Little Feasts by Jules Archer

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Jules Archer is the author of the chapbook All the Ghosts We’ve Always Had, published by Thirty West and regularly publishes flash fiction in a variety of magazines.

This tiny collection of nineteen flash fictions features a ‘menu’ instead of a contents list and is focussed on tales of hunger, appetites and cravings. Many of the stories literally feature food: a woman earns money from Mukbang (broadcasting herself eating); women pass on a twenty-pound cast iron skillet as a family heirloom; a women starved as a child advertises for a chef to marry. Sometimes the hunger theme is more metaphorical and the cravings are for sex, revenge or power.

Each tale is written in the first person, narrated by a different woman. The women’s appetites are macabre, monstrous, inexplicable. ‘In-n-Out Doesn’t Have Bacon,’ opens ‘I know she fucked the tree,’ and details the relationship between a vegan plant-loving (literally) woman and her sister, who favours meat and men. In ‘Hard to Fit and Carry in a Trunk,’ Ginny is a fat but longs to be thin enough to be an object of desire, ‘a waif to sling into a van.’ She wants to be stalked, kidnapped, and stuffed in the boot of a trunk. Her favourite movie is The Silence of the Lambs. ‘Oh, Buffalo Bill, ye who likes them thick and large and juicy. Like steaks,’ she thinks. In ‘LA Gerry,’ a woman starts work in The Museum of Death, and begins an adulterous relationship with a regular visitor, who drives her past Sharon Tate’s old residence and asks her to call him Charlie. Little Feasts explores pop cultures enduring, fetishistic obsession with serial killers. Real life can be so dull, Archer suggests, that people want to star in their own film, preferably a horror or thriller for maximum excitement.

Many of the stories in Little Feasts are obviously inspired by true crime tales. These have a specifically American feel: suburban serial killers, religious cults, kidnappings, shotgun weddings in Reno and cowboys on motorbikes. ‘The Lie Tree’ and ‘Far Away from Everywhere’ have a very Southern Gothic feel to them, though most of the tales evoke dusty dessert landscapes, small towns and the seedy glamour of sprawling Los Angeles.

Archer has a lyrical voice and a feel for rhythm and pace, for building to the crux of the matter. She is especially visceral when describing the body and the things that can happen to it. In ‘We Will Set Anything on Fire,’ a voice box is ‘a pulpy orb in the moonlight.’ In ‘Cheap Tanya,’ Tanya ‘bit down on his bottom lip, fat like whale blubber. I felt the skin split.’

The narrators of Little Feasts might have extreme desires, but they are very matter of fact about it. You get the feeling that these are women in control, driven not by fear or self-pity, but only by the white-hot singularities of their appetites. They may have had terrible childhoods, but as the narrator of ‘Ice Cream Cone’ says, their memories ‘are not necessarily terribly bad because they remind you that you have faced worse things in life.’ Very often they get exactly what they want. Elizabeth was always hungry as child and ‘pictures being finger-fed a moist piece of wedding cake and letting the creamy frosting slip and slide across her tongue.’ When she marries Eddie the chef she gets more than her happy ending.  In ‘Garbage Girl,’ a woman finds the perfect husband in a tattoo artist, who cures her wild menstrual cycles by tattooing a friendly a tampon on her belly.

In classic fairy tales women are often punished for the mere act of wanting something – anything. So it felt good, even a little transgressive, to read this collection in which women might not want something socially acceptable, they might not even achieve their desires, but nevertheless, they want what they want.

Little Feasts is published by Thirty West and is available here.

Jules Archer

Jules Archer is the author of the chapbook, All the Ghosts We’ve Always Had (Thirty West Publishing, 2018) and the short story collection, Little Feasts (Thirty West Publishing, 2020). Her writing has appeared in various journals, including SmokeLong QuarterlyPankMaudlin House, and elsewhere. She lives in Arizona and looks for monsters in strange places.

Reviewed by Kate Tyte

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