Finding a Way by Diane Simmons
(Ad Hoc Fiction, https://adhocfiction.com)
ISBN 978-1-912095-57-5, 120pp, £9.99)
Finding a Way by Diane Simmons is a series of linked flash fictions following a family as they negotiate bereavement over a period of around three and a half years. Through the stories, readers learn that Liz and Christopher are grieving their promising twenty-one year old daughter, Becky, and bringing up her younger brother, Sam. Becky was very briefly married to Jake in the days before her death. Initially the stories focus on these characters.
In “A Collection” Liz scolds herself for hanging on to her jewellery instead of allowing Becky to have the pieces she’d loved. Liz started collecting after Becky was born, determined her daughter wouldn’t inherit the cheap beads Liz’s mother had left to her. But no mother imagines a daughter would die before her. She does keep one piece however. Liz and Christopher are puzzled by a card sent from a Nathan in “Without Becky” and discover he was actually a childhood friend they knew through a nickname. When they discover why he sent the card, they keep it with her school certificates as a reminder.
Sam, Becky’s younger brother, has trouble returning to school in “Another World”, not because of Becky’s absence but because the teachers treat him differently and he’s fed up of being singled out. In “Unheard” Christopher chides Sam for having baths instead of showers, unaware of why Sam make the swap in the first place. His father also invites Sam back into a fund raising concert, in “Noise”, not appreciating why Sam needed to go out for a breather.
Jake married Becky in the weeks before her death. His parents invite him back home but he feels as if he’s “Coming Home” when invited to stay with Liz and Christopher instead. Looking through photo albums, Jake is left reeling when he sees photos of Becky and a childhood friend in “A History”. Later in “Proof”, Jake picks a photo to display on his bookshelf. Over two years on, in “Dressing with Care”, Jake had to decide whether to take off his wedding ring.
There are also stories that look at the relationship between Liz and Christopher in the aftermath of Becky’s death. Christopher discovers the truth behind the statistic that “Ninety Per Cent” of marriages end after a child’s death. Liz meets a new friend who lost a husband and unborn child in a car accident and several stories explore how both react and move towards coping with their grief. Becky was a Jane Austen fan and Liz is unsure what to do with a copy of “Pride and Prejudice” left on a bedside table whereas Christopher in “A Crowded Room” reacts differently.
The stories are created with care and sensitivity as the family navigate life after a daughter’s death. They are poignant and credible as the characters come to terms with and move on. The characters are lightly drawn, enabling readers to engage with their struggles and care for them. The understated style doesn’t labour the point each piece is making. “Finding a Way” is an emotional journey, but also one that resonates and captures how ordinary life is changed by bereavement and how bereavement can affect everyday decisions, even those not directly connected with the loss. Diane Simmons has used flash fiction to its advantages: a brief picture of an aspect of grief through an image or something someone thoughtlessly says or an anniversary, and how people cope and endure, whilst allowing the readers to see how the characters move on from the immediate aftermath and the cumulative affect creates a coherent story. “Finding a Way” is a successful novella in flash.