Get a Grip
by Kathy Flann
Texas Review Press, 2015
You walk into a bookstore, unsure what you’re looking for. You know you don’t want the new John Grisham or a young adult werewolf, but what exactly you need is up in the air. The old you would know, but you haven’t been feeling quite like yourself. You haven’t been speaking your own language and when you try to explain, your tongue trips and you fall silent. It’s been a weird couple of days.
While you’re looking around the bookstore, plucking titles that sound interesting and setting them back after a few seconds’ glance, you find a book of short stories with a title that, besides being shared by last-gasp Aerosmith, sounds right to you. Get A Grip, the book says and you do. The book feels right in your hand; the author, Kathy Flann, sounds safe, like she knows what she’s talking about.
You open the book. Inside are short stories filled with protagonists who are lost, confused, unable to speak the language of their own hearts. Some of them speak in the 2nd person, addressing you, the reader, because they know that you too share these secret fears. It’s so easy to mess up the 2nd, you’re leery. But no, the choice makes sense.
You too are lost in life. You too have forgotten the roadmap to your inner heart. You too are exploring the options out there in the world, how to put together the jigsaw that is your desire. You decide that Kathy Flann is talking to you, even though you know it can’t be true, it’s just that she’s that good at uncovering those universal truths. Where are you going? Why aren’t you there? What are you waiting for?
You decide to purchase the book and bring it up to the counter. The cashier winks because your grasp on Get A Grip is white-knuckled. The cashier pretends to know what’s inside, because that’s what cashiers do: they pretend that every purchase is a good one. You know this, and you’re ok with the deception, because in this case, your inkling is correct.
Inside, there are hikers whose car has been stolen and must make a detour with a pot-smoking boyfriend. There are 40-year olds who have gone through too many significant others and don’t understand why they can’t make a relationship last over a year. There are brothers, one on the cusp of greatness, the other unsure how he can make it without his sibling. These are stories that are relatable and true, despite their necessary fiction.
Kathy Flann writes about Baltimore; all of the characters inside of Get A Grip know Baltimore and breathe it. They might not represent the whole of the city—Baltimore contains multitudes after all—but the subsection that they capture are represented well. They are well off, they are dissatisfied with their success, they are alienated from their family, their friends and themselves. When you read these characters’ stories, you know that Flann knows her audience well.
Not all of the stories speak to you, but that isn’t the fault of the stories, nor is it your fault. You know there are many who would love the story of two rival meteorologists, lost in their own worlds and full of muted respect and undiluted jealousy. You know also that this person isn’t you. But you can still glean so much from this tale of wasted life and ambition, of how the protagonist has finally, at the end of his chain, gained a certain understanding of the world and his place in it. Even the stories that don’t quite work for you, still work. That’s a sign that something is deeply right.
When you’re finished Get A Grip, you wonder if you truly know how to speak the language of your soul. You spend time thinking about the choices you’ve made, the choices you’ve failed to make, why you have or have not made them. Are you content? Do you just think you are? These are big questions, bigger than you’re prepared to answer, but you’re grateful that a book of short fiction can get you to even think them. You feel melancholy, like your heart has a toothache, but also hopeful. Melanhope. It’s a new feeling.
Feeling something, anything after a read is a success. When the thoughts and dreams of fictional souls stays with you long after the book is shelved is more than that. You know this, Kathy Flann knows this, and you find yourself gazing at the stars when the world is asleep around you, wondering if you too are writ in their flickering.