thechapbookreview

Burning Down the House: On Elizabeth Ellen’s A Thousand & One Others, Yes

A Thousand & One Others, Yes

By Elizabeth Ellen

Mud Luscious Press

ISBN13: 9781161756975
ISBN10: 1161756973

Burning Down the House: On Elizabeth Ellen’s A Thousand & One Others, Yes

By Nicolle Elizabeth

Elizabeth Ellen’s A Thousand & One Others, Yes out on Mud Luscious Press, (which I like to refer to as “doer of awesome things” press), gave me a papercut. Perhaps the chap itself should be considered a weapon. A weapon which can be brandished at ghouls, and naysayers, old ghosts. Elizabeth Ellen, deputy editor of Hobart and author of Before You She Was a Pitbull (Future Tense) and Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix (Rose Metal Press), is in a class by herself; and I don’t mean a wrestling class, which would be weightier than mine, because she is like four hundred feet tall and looks like she should be Miss America and could kick my midget ass. I mean she is in a wordsmith class on a divine level. This writer can write. It’s a damn concerto, and me being silly isn’t really doing it justice, lets talk shop:

There is a very direct, very planned choice to work with specific consonants in all of Ellen’s work. Her sentences generate a staccato energy from her apt use of patterning letters: “lit matchstick…instantaneous…impact…heat.” She opts for a landscape devoid of contractions. “Does not” dances for “doesn’t,” which is why use the “&” instead of “and” was a surprisingly artful call. Through this harsh staccato spittle, we have a flowing, downward curving symbol. Signifying the combination of two. Ellen’s deliberate minimalism converges with the complicated situation she has woven from the first sentence. Her skill set is alive here: its obvious she has been digging toward dawn. She tosses mud over her shoulder, looks up at us from the muck and says, “Now, watch this.”

The premise: two kids living in a dump, literally. Bonded by what we grown-ups who grew up with not a lot would call “bein’ trashy.” The boy in the work is subject to the general ridicule that comes with adolescence, and the girl is treated as wallpaper by everyone around her. The girl sits under the boy’s window, and the boy carries soap with him in his pocket and washes his hands until they’re bleeding—he “cannot bear the risk of unfiltered words.” While the girl is sitting under his window, the boy will take this soap he carries in his pocket and he will shove it into the girl’s mouth and he will say to her without speaking, “this is not who you are. Have you forgotten?” If you’re a writer, or a reader, or both, this sentiment is the sort of nourishment you get out of bed for. Pardon my layperson’s terminology here, but that shit is bonkers.

A Thousand & One Others, Yes is reminiscent of Mark Richard’s “Strays” from his collection Ice at the Bottom of the World. “Strays” uses varying degrees of symbol simultaneously. Three plates spinning together adding momentum toward one singular hurricane vortex, as in Ellen’s work. In Richard’s, two boys are living impoverished in the South while their mother has run to hide in cornfields. Their drunken uncle has taken over their house. Richard dots the story with metaphor. There are stray dogs running under the house, which has leaking pipes the dogs come to for water; there are windows without screens, which are open while there’s shouting. These symbols return throughout this short short, turn on a new angle to illuminate the shadows into the cornfields, different, stronger each time, but always starting from the same place. The boy and the girl in Ellen’s story ride a school bus together: the school bus feels like it’s somehow pointing toward the trajectory of their fate. This Shakespearean duo are victims of their own hands and perhaps of circumstance, but it is ultimately the choices they make which are the crux of Ellen’s work. The crux perhaps is what someone once said to me of the short: “Stories are about the way people miss one another.” Double the meaning of the word “miss” there. The girl has sacrificed herself by seeing toward the boy and the boy has sacrificed himself, and the girl, by trying, albeit violently and perversely, for a new life, and an inability to communicate to the girl what he is trying to say and do, or perhaps he is just trying to have some kind of control as to where the metaphorical school bus is pointing them, and where they stand in the garbage. We are watching the bus, the garbage, the fires, the school, whether literal or symbolic, from Ellen’s perch like a crow on a wire. The girl (some will argue, has been killed by the soap in her mouth, and some will argue hasn’t) slumps forward in her chair while the boy warms his hands over the trash he has ignited next to her body, and says, among other things, “there is still plenty of time for us.” I’ll tell you who there’s still time for: Elizabeth Ellen.

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A Thousand & One Others, Yes

By Elizabeth Ellen

Mud Luscious Press

ISBN13: 9781161756975
ISBN10: 1161756973

Burning Down the House: On Elizabeth Ellen’s A Thousand & One Others, Yes

By Nicolle Elizabeth

Elizabeth Ellen’s A Thousand & One Others, Yes out on Mud Luscious Press, (which I like to refer to as “doer of awesome things” press), gave me a papercut. Perhaps the chap itself should be considered a weapon. A weapon which can be brandished at ghouls, and naysayers, old ghosts. Elizabeth Ellen, deputy editor of Hobart and author of Before You She Was a Pitbull (Future Tense) and Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix (Rose Metal Press), is in a class by herself; and I don’t mean a wrestling class, which would be weightier than mine, because she is like four hundred feet tall and looks like she should be Miss America and could kick my midget ass. I mean she is in a wordsmith class on a divine level. This writer can write. It’s a damn concerto, and me being silly isn’t really doing it justice, lets talk shop:

There is a very direct, very planned choice to work with specific consonants in all of Ellen’s work. Her sentences generate a staccato energy from her apt use of patterning letters[M1] : “lit matchstick…instantaneous…impact…heat.” She opts for a landscape devoid of contractions. “Does not” dances for “doesn’t,” which is why use the “&” instead of “and” was a surprisingly artful call. Through this harsh staccato spittle, we have a flowing, downward curving symbol. Signifying the combination of two. Ellen’s deliberate minimalism converges with the complicated situation she has woven from the first sentence. Her skill set is alive here: its obvious she has been digging toward[M2] through dawn. She tosses mud over her shoulder, looks up at us from the muck and says, “Now, watch this.”

The premise: two kids living in a dump, literally. Bonded by what we grown-ups who grew up with not a lot would call “bein’ trashy.” The boy in the work is subject to the general ridicule that comes with adolescence, and the girl is treated as wallpaper by everyone around her. The girl sits under the boy’s window, and the boy carries soap with him in his pocket and washes his hands until they’re bleeding—he “cannot bear the risk of unfiltered words.” While the girl is sitting under his window, the boy will take this soap he carries in his pocket and he will shove it into the girl’s mouth and he will say to her without speaking, “this is not who you are. Have you forgotten?” If you’re a writer, or a reader, or both, this sentiment is the sort of nourishment you get out of bed for. Pardon my layperson’s terminology here, but that shit is bonkers.

A Thousand & One Others, Yes is reminiscent of Mark Richard’s “Strays” from his collection Ice at the Bottom of the World. “Strays” uses varying degrees of symbol simultaneously. Three plates spinning together adding momentum toward one singular hurricane vortex, as in Ellen’s work. In Richard’s, two boys are living impoverished in the South while their mother has run to hide in cornfields. Their drunken uncle has taken over their house. Richard dots the story with metaphor. There are stray dogs running under the house, which has leaking pipes the dogs come to for water; there are windows without screens, which are open while there’s shouting. These symbols return throughout this short short, turn on a new angle to illuminate the shadows into the cornfields, different, stronger each time, but always starting from the same place. The boy and the girl in Ellen’s story ride a school bus together: the school bus feels like it’s somehow pointing toward the trajectory of their fate. This Shakespearean duo are victims of their own hands and perhaps of circumstance, but it is ultimately the choices they make which are the crux of Ellen’s work. The crux perhaps is what someone once said to me of the short: “Stories are about the way people miss one another.” Double the meaning of the word “miss” there. The girl has sacrificed herself by seeing toward the boy and the boy has sacrificed himself, and the girl, by trying, albeit violently and perversely, for a new life, and an inability to communicate to the girl what he is trying to say and do, or perhaps he is just trying to have some kind of control as to where the metaphorical school bus is pointing them, and where they stand in the garbage. We are watching the bus, the garbage, the fires, the school, whether literal or symbolic, from Ellen’s perch like a crow on a wire. The girl (some will argue, has been killed by the soap in her mouth, and some will argue hasn’t) slumps forward in her chair while the boy warms his hands over the trash he has ignited next to her body, and says, among other things, “there is still plenty of time for us.” I’ll tell you who there’s still time for: Elizabeth Ellen.


[M1]Please help me understand what this means.

[M2]Toward what?

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