Before I discovered Linda Courtland’s book, Somewhere to
Turn, I wasn’t addicted to anything. But after reading what
she calls “very short stories” and “slightly longer stories,” I
found myself hooked by her storytelling and craving more.
So much so, that if she’d written a hundred books, I’d have
immediately bought all of them. Unfortunately, this is the
only one she’s written to date.
I never expected to become addicted to anybody’s flash
fiction tales that consisted of 1,000 words or less. But after
reading her entrancing, enchanting, engrossing stories that
had enough kick to knock my socks off, what choice did I
When I first picked up Courtland’s 162-page collection of
thirty-seven stories, I figured I was about to read yet
another bunch of light, mundane, fluffy, tales much like I
critique by the dozens very week. Even the cover, a scenic
view of a river surrounded by mountains, seemed to
support my notion.
Checking the back cover, I didn’t see the usual promotional
blurb trumpeting the contents. Instead, I found a teensy
tale about an astronaut who received a speeding ticket in
outer space. What an incongruity, I thought.
Then I flipped to the first story, “Day Job of the Dolphin.”
That’s where Courtland grabbed my attention and began to
cast the spell that led to my addiction. I was pleasantly
surprised to find a tale of magical realism that began:
"When they decided to outsource my department to
dolphins, I was skeptical." Outsourcing work to dolphins?
What a fascinating concept.
This absorbing, satirical story poked fun at sensitivity
training and other workplace sacred cows. The company
began to favor dolphins over human employees, created a
Human and Dolphin Resources Department, and faced
daunting environmental problems by replacing humans with
600-pound dolphins. When an orca became the company’s
new president, there was no doubt the human protag was
on a fast path to the unemployment lines.
In “Single Socks,” a woman left her man, complaining that
he loved his collection of 864 single, unmatched socks more
than her. Courtland made his rationale so reasonable and
compelling, I felt as if I were missing something by not
imitating his behavior. This is what I mean about casting a
spell through storytelling.
The opening sentence of “Exposed,” says: "Last night, my
cell phone took pictures of me while I was sleeping." Turns
out the darn phone has a whole secret file of pictures it has
taken of the female protag. The idea of a voyeuristic cell
phone with a mind of its own is wonderfully bizarre and
Then there’s, “The Street Price of Happiness,” where a
woman calls 911 because somebody stole her emotions.
Naturally, she wants them returned. As if that weren’t a
bad enough loss, another tale, “Lost and Found,” tells of a
psych ward patient who complains that somebody stole his
name while he was sleeping.
As I continued reading, I sometimes found myself rolling on
the floor with laughter. Then I’d turn to the next story and
I’d end up feeling wistful and commiserating with characters
facing a variety of existential crises.
It’s hard to tell which is my favorite in this delicious plate of
thirty-three hors d’oeuvres Courtland calls “very short
stories.” Maybe it’s the goofy, obsessive coffee bean
counter whose mother reassures by saying, “It’s God’s way
of saying sorry for the strange shape he made your head.”
Or the altruistic woman who runs around correcting spelling
errors on signs carried by beggars, telling them, “You can’t
expect people to take you seriously if you don’t proofread
your work.” Or the refrigerated body parts that converse
with each other as they fret about being rejected when they’
re finally transplanted. Maybe it’s the story called, “So
What If She Has No Feet?” Or “Discount Memories.” Or
maybe “315 Is Stealing Cheese Again.”
In all of the above, Courtland has packed tons of
storytelling with great word economy. This shows mastery
of her writing craft and the willingness and ability to edit
ruthlessly. As one who also writes flash fiction, I can assure
you this is a tough task that evades many wannabes.
Now to the second part of the book, which she calls,
“slightly longer stories.” Nothing in these three stories will
make you laugh. Not with the titles, “Body Damage,”
“Wrongful Life,” and “Religious Differences.”
These are literary tales that show an entirely different side
of Courtland’s art. I found them hypnotic and disturbing.
These contemporary stories are written in first person,
which adds to their intensity. They grabbed me by the
throat and didn’t let go. What a startling contrast to the
light, breezy, and often wacky tales that populate the first
part of the book.
After reading this book—and I’ve read it twice—I’m
convinced it’s the work of a genius. A genius who can
devise and write compelling stories that have addicted me
to the point where I want to don a saffron robe, grab a
begging bowl, and sit outside Courtland’s door, hoping she’ll
assuage my addiction by putting a new story in my bowl
|Reviewed by Michael A. Kechula
This review originally appeared in Apollo's Lyre.
Michael A. Kechula's stories have been published in 132 magazines and 39
anthologies. He’s won first place in 11 contests and placed in eight others. He’s
authored three books of flash fiction, micro-fiction, and short stories: The Area
51 Option and 70 More Speculative Fiction Tales; A Full Deck of Zombies—61
Speculative Fiction Tales; I Never Kissed Judy Garland and Other Tales of
Romance. eBook versions available at www.BooksForABuck.com and www.
fictionwise.com. Paperbacks at www.amazon.com. His short story, "The
Greatest Flamenco Dancer in All Flydom," was published in the August 2009 issue
of Gemini Magazine.