A collection of short stories structured as lyric
vignettes, Cydney Chadwick’s Flesh and Bone
develops the slightly offbeat characters of Chadwick's fictional world. Each of the characters has a strange fixation or trait that separates them from others, but which is also familiar—the stories are frequently written in the second person, referencing a “you” or a “we,” that implicates the reader in the actions of these strange, sometimes grotesque characters. Chadwick focuses less on plot and more on developing characters and atmospheres that convey a world similar to our own.
The first story in the collection, “Irritants,” follows a single man with a comfortable life. He has a good job with a high-paying salary, no family other than himself to worry about, and a cat to keep him company. From the outside, it seems he should be deeply happy with his life, but over the course of the story, Chadwick reveals not only the man's many frustrations and discomforts but also his inability to acknowledge them. As a huge number of things in his life become irritants, he refuses to handle or acknowledge them, slowly becoming increasingly resentful of his surroundings and the people in them.
The narrator of this story isn't plagued by anything too profoundly upsetting, or so the reader is lead to believe. His pains are common—he plays tennis every week against a woman who is too good and who makes him feel inferior. He often gets cat hair in his eyes, and his cat bites him and uses his shoes as a litter box. The man is also irritated by the many social situations that force him to agree to things he doesn't really believe are true, for the sake of social convention. Despite these struggles, the man cannot admit he really has a problem—if he gets rid of his cat, for instance, he will be the kind of person who abandons animals. If he gets another tennis partner, then he has to admit he has a problem with women. The man's inability to admit to these flaws in his own view of the world causes him extreme discomfort, but to address them, he has to change his whole worldview.
Other stories are similar in that, while realistic, they have an off-kilter spin. One character sneaks into churches at night in order to find a more personal relationship with a god she often questions. Others return to childhood homes and have to grapple with the strange distance that forms between the self and memories of childhood after aging.
In “An Adolescence,” the startling and crushingly real spirit of chauvinism greets a young female narrator and her friends when they enter a bookstore and an older man takes up conversation with them. Initially, the man suggests they don't talk about lofty topics like art, but the narrator divulges that she loves art and talking about it on a high level. This seems to anger the man, who becomes increasingly enraged as the chat goes on. Eventually, he becomes aggressive and follows the girls out to their car. They are forced to flee, unsure what happened to make the man so upset and violent.
Young girls are the narrators again in “Hangman,” this time acting as forces of violence against each other. In this story, girls are split into two groups—those who act like women, wearing make-up and developing breasts, and those who still act like children. The girls who act like women spend their time knocking each other down in the dirt at recess and shouting derogatory names at each other, mimicking what they believe to be the behavior of older women.
Cydney Chadwick, a third-generation California writer, is the author of eleven books. She worked as the editor of Avec books for many years, publishing short story collections and books in translation. She has received a number of awards for her work—Flesh and Bone
won the Independent Publisher Book Award in 2002. Chadwick's other titles include Periplum
and Cut and Run
, among others.