Elevate Difference

Fear of Fighting

Fear of Fighting is a short novel about a woman living and working and looking for love. It reminds me, oddly, of Chuck Palahniuk's novels, though it's more comfortable with its queerness. It's got the same distasteful-yet-oddly-satisfying-in-their-rawness details and images (a half-boiled chicken's leg rotting in a refrigerator, filthy bathrooms, and all too much vomit), the same recklessly self-destructive and improbable obsessions and compulsions. It's got the same artful lists full of suspiciously quirky details, and the same intentionally, beautifully repetitive and sad images of emptiness and loneliness and the alienation of consumer-driven, urban American life.

But Stacey May Fowles balances her portrait of the grossness of human misery with beauty. There are adorable characters galore, plenty of non-gross sex, and lots of details that paint a stylish, hip mise-en-scène. The story is enriched by its characters' charmingly developed and sensitive relationships with animals. The art by Marlena Zuber is lovely and effective—and it adds a lot to the book, making it feel very much like an art piece and not just some novel. The prose is easy and elegantly spare, at times poetic. And at times Fowles' self-reflective musings and fancies work to great effect, as when—spoiler alert—the narrator illuminates the story of an abortion with great subtlety. When Marnie says in her diary-like voice, "To cope I used horrifying, shame-filled phrases like 'get it taken care of,'" she's not just explaining what she's doing or how it made her feel, but, more interestingly, is also revealing her feminist interpretation of her life.

This window into the complex inner life of a very real-feeling woman is refreshing. She lives an ordinary life that, when closely examined—like all ordinary lives—is extraordinary in its details. Similarly extraordinary-in-its-ordinariness is Fowles’ sweet little book; its honest and unassuming acknowledgments and author and printer profiles reveal a collaborative labor of love between independent creatives. The result is a a pleasure to see, to hold, and to read.

Written by: Ari Moore, March 17th 2009