‘Queen’ by Amina Cain

A quilt of objects, layers, and gaps, ‘Queen’ is an anti-drama of monotony and dirt in the small and stagnant world of hotel chambermaids. Cain’s abrupt, often fragmentary sentences which insist upon their nouns, sometimes consisting only of nouns, stitch together a static drama of things, one beside the other and another and another in an assemblage that is perfectly contingent. There are human things and nonhuman things. They are nonhierarchical. People and objects have the same ontological and dramatic status, the same ability or lack thereof to move the plot. You could almost say nouns are the plot, a plot picked out in disconnected dots. Their separation, the space between—in that silence is the drama. For in this encounter between things, which isn’t at all obliged to happen the way it happens, bodies and roles and backstories and identities slip-slide into each other. Forms are exchanged. Relationships quietly light up the silences and become meaning in potentia. A juxtaposition suggests an unnecessary connection which suggests another and another till the story leaves its world: ‘Queen’ ends with Cain’s prose-objects side by side with a quotation from Clarice Lispector.

A quotation from Cain: “Objects. The tiny cameo necklace my grandmother gave me. Something Marguerite gives me, on paper. Keep it in your pocket, she says. I touch a wall. Make dinner for Marguerite. Eat quietly. A lamp on the wooden table. An album with sounds of geese, and then wolves howling. Eight o’clock . . . Overcast sky. Painting of a river scene, children with kites.”

Collected in Creature, Dorothy Project, 2013

‘I will Force This’ by Amina Cain

Cain’s story collection Creature has a curious effect on me; it seems to act like a kind of balm on my soul every time I dip in and out of it, and I can’t quite work out how this happens. I suppose it’s something to do with the quietude at the heart of it, settings of rooms, moments of rippling, but never overly dramatic interaction. But I think perhaps it is her skill at endings. This story begins with the narrator in a state of tension over their writing (the forcing of the title). She is invited to write out a text of hers on the wall of an art gallery and duly begins this painstaking work. The act of writing is a springboard for her thoughts on writing and self-performance, self-construction with words and deeds, while also managing to allude to the woman of The Yellow Wallpaper, made mad by her prevention from writing, her loss of self. An essential theme as you might guess is the meta nature of writing within writing:

“Here, I have put a hungry, abject woman on the wall for you to ponder; a woman who still feels pleasure. If you read part of this text, you’ll only know a little about her. If you read all of this text, you’ll still only know a little about her.”

And now here I admit that the story is just a little over 1,200 words, so not a flash at all, but broken up into a few sections and with all the air that seems between each paragraph it appears to me to function as much as a flash. This will not be the only piece that is arguable. And yet, because of the after-effect of her writing, I don’t feel any anxiety about length or rule-breaching – now, if you read it, do you?

(From Creature, The Dorothy Project. Read online at Real Pants)