On Chelsea Stickle’s Everything’s Changing

Chelsea Stickle
Paperback | 41 Pages 
First Edition | $11.99
Thirty West Publishing (January 13, 2023) | BUY HERE

I’ve got a little confession to make. I haven’t been the biggest fan of flash fiction lately. As my own writing has shifted to expansion rather than compression, to sitting with the same characters and stories longer, I have also been pulled in my reading choices. Everything has changed. I stepped down as Managing Editor of New Flash Fiction so those more in love with flash fiction could give the care it deserved. So, when I got the opportunity for an Advanced Review Copy of Chelsea Stickle’s ‘Everything’s Changing’, from Thirty West Publishing House, I wasn’t sure what to do. 

Lucky for me, I chose to read it. These twenty pieces, dedicated to everyone who got called “weird” like it was a bad thing, are a great representative of the things to love about the flash fiction form. Along with the strength of the individual pieces, there is a collective quality to the book as well: a profound and poetic examination of transformation, of change, of the moves the world makes from positive charge to negative, from negative to positive, of a chaos where you can’t even determine the charge, of deconstruction, of devolution. 

The first story is a good instructor in how to maneuver through the world of this book. Stickle often uses the blend of realism and surrealism as the best way to force change and examine the consequences of transformation. “Worship What Keeps You Alive” starts with a very real scenario of a family seeking bathtub shelter from a storm. To cope with the crisis, the narrator’s sister Gretchen wants to hear stories.

“Gretchen wants to hear ghost stories. Stories about what will happen to us. Stories about the undying. Dad tells a story about a man with a hook for a hand. Mom says everyone dies, even ghosts meet an end eventually, change is the only constant.”

Worship What Keeps You Alive p. 6

These sharp sentences are premonition-ing the book itself. Ala Amelia Gray’s book Threats, it damn near is a threat. Enter this world with courage. Change is the only constant. 

“Nothing important was ever really finished.”  

Hiss, Clack p.27

Sometimes the change starts before you even realize it. Sometimes change has already happened before the story even starts. With this first story, it starts when all the stories have been told, when the snacks have been eaten, but the storm has neither come nor passed. It is a threat hovering. The unknowable transformation that haunts them more than the lines between the living and the dead. Here the bathtub mushrooms take us from reality to surrealism and ensure the reader never takes their footing for granted. Somehow, we enter the Church of the Mushroom where “we’ve never been happier.” It is those four closing words of a small sentence in a super short story that show how much ground Stickle is capable of and interested in covering. There’s a threat in there too. We’ve never been happier. The hint inside that this might not be the truth. The hint that it might be. The hint that the degree of happiness can never be trusted.

It seems like a book about chaos could potentially be a book without hope. It could get lost in the one-sided nature of entropy: disorder. But in the face of these struggles where a boyfriend lassos the moon and pulls in a love too big to manage, where an awkward girl’s body awkwardly falls apart at a dinner party, where ghosts are bored (they miss the chaos, the beauty of the painful life), where marionettes are visions of the different instances and progressions of temporal change, where the lack of change can be as off putting as the speed of it all, there is the inevitable disorder but there still is hope. The human condition has an answer to entropy. Stickle’s characters work their asses off to find this hope and the beauty of life, but they find it.

“Once reunited the meat-bringers possessed a sense of wholeness. Like their slip sliding edges had firmed into place. When asked what happened, they could never quite explain what transformation had taken place, but it made everything a bit better.”  

Belly Full of Witch’s Stew p.28

“Letdowns lead to meltdowns and there’s nothing like the warmth of nostalgia when ice reality threatens frostbite.”

Jesse McCartney Wants You and Your Beautiful Soul p. 29

The heart of fiction, compressed or not, short or long, is that it Entertains, it Informs, it Connects. In today’s high in content/low in attention universe, does the work land with the reader? Does it stand out as something fresh, does it hit home, do its signals make their way through the interference? 

This requires a two-party contract be honored. The writer and the reader. The only thing the writer can do for the second party is give their best effort and reasonably place themselves in the seat of the reader. This requires a double empathy of being able to remove your “self” and assume the “self” of the reader. There must be a lot of different ways to do this, but honesty, heart, and a reflection bigger than the telling of a story are magical ingredients for sure. 

Chelsea Stickle’s Everything’s Changing deftly pulls off this magic trick. 

The magic of this contract is the realization that someone feels like we do. Everything is changing. It’s not just you. You’re not weird like that’s a bad thing. You’re weird because we all are. Because the world is. Life is. From the Big Bang to whatever it’s doing on its eventual way out. From the weird probability of it being our time to be alive. This way, right now, but not this way, forever. There’s nothing weirder than that. It’s difficult and it’s chaotic. It’s real and it’s surreal. It’s beautiful.

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