Saturday, June 28, 2008

Suzanne Nielsen's fiction, a perspective

So'ham says: The critical note posted below is several years old. The stories that Wittenberg discusses were published in The Moon Behind the 8-Ball and other stories (2008), Suzanne's book of flash fiction published by So'ham Books.

Suzanne is an absolutely wonderful writer to work with--calm, responsive and receptive to change. The Moon... is her second So'ham publication after East of the River, a book of poems.

Suzanne Nielsen is a writer of literary fiction whose work is deeply rooted in our own East Side of St. Paul. Often her work concerns stories of the working poor.

I recently had the pleasure to read one of her latest endeavors, titled “Nora’s Needs”. Truly, I broke out with laughter at much of her moving, honest prose, of indelible, sometimes brutal imagery.

“We stabbed centipedes in her basement with a wire hanger that we undid and used like a whip. When Nora pierced the bugs in the center of their bodies, they would arch their backs while moving their legs in a million directions until they finally gave into death,” Suzanne writes in Nora’s voice.

This talented writer deserves greater recognition, I dare say. Sometimes her language is salty, but genuine, no doubt due to her experience of our ever so gentle East Side. Her work is often gritty, littered with broken down cars, shattered glass, windows blocked out by plywood, glitters of shards that “glowed like diamonds in the sunlight.”

She writes of poverty and “white trash,” the sort we’ve all known or seen one time or another. Suzanne writes of a woman whose lips “flapped through her toothless growl,” and “foaming from the comers of her mouth,” and of nightmares displaying a large “German Shepherd, with the head of old Mrs. Nephling running after me, all her teeth in place.”

Certainly, I could see parts of old St. Paul in her prose: in phrases such as “grandma’s porch surrounded in pretty lace,” in “communion dresses and bingo,” of what may bring one to Heaven, and of stomachs “the size of the Indian mounds at the park.” She writes of Earl Street, and how can one not think of this great thoroughfare as nostalgic, if not “edenesque.” Oh to take a drive down Earl, in all it’s splendor!

Suzanne is a writing tutor at Metropolitan State’s Writing Center, and has been writing for Whistling Shade, a literary press, where she tackles a monthly column called “Cool Dead People” - a collection of essays on folks whom she feels more should have the privilege to know. This column can be read online for Double Dare Press at Ms. Nielsen has taught creative writing at the Loft, both for adults and children. She has studied chemical dependency counseling for a decade, and is a Metropolitan State grad of ’95. Besides her tutoring, she is currently undertaking her doctorate in education at Hamline University.

As to listing her primary source of inspiration, she named George Singleton, and also mentioned notable Dayton’s Bluff authors Alison Mcghee and Susan Williams.

Ms. Nielsen’s short story “8 Days” was published in a literary journal called ‘Splunkerflophouse.’ Furthermore, Suzanne has had her work appear in over 50 publications. Her large array of creative work also includes poetry, which I hope she continues, and may such efforts find more venues in which they can be shared. In an example of her vivid verse she writes: “Just east of the river/ a mom sorts through day old/ bakery with tattooed tears/ dripping down her cheek... hunting for bargains with eyes that/ are drowning in their own pools/ of discontent.”

This summer, Suzanne is planning to work on her fiction: a novel-in-stories.

When I asked her to characterize her writing, she said - “Place is prevalent, as is the working class. The characters sort of take over. I write from that perspective. It’s what I know.” In summing up, she remembered a quote from her husband, who said in referring to her work: “You can take the girl out of the East Side, but you can’t get the East Side out of the girl.”

J. Wittenberg

No comments: