Sunday, June 4, 2023

Book Review: Now, That's a Trick

Flash fiction chapbook debut by local author


Submitted by Melanie Unruh, Albuquerque author

Here’s a treat for you. Now, That’s a Trick is the debut chapbook of weird flash fiction based in New Mexico, by local author, Dawn Sperber. A new release from Finishing Line Press, this title is available on Nov. 8 at all major online booksellers. Vallie Lynn Watson, author of A River So Long (Luminis Books, 2012), shares her take on the quirky chapbook: 

I’ve been anticipating Dawn Sperber’s collection, Now, That’s a Trick, for well over a decade. I fell in love with Sperber’s mystical prose in 2010, when I was a blind guest-judge for The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Prosetry Contest, and selected her short story, “Sulfur Steam,” as the finalist. The story wove a spell for me; the musical language and the fluid, near-silent characters were hard to forget. I am still under its spell, and thrilled the story has woven a new home among Sperber’s other enchanting stories in her new chapbook from Finishing Line Press.

Sperber’s characters in Now, That’s a Trick are as bewitching as ever. I immediately fell in love with John in the opening title story; the chime of his pocket coins set the melody for chapbook. The short pieces that follow aren’t just small fictions, or poems, or songs, but a new slant on all three. Sperber somehow makes the reader feel as though they’re underwater, in the loveliest, most gentle way imaginable. 

Swimming through new worlds, like Kyle’s overlapping realms of reality and fantasy in “We’ve Already Been Invented” are a continuous build on this hazy dream-like tone, in which we willingly go along with the narrator even though we know that path will be twisted with horrifying beauty. Love and loss in remain indistinguishable in “Why the Moon”:

I watched him and wondered, Who is this mild earthy creature speaking pebbles and moss, algae water? Opening the door, turning the doorknob’s lock between his fingers. “Wait!” I called from the foyer. He turned and smiled like a mother’s I love you, and slowly shut the locked door behind him.

Sperber manages to make the reader as charmed by the psalms of the otherwise-characterless Lee, in “Our Master of Psalmody,” as are the townspeople. Lee’s “songs about undone buttons and upper thighs” are not unlike Sperber’s stories, which unwrap with “liquid, heartbreaking grace” as a “kind of primal scream, a healing erotic eruption.” It is the element of healing, lying just under the surface in this collection of eleven of Sperber’s finest pieces, that necessarily tempers the most dangerous edges of the loosening grip on reality.

The kaleidoscope of stories wrap up with two independent stories that, together, create a breathless finale. The penultimate piece, “Wind in a Ring Box,” epitomizes Sperber’s balancing-act style:

I cracked open the lid, and WOOSH! The entire West Wind erupted. I flew backward, standing upright with my brown dress snapping, and the wee box fell to the ground, still roaring its invisible force. I swept to the far side of the room, where the door was left open, and it seemed I’d be pushed outside to the lawn, and maybe on down the street. So I started pedaling, mid-air, doing a sort of dogpaddle. Meanwhile, my love had gotten down on one knee, offering the ring box on his palm. 

The last work, “Wish on the Ring’s Eye,” serves almost as a coda, and contains a line in its final paragraph that echos the jingle of John’s coins from the opening story: “Over in the woods, ting, hits the silver ring against a rock in the ground,” and that is the lovely, haunting jingle of Now, That’s a Trick which will long resonate in a way that is both disturbing, and perfectly calming.

--Vallie Lynn Watson

Vallie Lynn Watson's debut novel, A River So Long, was published by Luminis Books in 2012; her Pushcart-nominated work appears in PANK, Gargoyle, decomP magazinE, and other magazines. Watson received a PhD in fiction writing from the Center for Writers/USM and teaches at UNC Wilmington. 

Dawn Sperber is a writer, editor, and artist in Albuquerque, NM. She's the author of My Bones Are Love Gifts, her debut book of poetry and drawings, forthcoming next month from Shanti Arts. A University of New Mexico alumni, Dawn scribbled and re-scribbled several of the stories in Now, That's a Trick while in UNM’s MFA program. She has helped with the A Room Of Her Own Foundation and the Taos Summer Writers Conference, and she’s a co-director (along with Melanie Unruh and Sam Tetangco) at Plume: A Writers Companion, a literary community and podcast for women and non-binary writers. Her website is

(Cover art: "Dreaming of Their Wings" is by Alexandra Eldridge, an inspired artist in Santa Fe.) 


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