…a closer look at Twenty Something

Behind the Titles: A Closer Look

at Twenty Something by Tatiana Ryckman

Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Amber Hollinger

April:

The opening piece is so good. “Getting to Know You” is about a man and woman sitting on a couch watching the opening screen. She asks him to put on a mask, which he does, and when he tries to take it off she says, “No…It’s easier this way.” It’s a flash fiction piece, so while there isn’t a lot of words there is a lot going on in this piece. What are your thoughts on it?

Amber:

I found this collection to be quite enjoyable. One of the best qualities of flash fiction is that each piece leaves so much room for expansive interpretation. It gives you an intriguing slice (or slices) of an imagined universe, one piece of a tall-tale pie. The opener is a perfect introduction to this work, and it leaves readers with just the right amount of fascinating questions. In addition to the strange masking element: What is the nature of their relationship? What type of movie are they watching and why does it appear to involve ritual?

April:

First, I’d like to point out how hard it is to write a powerful story in such a limited space. You have a couple hundred words max to get a complete story out, and to be able to get one out that has as much depth as this one does is a sign of true talent. It’s a hard genre.

Amber:

That is true. Good, potent flash is a more challenging style than many people realize. It is nearly as unforgiving a form as poetry. Twenty-Something presents a group of stories that pull you into many worlds for just a brief time—but each of these pieces is fun, interesting, and thought-provoking nonetheless.

April:

Now, moving on to the actual story. These characters, the woman in particular are so complicated, in a good way, that you can’t help but care about them. It’s like when you first meet a really interesting person, but you can only talk to them for a few minutes. You can’t help but want to know more about them, because you’re sure that everything about them will be interesting. That’s how I feel about these characters. She doesn’t want to see his face. Why is that? Is it an affair? A rebound? Why does he go along with the whole thing? What about her is so appealing that he’s willing to keep the mask on? Or put it on in the first place? How on earth can they get to know each other when she doesn’t want to see his face? You can’t help but wonder about these characters. And, when an author can make you care as much about their characters as they do, they are doing something special on the page. Something that you’d be crazy to miss out on.

Amber:

Right: or are they just pretending and trying to spice things up? And how can they get to know each other while watching a movie? That’s such a common first date… and such a common fortieth date, for friends and lovers alike. Yet, honestly, a movie can be so distracting if you’re really trying to share special, intimate moments with another person – in most cases (nudge nudge, wink wink). So why the theatrics, if that’s what they are, in addition to the movie? Is the movie on the laptop even a real thing, and how deep does its significance go (all the world a stage, etc.)? What happened before this scene, and what will happen next? The story is well done and indeed keeps you wondering.

April:

In two different pieces female characters specifically think about what it’s like to be a man, or how to become a man. In “Twenty Something” it’s as Clarice is posing nude for a room full of art students and feeling unattractive, while in “Boy’s Club” it’s all that Diane can think about as Allen is trying to get closer to her. What did you make of this? In each of these stories the women are uncomfortable in their skin. They want the confidence of men, the protective outside layer that men seem to possess. I find this fascinating. Of course, not all men are super confident just as all women are not uncomfortable with themselves, but in these stories learning how to be more masculine or even being a man rather than a women will solve their problems-or so they believe. Do you agree with them? Do you think being less feminine would make their situations better? For Clarice, I think that the realization of aging is scarier than she thought it would be. And, somehow being more masculine would soften the blow. I think that she’s more interested in transformation of any kind, rather than aging, but being more like a man is the first thing she comes to. Do you agree? What about the interaction with her boss, where he invites her to happy hour and she feels immensely uncomfortable? While for Diane, I think that it’s a really interesting way to handle grief. Allen mentions that Tony, Diane’s ex, really hurt her but she counters with that he taught her how to be a man. From the story we learn that her definition of being manly means being distant. I find this really interesting. I think for her the idea of being manly or distant means that she won’t be hurt again by Allen or anyone else. But maybe you saw something different? Do you think that she actually wants to be a man so that she can make the decisions about where the relationship goes? Or maybe something else entirely?

Amber:

This collection offers a nice variety of stories and characters, yet manages to include some common/repeated, captivating themes. In the stories you mention, it does appear to be some supposed elusive male power or male protective mechanisms that these women wish to possess. Both of these women find themselves in situations where they want more of an “upper hand” in certain areas their lives, but feel as though they must invoke a sort of strength that, in their minds, only masculinity can provide. Diane seems to want to “protect” herself by being colder, more detached, and more able to define the terms of her relationship with Allen (whatever that may be), and she associates these qualities with being manly. Clarice’s story is more abstract (and readers will get to spend more time with her), but she seems to want to “protect” herself from the uncertainty, vulnerability and objectification she experiences—at the hands of her boss and through her own thought patterns—by being more confident, more courageous, and generally safer, and she is convinced that men are the ones inherently privileged to enjoy these characteristics. Part of this journey for Clarice is dealing with aging and her body changing. Unfortunately, the patriarchy still exists. Oh yes. It : The Man holds power and many aspects of rape culture. Because of these truths, I can see how these stories about females pondering maleness reflect real life, moments when women crave certain freedoms that seem more natural/easier (/available only) for men. We all have moments when we contemplate where and when the grass might be greener. We all have moments when we doubt that we are enough… even for ourselves. And we all have moments when we seek power outside ourselves: seek strength, stability, comfort from external forces, objects – or people – real or imagined. Will these women ever become empowered in and of themselves?!? Will they love and accept themselves, find strength and/or enlightenment in their own hearts and minds and bodies? Will any of us? And when it comes to intrinsic discoveries offering more truth and beauty than extrinsic ones, is it all just easier said than done, etc. etc. etc.?

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