Quizzing the Dead


Kat Meads
Quizzing the Dead
Pudding House Publications
31 pages, $8.95

Questions of genre sometimes cast new light on a literary work but more often only divert us from it. Kat Meads has a new chapbook out full of what she calls prose poems. I think of prose poems as imagistic spirals uncurling from tiny pellets like Fourth of July snakes. Meads’ short prose pieces instead follow narrative arcs, like bottle rockets. They make you think of sudden fiction, but they aren’t fiction—that is, characters here carry names familiar to readers of Meads’ deft 1996 memoir Born Southern and Restless (Duquesne University Press). Sudden non-fiction, perhaps.

Each of the twenty-five pieces is a single paragraph of about two hundred words. Each concerns a death, and Meads employs each death to silhouette a life. You could take these granules to your writing students as models of how to use the telling detail to imply larger shapes:

Never lit out for the supermarket, salon or dentist chair without clutch purse and train case, monogrammed in gold, jam-packed with vials the color of cheddar, easy-open caps.


Her observations have a lacerating edge, but they’re carried in lullingly musical prose rhythms:

Only the two half orphans in the making threatened her resolve, creeping in to cling and whisper, wet-eyed, wobbly with fear, stunned by the gradations of her vanishing.


Meads is the author of two collections of short stories, Not Waving (Livingston Press, 2001) and Stress in America (March Street Press, 2002), memorable for their characters and also for innovative fictional technique. This current work can be seen as a continuation of her experiments in story structure. In less capable hands, each of these pieces would be a novel.


Copyright © 2002 Square Lake.  All Rights Reserved.

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