Nudes by Elle Nash
forthcoming from Short Flight/Long Drive, February 2021
In Elle Nash’s new story collection Nudes, readers are invited to share the lives of individuals who exist on the fringes of society. Those who struggle to cement their identity in a crowd of anonymity, and discover belonging instead of simple existence. These are women and men who fight to overcome damage, abuse, and boredom to touch deliverance. Each story offers a sparse and evocative case that illustrates how far a person driven by desperation and desire will go to find meaning and a life worth living.
This is a book populated by individuals who exist on the margins of society— those who are seen but rarely truly noticed. The essential anonymity that shrouds them can often be found in stories like “Ideation,” in which the characters are nameless and only denoted by their relation to others: the girlfriend, the boyfriend, the mother. It is present in characters who go by nicknames like Meatsack, or screen names like ExxonMobil6. Even the named characters, such as Brittany or Michelle, offer the sense that they are in part shadow-selves who ache for a something they can’t easily define: not fame, but something like meaning; not sex, but something like a deep connection; and not love, but something like care without judgment.
As the title of this work suggests in this digital age, sexuality in some form is a recurrent thread, but as a tool. In “Cat World” it is a means to explore other worlds (the online world, the motel world). In “I Live in a World Where Men with Money Want to Take Away My Wife,” as a way to broadcast privilege. In “Summer Thighs” as a method to be validated through lust. Nash deftly relates the complex nuances of sexuality in stories that candidly confront its multitude of manifestations from performance and diversion, to a doorway to discover or escape oneself.
In the background of these stories a high pressure system of dissatisfaction and unrest hovers. Its weight is inescapable; an invisible constant in the landscape that looms unseen in each motel room or smoke-filled apartment, fills the atmosphere of cars parked in the night and public restrooms. It is a psychic antagonist that threatens these characters unseen while pushing them to extremes. In “Who’s Afraid of a Funeral Pyre,” it resonates in the characters’ dissatisfaction with living in a low-rent apartment block with the hopelessness that moving away would change anything: “What’s the use of ever going to Paris if there’s bulletproof glass around the Eiffel Tower!” In “Grace” spiders and house plants become vastly concerning as they are highlighted by the monotony of a purposeless life. In “Define Hungry” it motivates the narrator’s obsession with control and self-harm. Relentlessly, whether the scene is a suburban home or an urban sex club, the aura of existential threat is borne.
But this dullness of being, this storm front of stress and disappointment, is a haunting too familiar to frighten these characters. They overcome the numbness that pervades through pain in stories like “Satanism.” They steal away from their realities by becoming different entities online and in pictures. They hold on to bonds that confuse easy explanations to support one another in stories such as “Nudes.” And in the end these injured angels, these casualties and strays, go on living because hurting isn’t enough to ruin them. Hurting is what they know best: not safety, but something like home.