Alligators At Night
By Meg Pokrass
Ad Hoc Fiction July 2018
118 pages, ~$12.83
Review by Mary Thompson
Above all, what I look for in a flash fiction piece is an unexpected turn of phrase that jabs me in the heart and lingers long after the first reading, and this is certainly the case with Alligators at Night, Meg Pokrass’s latest collection (her fourth) from Ad Hoc Fiction. There are seventy-two pieces in all, over half of which are written in the first person, and most from a female perspective. Many are micros which do not extend beyond a single paragraph, while several are four pages long, and yet they are all rich, heartfelt pieces due to Pokrass’ exacting use of language. For example, in “The Benefits of Krill,” a pharmacy cashier is working for Duncan, who is dying of lung cancer. The story ends with her remembering the way her boss cared for her, and the last line, “Nobody really knows why good people disappear,” leaves a poignant ache.
Many stories are strongly located in place, the settings familiar — yard sales, dating sites, diners, and coffee shops, but could be about almost anywhere, reflecting the restlessness, desire and angst of most young people.
The titular story introduces us to the main theme of the collection; dysfunctional relationships. The use of the second person immediately draws the reader in and we can virtually hear the alligators “crooning like deranged, nocturnal cows,” as a couple wanders home, thanks to the exquisite simile, “the singing alligators are like jazz,” while the last line, “but mostly you just think of them there in the dark, without alcohol and probably without love,” is heartbreaking in its simplicity.
The stories in Alligators are for the most part dark and weird, yet strangely believable. They touch on contemporary issues such as the complex world of internet dating, as in the aptly named “Tinder Date,” where the male character isn’t sure of his date’s real name, knowing her only as “Jade Starfish,” and in “Why Not Now?” where we see the tragic optimism of a deluded internet-dater. We end up with a sense of sadness and confusion at the growing non-intimacy of modern day encounters and relationships.
Many of the pieces feature characters desperate for love or to remain young, as in the surreal, dystopian vignette, “Lifts,” which offers a disturbing glance into a possible future. In others, Pokrass invites us into the lives of ordinary people, people just like us, who are at times, sad, mad and dysfunctional as in “Wrappers,” where a young girl offers chocolate to her cousin in exchange for a rub of her nipples. We hear these characters’ conversations and catch the unexpected meaning and poignancy behind their seemingly innocuous words.
Pokrass uses anthropomorphic devices in many of her pieces to act as mediators in awkward relationships. They also provide the perfect ending to a story such as “Yard Sale,” where the parrots’ crude squawking mirrors the sexual imagery present within the piece, and they help to induce movement within a story, as in “Bubbling Up with Whales,” where the promise of seeing a whale brings a couple together, if only for a short time.
What I felt most when reading the stories in Alligators at Night was an overriding sense that this writer ‘gets’ me, and that not fitting in is somehow okay. Pokrass gives voice to emotions which are often so hard to express and time after time they reinforce the underlying message that “human nature is strange and we must guard the heart.” She left me with the sensation that the world was ever so slightly different, which is something very few writers manage to achieve.