Review: “Ventriloquism”

Review by Tobias Carroll

Prathna Lor
Future Tense Books, 45 p.

At first glance, Ventriloquism, Prathna Lor’s short collection of flash fiction, might seem arbitrary. Its stories range wildly in tone, from the wry view of nature in “Wind Instrument” to the bawdy “Floating Image” to the shockingly funny (not to mention bleak) “Farm Boys.” (The opening line of the last of those: “It’s easier to shoot down a chicken once you’ve been intimate with it.”) All of these qualities make for an entertaining read, but raise concerns that the book to follow might (like many a collection of shorter work) dazzle technically without ever connecting emotionally.

In the end, that isn’t the case. Over the course of Ventriloquism, patterns emerge: recurring themes of religion and mysticism populate themselves throughout the collection, providing a loose structure and informing the overall progression of the book. The opening line of “Fetish,” “When I was thirteen they beheaded me,” gives way to scenes of ritualistic body horror; the title of “Necromancy” helps put its brief and sudden mayhem into context.

Which isn’t to say that Lor’s concerns are so…structural. There are visceral moments of bodily disconnection and manipulation here, recalling Aaron Burch’s recent How To Take Yourself Apart, How To Make Yourself Anew. And given the precision inherent to the flash fiction form, these moments of stark horror and taut irrationality continue to resonate after the last page has been turned.