Review: Show Her A Flower, A Bird, A Shadow by Peg Alford Pursell

By Nicholas Alexander Hayes

Peg Alford Pursell’s Show Her A Flower, A Bird, A Shadow lures the reader in with small wistful passages. They are wisps of prose that would seem to be easily consumed. Often I find flash fiction is gratifying like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. It is a pleasing combination of strong elements in a single tone. It is quickly consumed and quickly forgotten.

Pursell gives us similar proportions, but her work is not a saccharine, cloying, or emotive nibble. Instead her pieces are like a well-aged scotch. You could take each of these narratives as a shot but doing so would miss the point of slowly savoring the complexity. Getting the gist of these stories is of course pleasing, but it is really the combination of dry prose and quotidian emotional distress that make the collection compelling. She has an eye for creating images that are evocative, like a painter who can suggest the form of a woman with a single gestural line.

Each piece stands for itself, but the similarities are strong enough to make the collection feel like a cohesive collection. Of course, some stories seem less well placed like the 9-word story “How Things Are” or the epistolary story “Three Notes on Dear Miss _____________.” But in saying that, I am merely pulling at the rare loose threads in the collection.

Largely, Pursell has imbued these stories with a terse stoicism as she explores the lives of the middle and lower classes. These close stories find themselves in the inescapable gravity of personal relations. The question of contact is always at their core. But the relationships are often strained or in the process of dissolution or change. There is not a lot of hope but sufficient quantities of energy to move you from the blank expanse of one page to the next.

In the thin veins of text, she takes us into the domestic sphere. She reveals its complexity through glinting action. At times, she reveals horror and brutality. Her horror is not Lynchian excess but the more terrible restraint that we experience daily. Pursell’s short fictions for all of their amber color require a patient reader to understand how the honeyed-heather descriptions and burnt peat actions blend. Small sips provide us with a chance to savor something which in larger doses might overwhelm.

Show Her A Flower, A Bird, A Shadow
Peg Alford Pursell
ELJ Editions
ISBN 978-1942004288