Collective Gravities, Chloe N. Clark’s debut short fiction collection out with Word West Press on July 7, 2020, is an enchanting whirlwind of stories ranging in topics from space travel, basketball, and glittering gel pens. Clark manages to write a collection that contains stories to pique several types of interests all while maintaining a strong sense of style. Told in a fairy tale-eque fashion, Clark takes her readers on a journey through the lives of characters who are often strange and always longing for something.
One thing this collection does well is balancing realism with surrealism. On one page we are wrapped up in a space travel mission gone wrong, causing the astronauts to lose their mind and on another page we read about a young woman buying gel pens to reconnect with a sense of youthful idealism after a break up.
Several of the stories in this collection follow the protagonist from childhood into adulthood, showing the evolution of their hopes and dreams, oftentimes broadcasting how our feelings towards the world mold the way we live our lives even if those feelings change over time. These stories, all written about vastly different people and subjects and levels of reality, connect through Clark’s grip on her own style that promotes whimsy and characters that seem centered on the surface but are filled with a sense of longing that motivates many of their actions.
Many of these characters aim to keep their loved ones happy even if that means compromising their own happiness. In “See Sky Sea Sky,” the protagonist takes care of her mom more than she takes care of herself. These heavy responsibilities leave her tempted to leave the earth and float through the sea sky when given the chance, but she inevitably stays out of a duty to her mother and her loved ones. Clark’s characters are blueprints for navigating complicated relationships and the pressures put on people from society and our loved ones even if it is often not clear to the protagonist or the ones placing pressure on them.
Clark highlights unconditional love in several of her stories as well. For example, in “The Width of Your Body Apart,” we see a husband and wife’s changing dynamics after the wife was diagnosed with a debilitating illness. The actions of the husband show his undying support to the narrator. “He walked over and stood behind me, opening his arms wide so that they hovered on either side of me, not touching, just there in case I needed to fall.”
Another thing that Clark masters in this collection is taking mundane moments in life and using them to have the protagonist navigate through more complex emotions. I previously mentioned the use of gel pens to get over a break up in “12 in Assorted Colors,” however we also see this in “Other Names.” In this story, Clark has the protagonist, Lance, navigate the dating scene as he tries to move on from his last girlfriend who passed away. Clark shows us the discomfort and often painfulness of moving on through awkward moments, including one of Lance’s dates eating a strange looking meal of octopus. Clark uses imagery that is not only vivid and disgusting, but also telling of Lance’s feelings towards his date, and maybe even dating in general, when she describes the meal. “He stared at her fork twirling as she dug out a few strands of noodle. One of the tentacles jiggled and the light caught it, for a second making it appear animated, alive. He stared at the quivering tentacle. It seemed to be unfurling, growing longer, reaching towards him.”
Clark’s stories take us on jaunts through a zombie not-quite-apocalypse, offers to let us swim through the sky, and forces us to confront the dead, yet somehow keeps us grounded in the real life consequences of these often larger-than-life tales. Collective Gravities is a wonderful, quirky telling of love, loss, and desire.