins—but like so many other things, this voice often drowns amidst the giant-slayer stories of the West.
Sawers’ stories delve into the rhythms and brokenness, modern and ancient, of living in a world where we need story and where stories feed us false hope. They explore the spaces that cruelty and smaller injustices drive us to seek story in the first place: the exhaustion the moon must feel at the responsibility of keeping the tides, the recent and white fascination with DNA tests, the betrayals of mothers, and of course, the broken heart.
But so many other pieces this collection peer into the dark corners of what must be if the world of fairytales exists at all. It is not a book of retellings—empathy for the villain, the unexamined pettiness of the hero. Sawers’ morsels of fairy- and folk-lore fill the gaps left by the old stories. Collectively, they explore the uncomfortable truths that must exist if the old stories are to hold together: a cottage industry of poisoned apples, the way a mother can twist herself into believing hunger for power is love to justify the butchering that makes a shoe fit, the disadvantages of trying to get an heir (or anything) off a woman delicate enough of feel a pea beneath a stack of mattresses.
While Western stories dominate, it’s the goats and the yaks, the big monsters from Thai and other Southeast Asian stories, along with the deliberately chosen font, that lend teeth to these tales. There’s more truth in the thorns here than the swords that might swing through them. Even the simple list of homes where a gnome and a sasquatch may live (a take on a take on Cinderella) explores the challenge of East and West meeting in any way that could make a satisfying home together – a home that wouldn’t need story to staunch the wound.
These pieces are short—you can gobble each one in a matter of minutes. The cover identifies them as flash, and many are micro fiction. Nearly all are shorter than this review. But the length of each story is as deceptive as the hope offered by the wits and weapons that appear for our tiny heroes while, in the background, orchards of pre-poisoned apples grow and mothers swallow their children. Each story haunts. Each story reverberates the weight and space of a much longer work, possibly because each story draws on our whole history of stories while sitting quietly in the corner, waiting for us to notice that it’s always been there.
Bethany DuVall likes a touch of magic with her reality. Her characters live on the borders where seen and unseen worlds meet. Her fiction and personal essays mix history and mental health with the sloppy tangibles of life. Bethany is also a visual artist, a certified therapeutic art life coach, and a Department Chair for the Creative Writing BFA program at Full Sail University. You can see more of her work at www.bethanyduvall.com.