Review: Three Sisters of Stone by Stephanie Hutton

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Stephanie Hutton is one of today’s best writers of flash fiction (short fiction under 1000 words in length). I enjoy her writing for its clarity and poignancy, and was excited at the news that her novella-in-flash Three Sisters of Stone would be published by Ellipsis Zine in early 2018. In the novella-in-flash format, each flash — itself a standalone story with a clear conflict-and-resolution arc — also serves as a building block in a much longer, more complex narrative. While flash typically addresses an incident that is focused in time and space, when woven together, these sparkling bits of fiction can create a vivid tapestry of longer periods and distances.

Stephanie Hutton’s novella-in-flash is a beautiful example of the form. The book tracks the relationships among three sisters who grew up in an abusive household: the bonds formed and broken, the damage seen and unseen, and how the three cope with the burdens of their trauma as they move into adulthood. Stephanie is a writer of great compassion and tenderness, observant and unobtrusive. Her narrator, Bella, the middle sister and the peacemaker, is torn between a painful need for intimacy and a fear that comes from years of torment. She is a trembling heartstring, a thread that connects the analytical and distracted Agnes, the exuberant but fragile Chloe, and their broken, withdrawn mother.

There are many beautiful and profound moments in the novella, and I would do them injustice by quoting them out of context. Instead, I will say that my favorite flashes include “Sardines”, “Outside and Inside”, “Room”; “Mask”, and “What Mother Never Did”. Also, among the many heartbreaking scenes, this one, between the adult Bella and her mother, hit me hardest:

‘I never did lay a finger on you,’ mother repeated, staring down into the milk swirling around dark liquid.

I shook my head in reply. …No, mother never did lay a finger on me. Or place two arms around me. Or lean her head against mine to kiss me goodnight. She never did lay a finger on me, and maybe that was the ache.

Stephanie’s lovely writing is a treat and her novella-in-flash will delight both the readers who appreciate flash and those who crave richly textured literary fiction in longer form.