⇒I’m pretty sure my thoughts are going to be scattered for today’s discussion, since the piece in question, Myfanwy Collins’s “Ogdensburg,” is simply jam-packed with rich details, surprising sentences, and general awesomeness.
I read this piece five or six times (it’s very short) to gain a better grasp of what’s going on here, but there is so much packed into this tiny space, I think I’ve only gotten a surface understanding of this piece. Really good flash can be like that–and this is a really good flash piece.
If poetry is an x-axis and fiction is a y-axis, really good flash fiction exists somewhere near the intersection of these axes.
In my view, one of the chief differences between most prose and most poetry (I’m making sweeping generalizations here, as one must do with all poetry-vs-prose differentiations) is re-readability. I typically read works of fiction just once. I typically read works of poetry two or three times to digest and savor their rich language and their density (unless it’s “The Wasteland,” which I swear I will never read ever again). Good works of flash seem to call for rereadings the way much poetry does–there’s so much packed into a tiny space, it’s pretty much essential.
All of this is to say, when you finish reading this commentary and go on to read Ms. Collins’s story, do yourself a favor and read it two or three times, at least. Trust me: it’s worth it.
You may have noticed I’ve barely said a thing about the content of “Ogdensburg.” This is true, and I won’t tell you too much about the piece, because for one thing it’s very difficult to encapsulate in such a forum as this (it really can’t be “encapsulated”). If I were to attempt to unpack this story, I would probably have to spend 20 pages or so, examining each sentence, each word. There are so many moving parts, all very deliberate.
I will say this: one of the underlying themes of “Ogdensburg” seems to be borders–interstices, transitional spaces. So much of the piece has to do with boundaries and divisions: between people, between seasons (spring and summer), between geographical areas. If I interpreted correctly, I place the events of this piece in and around Ogdensburg, New York, on the border with Canada (the narrator mentions going “across a border,” which is why I place the story in this Ogdensburg and not Ogdensburg, PA or Ogdensburg, NJ. Overall, this piece seems to be all about the tension and anxiety of moving from one place or state of being to another, a very human condition (a sort of liminality, if you want to get all MFA-workshoppy about it).
I’ve blathered on enough. I leave you with this quote from the story:
There was a spring unwinding in me, pushing me out and drawing me back in. Nothing good had happened yet. I was always waiting.
If you appreciate how gorgeous those three sentences are, you owe it to yourself to read this story.