“Black Pants,” Patti Bunkins

Midway through her most recent text message, Patti Bunkins outshines even herself. There's no living author with a better take on the “excruciating telegram” style of mom text messages.

“Hi – Forgot to tell you used Kohl's gift card to buy 3 pairs black pants on sale. Forgot if you watch The Good Wife but nurse from ER is on there. Forgot why I was texting you hahahahahahaha. Oh yeah, black pants! Not jeans.”

By challenging her readers to follow her stream of consciousness down the murky path of memory, and leaving most of her nouns unmodified, she both celebrates and defies the conventions of literature and grammar. 4 stars.

“Retirement,” Deb Matucci

Observe fan-favorite Deb Mattuci as she improves upon her own proven calling card: lead-burying.

“Went for a walk yesterday to enjoy WARM but not HOT weather. Saw a Heron and a Robin, possibly 2 robins?! One seemed MEAN. Did a dry felting craft with Grandma!!! Like wet felting but less glue. Maybe we’ll sell them at the farmer’s market! [laughing emoji]. Didn't want 2 forget 2 tell you I've decided 2 retire at the end of this school year and move 2 California with Bob. Guess it maybe was a LITTLE hot yesterday but BooBoo still loved going to the park to see his other DOGGY FRIENDS [cartwheel emoji] [fire emoji] TTFN [12 heart emojis]”

The poignant subtext seems to whisper, ”you’ll never catch me” as she muses about the commodification of art and the conflict between humans and the natural world. We never see the hammer before it falls, and we’re left wondering whether it really fell or was all a dream. 4.5 stars.

“The Mole,” Donna Chavert

By eschewing traditional notions of punctuation and adding her own where least expected, Donna Chavert gives us emotional whiplash as we attempt to follow her thematic thrust.

“Guess whos going to “the lake” soon??? Its us!!! Lol hehe… How is Ben. Ive been thinking about that mole on his foot I think its probably fine but Diane could “check it out” on Sunday at lunch….whatever it is lets get it fixed b4 u bring him to the lake if u do end up coming….open toed shoes etc!!! Remind me to tell u about “lunch”…lol hehe…lol hehe”

As the characters undulate into focus and her pauses force us to face her real meaning, the jagged rhythm of the prose sweeps over the reader like a tide of nostalgia. This had me thinking back to the intercalary chapters of The Grapes of Wrath, or a scratched mix CD, or a stroke. 4 stars.

“hjKsj9en,” Carol Berkowitz

Carol Berkowitz has perfected the art of tricking the reader into assuming she ran out of battery and/or is being mugged, by stopping mid-thought or sending jumbled nonsense. Or better yet, both.

“Meant to tell you heard funniest story from Kathy did I tell you what happened to the gap at the mall at the mall hjKsjn9en.”

This could have played out with more suspense, to be sure. That said, with this one line she managed to both shake this reader to her core and dismantle the myth of the American Sentence. 3.5 stars.

“Grandpa,” Brenda Filber

Alternately, Brenda Filber opts for an ending truly befitting the Queen of the Dramatic Twist:

“Do you want me to send black boots I found in yr bedroom? [Shoe emoji] How about new Christmas socks? [Christmas tree emoji] Going to the post office soon so let me know and I can pack along with other treats [wink face emoji] Can't wait to see you in 3 wks! [party horn emoji]

PS Grandpa is in the hospital visitors not allowed. Can’t get through to him so who knows?? [old man emoji] [hospital emoji] [shrugging emoji] xoxo”

Not since Lynn Furman’s “Aunt Nancy (SO SAD)” has an epilogue been so chilling, and not since Dracula or The Color Purple has an author proven herself so in command of the epistolary form. 5 stars.

“Airport Pickup,” Anne Lombard

“Let me know when you land. Can't wait to see you!”

Anne perplexed us all with this one. 1 star.


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