In hush hush hush (Small Harbor Publishing), Audra Kerr Brown’s writing turns the mundane to horror.
This chapbook is a collection of Brown’s flash fiction, some of which has previously been published across journals and literary magazines over the years. Many of the stories contained within have won awards and been included in the editions of the Best Small Fictions anthology from 2018 and 2021.
The collection features stories that, while perfectly plausible, have an almost supernatural feeling to them. There is a nearly imperceptible layer of grotesqueness shared by all the narratives, as they explore themes of familial relationships. The understated dynamics between the characters — as well as the prose that border on the lyrical — both lend a spooky quality to the storytelling. Characters experience abandonment, abuse and displacement, often inflicted by those closest to them.
Each story explores a different kind of loss, whether that be loss of life, innocence, relationships or an ill-fated prosthetic leg named Royce. This theme of loss and the starkly beautiful quality that Brown’s writing possesses both achieve their greatest heights in the final story, titled “When the Pregnant Girls First Arrive at St. Eulalia’s Home for the Lost and Wayward.”
Each paragraph of this final story begins by echoing that title, which creates a haunting repetition within the piece. The implications of the snow that the girls arrive in, paired with the shared naivety of the group, seems to bode poorly for the children they are expecting. The nuns at St. Eulalia’s introduce the girls to a Frozen Child, meant to remind them of their sins and encourage them to repent. In this final story, the nuns insist that “[the] grave is never satisfied . . . neither is the barren womb, nor the eyes of man.” Instead, it’s easy to feel that the girls are the ones who will never be satisfied, even as it is heavily implied that their babies are taken away from them, and their rosy views of the world collectively dimmed.
Reading this final story and its predecessors, it comes as no surprise that Brown’s work has won awards. The chapbook takes the form of the short story to an entirely new level. Brown’s stories range from one paragraph to five pages, though never surpassing just a few hundred words. Even with the limited space that the form provides, her writing feels effortless — she deftly crafts stories that will follow the reader for days and weeks after the book has been closed.
This article was originally published in Little Village’s May 2023 issues.