Taking Flight with Andrena Zawinski: A Review of PLUMES and Other Flights of Fancy
By Corinne Shearer
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Andrena Zawinski’s PLUMES and Other Flights of Fancy, out with Writing Knights Press, is a collection of flash fiction stories which are just what you want them to be. These are bite-sized dramas and slice-of-life scenes on which to snack, here and there, or gorge yourself.
While the stories are not exactly connected with one another, they share common traits: female friendships and romance, writing, travel. It is perhaps because of the focus on women in Plumes that the threat of violence hangs about many of the stories. In this collection, it’s a woman’s world, but men poke in at the periphery, often with sinister intentions. Among Zawinski’s catalogue of creeps are good-for-nothin’ ex-boyfriends, dopey party-crashers, sleazy club owners, and the like. The heroes, by contrast, are insightful, ordinary women, doing what they want in spite of such threats: loving and looking out for one another, seeing and writing their worlds– which include everywhere from Rehoboth Beach to Paris, from Cancún to Pennsylvania, though Zawinski displays a real knack for depicting small-town Americana.
Zawinski’s background as a poet shows in her punchy, precise prose; no word is wasted and each story is packed with detail despite its brevity. (See for yourself, you can check out one of the stories included in Plumes previously published by OyeDrum, “In the Rainbow,” in our Open-Themed archive). Each story magically condenses the pleasures of a longer work into briefer form. In the title and opening story of the collection, for instance, Zawinski skillfully spins something like a dive-bar-whodunit from just a page and a half of prose, even managing a surprise ending.
Reading Plumes, one has the pleasant feeling that we are largely in the recent past: before the omnipresence of cell phones and internet service, when a one-night-stand might follow-up by letter, and when hitchhiking is still a sort of reasonable mode of travel. The absence of technology in these stories is no loss. Just as in real life, without the distraction of or easy gratification from technology, the characters feel more attentive and attuned to one another; the drama of even the most mundane human interactions is heightened. The lack of immediate access to information in these stories also reminds of how different things are when we are forced to sit with not-knowing– maybe being a little lost, maybe learning information too late, maybe having only our imagination to turn to. One remembers that these are the kinds of everyday lapses and mysteries that make a good story.
Every piece in this collection has a takeaway– though not always one you know what to do with. In many of these stories, characters confront sudden deaths. These losses are often muted in some way and not the focus of their respective tales; these are the kinds of deaths that just brush by the central character, such as that of an acquaintance or neighbor. Zawinski explores this feeling of being an onlooker to loss, the kind of grief one feels being outside the deceased’s immediate sphere. This kind of sadness, though it may lack virtuosity or intensity, is not without impact, and it is a feeling to which many of us can relate. In Plumes this feeling gets proper space; if not explicitly, it gets its due in the works’ emotional overtones.
Every piece in this collection also has a ‘button,’ as they say in showbiz – the song’s final beat, the dancer’s pose – the moment that tells the audience it’s time to applaud. Zawinski’s buttons, perhaps true to the flash fiction style, often tie up the story with a quick resolution or a moment of wry wit. In Plumes’ final story, Zawinski teases the reader with what feels like a hint of memoir: “I am a convicted eavesdropper,” confesses its narrator, a writer who gets their inspiration from listening in on and peeking into the lives of strangers, particularly in a donut shop. The stories in this collection cover such a broad range of locales and topics, one can’t help but imagine this as a confession from Zawinski herself. And yet as far-flung as these pieces and characters might seem, they feel grounded. All are pieces with heart, and Zawinski’s capable voice and careful craftsmanship carries her readers through.
Read Andrena Zawinski’s “In the Rainbows,” published on Oyedrum June 17th, 2020.