“Outside, stretched out on the grass beneath the cooling canopy of a willow and staring up at the seafoam sky” is precisely how I felt reading Andrena Zawinski’s Plumes and Other Flights of Fancy (Writing Knights Press, 2022).
“And that’s a true story—well, almost.”
Consisting of 31 flash fictions/memoirs, each piece is ripe with detail, beautifully constructed, and fills the soul with a sweet (and sometimes sour) taste of reminiscence. Zawinski seems to want readers to understand life for how it is, but to also push through the clouds to see what it could be. With just the first sentence, Zawinski propels the reader into another scene, another time, another world, her world:
From “Wayward:” It was already 108 degrees when Valentina and I were dropped at the 5th and Juárez bus stop after an hour’s ride from Cancún to Playa del Carmen. From “Cherie:” “How’s t’day’s gumbo, chérie?” he said in a low Louisiana drawl, leaning over from his table toward hers. From “Lights Out:” The red wine must be getting to my head because I find myself alone and scribbling in the dark in Paris. From “Woodstock:” We stuck out our thumbs at the nearest highway entrance to leave Yasgur’s Farm. From “The Diamond Cutter’s Daughter:” Rachel’s father died young, but her elderly Rabbi grandfather survived him and the Holocaust, faded numbers tattooed on his wrist he made no effort to hide. From “Bella Mia:” Alegria lived small like most college students, her only indulgence a rowboat she’d rescued and restored that she would toss into Sarasota Bay.
With this collection, you never know where you’ll end up as Zawinski takes her readers on a combination of homey and extraordinary locations. One may find themselves in small-town America watching an ignorant father mentally abuse his child, or in a metropolis city bar where there’s plenty of booze but not seating, or in a delivery room with a tuxedo-dressed doctor, or along a European road where you’ll meet an unsuspecting shoe thief in the next.
And with every location comes some new lesson, implication, or hard truth. Zawinski is gifted at threading her stories with these revelations, often presenting them at the end: “This story is about finding a way.” “All of us crossing boundaries.” “You were only waiting for this moment to be free.” “Gone, but now less afraid of extinction by hook, line, and sinker than by the pink
plastic bag.” “She was last seen wearing her Sunday best, not walking on the road to church, but barefoot along the path toward the roses at the coal drifts, all their petals laced with black dust.” “Let’s keep this between the two of us, a secret.” There are no shortages of these simple, yet powerful messages in this collection, and I guarantee readers will reevaluate their past, present, and future while on their journey with Plumes and Other Flights of Fancy as I have.
Even though each piece is undeniably its own, Zawinski nails what it means to curate a collection—diverse, yet cohesive. Each story dropped me off in a new place, yet I felt that all of the speakers could be one and the same—and turns out they were—and that their overarching goal was to impart some new truths while reminding me to heed timeless warnings. As Zawinski threw different adventures at me back-to-back, not once did I feel any sort of disconnect—and that was before I became aware that these stories were reflections of Zawinski’s life. As I’ve done with Plumes and Other Flights of Fancy, I’ll pick up a book and ignore the synopsis so that any pre-judgments or expectations will not mar my overall view of an author’s work. As a result, I found the pieces captivating, but then to discover they were inspired by the author’s life? Depth. This depth is the seasoning in any Mexican dish, the perfectly wrapped bow around a present at Christmas, the café au lait in a French coffee shop; the one thing that makes the collection perfecto, perfect, parfait. This is what I treasure most in a writer’s work and I know that special connection to the author, not just their words, will resonate with readers. This is what makes Zawinski’s collection truly valuable.
I realized from the beginning that Zawinski crafts all of her stories with a style that allows her to set the stage quickly without feeling hurried. From the plot to the characters to the overall essence, Zawinski pours life into all three without catering more to one over another. And at any given moment, you’ll most assuredly find yourself relating to the speaker, the situations they’ve been thrown into, or both. If by some strange phenomenon neither happens, then Zawinski will still have succeeded in brightening (or darkening) someone’s world. In this way, she truly brings something to the gate that everyone will be eager to line up for.
As I neared the end of Plumes and Other Flights of Fancy, I found myself saying no. No to the inevitable end of the story, of saying goodbye to the people I’ve met, loved, or hated, and goodbye to all of the places Zawinski has invited me to. But I must go with the critique that I’m sorry to see my flight end. I can only hope that Zawinski invites us all for another ride very soon.
Eden Stiger is a Kentucky-bred, Ohio-living college undergraduate who recently received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from the University of Findlay. She is the current poetry editor and layout editor for the literary magazine Slippery Elm. When the day job and fantasy novel aren’t fighting for her attention, she can be found snuggled on the couch with a book in her hand, playing The Sims at her computer desk, or spending time with her hubby and sweet kitty.
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