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Ashley Farmer

Ashley Farmer is the author of the poetry collection The Women (Civil Coping Mechanisms, forthcoming 2016), the story collection Beside Myself (PANK/Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014), and the chapbook Farm Town (Rust Belt Bindery, 2012). A former editor for publications like Atomica Magazine, Salt Hill Journal and others, she currently serves as a managing editor for Juked. Ashley resides in Louisville, Kentucky, where she's at work on both a nonfiction project and a fiction collaboration with her husband, Ryan Ridge.

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Beside Myself

I Am Beside Myself

11/06/14

Recommender’s Note: I haven’t read a whole lot of microfiction in printed, collected form. For the most part, what I’ve read in this genre — or in short shorts, flash fiction, whatever you’re calling it today — has come through digital media, through an online lit mag or journal’s website. Ideal in the digital space, microfiction is short enough to read ‘like a poem’ (obvious generalization) but feels a lot more like reading a short story without putting in the time commitment — something I can’t always be bothered to do online. But what happens when the microfiction is taken out of its natural habitat and collected in a printed volume? PANK sent me a copy of Ashley Farmer’s book of microfictions, Beside Myself. This is what I thought about while reading it. . . .

I remember the first time I read Jo Randerson’s microfiction. I was on a bus, probably going to the job I held at the time as an after school carer in Thorndon, a neighborhood in Wellington. Thorndon is past the CBD, but only just, and sometimes in winter if I was feeling rushed or it was raining hard I would take the bus to get there, but Wellington is small and the bus ride from the bottom of Courtenay Place to the final stop at the train station is only about 15 minutes long. Anyway, I remember reading Jo’s book The Spit Children on the bus a couple of times that week and getting through four or five stories, maybe more, just in that bus ride. The first time or two I did this, I’d get out of the bus and be thinking about the last story I read, or maybe the most vibrant one, but never all of them. I’d lose at least 80% of what I read pretty much right after I’d read it. And it wasn’t just bus rides that would do this to me; it would happen any time I picked up Jo’s book.

Eventually, I started reading each story two, three, four times right in a row, back to back to back. If I was on the bus, I would spend the whole bus ride on just one or two stories. This was better, but I still wasn’t remembering everything. What was the problem? I wanted more from the worlds of the stories, more on the page, more from my imagination, more more. But it simply wasn’t there. I wasn’t going to find it because it wasn’t there for me to take. If I want to think about The Spit Children now, I go back to the book on my shelf. I can’t carry it around with me in my mind like I can with the stories from The Lottery or, The Adventures of James Harris, another short story collection I read and loved that same year. The Spit Children wasn’t meant to be read in the same way as The Lottery.

Microfiction isn’t meant to be mentally carried. In the way Google has taken the place of my childhood obsession with memorization, pocket-sized microfictions endeavor to remove my desire to preserve fictional worlds in my mind. I still carry my first impressions of Jane Eyre (age 15), The Secret Garden (age 8), King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub and He Won’t Get Out (age 3), despite the decades separating me from them. But there is a certain luxury in the microfiction: a back pocket-sized book meant to be picked up and carried with you like an external hard drive for your brain. Read Parker Tettleton or Lydia Davis and you’ll see what I mean. Stop thinking about it like a longer narrative, and the attraction grows.

Pick up almost any Tiny Hardcore Press title and not only will you feel this change in your brain as you read, you’ll feel it immediately in the shape of the book in your hand. These books are small and square, perfectly tailored to fit in your pants or your coat. The stories inside are a little bit weird and a little bit relatable. Ashley Farmer’s Beside Myself is no exception; her stories contain quick flashes of horror and siblings, relationships and occasional creatures from the black lagoon. They sit comfortably between xTx’s Normally Special and Brandi Wells’ Please Don’t Be Upset, filling equally important spaces in the external hard drive I now carry as a part of myself.

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