With gritty realism and sharply controlled prose, Kevin Rabas’s flash fiction collection Spider Face (ISBN: 978-0-9808785-1-6) from Otoliths takes readers across urban and rural Kansas and deep into human experience. The collection contains seven titled sections, the first of which, “Elizabeth and KC,” consist of linked stories portraying a young woman’s relationship to the city through intense relationships with different men. A trait of Rabas’s writing is his eye for detail and his ability to imbue common objects with importance. An example of this is the opening story “The Bottle”:
Not long after I met her, Elizabeth and I took to the sidewalks. She liked to walk barefoot, and as we passed Jimmy’s Jigger, attached to Jazz, in Kansas City, we came upon an empty beer bottle, a brown one, diagonal to our path. It seemed to want to spin there. But Elizabeth had another notion. She stopped and listened to the young men in sports jackets, with shoes worth more than two weeks of her work. She said, “Listen to them,” and I did. And they bantered like businessmen imitating gangstas. “Yeah, you got that right, dawg. I got your back, and I know the way back to her apartment, too.” Somehow in the air was the smell of crisp, new bills, and then we saw them, fanned, in front of them. They parsed out a few and paid and tipped the waitress. “This,” Elizabeth said, “is what I hate.” “What?” I said, and she said, “Them.” And she lifted the neck of the bottle with her toes, bent her knee as a punter might, and flicked the bottle into the crowd of promising young men on the patio, who now started a round of lighting cigars. The bottle lifted and flew above them. No one noticed, until it came down and let loose a light rain of shattered glass along the surface of the patio concrete. Some men had spilled drinks on themselves. Others lost the light in their cigars. There was some shouting, while Elizabeth raised her head, pointed her nose upwards, and marched on, with me trailing after her. We walked long blocks then back into her smaller, darker part of the city.
After such an intense start, this section’s stories follow Elizabeth around Kansas City, where she has sex at night in a part of the city called Suicide Hill, throws another lover’s watch out of her window when she tires of him always checking the time, and the section’s final story finds her with another lover at the community clinic receiving an AIDS test. These stories are impressive because although they are compressed, they possess depth of characters.
One of the stories with a rural setting, “Birdie on the Roof,” echoes Flannery O’Connor’s grotesque characters and highlights the disturbing side of religion and human behavior in rural Kansas. It is a 110 degrees outside and the narrator is a young boy whose Mother (Birdie) wants quiet while she reads her Bible in the afternoons. When the narrator and his brothers disturb her with their wrestling, she takes them to house’s roof top and proclaims: “Abraham took his only son to the mountain. And there he was tested. Abraham drawing his blade…And I will test my own sons as God has taught me.” Family friends arrive, talk down Birdie in a few lines of dialogue, and the one page story is finished. Yet this is one of those stories that lingers in one’s mind long after reading: When will Birdie next place her sons in danger under the guise of following the Bible?
Rabas has published two volumes of poetry and his ear for musicality in the language strong. His sentences are tight and ominous like an electric blues riff. At times, flash fiction can leave me as a reader desiring more, but each story in this collection provides emotional as well as aesthetic satisfaction. Spider Face is a superb fiction debut, and I hope that in the future readers will be rewarded with more of his work.
Reviewed by Hardy Jones