It’s the intimate moments, unique to an individual, that Kat Gardiner expertly unpicks in her debut collection of micro fiction. Through deeply personal passages our attention is drawn to the finite; locked on a single grain. Yet somehow, as the sequence unfolds we learn everything about the hourglass, and the infinite passing that it represents.
On the face of it Little Wonder is a collection of memories, half-memories, and personal myths that detail the events around Gardiner and her husband’s opening, and eventual closing of an all-ages music venue / coffee shop in a remote Pacific North West town. Beneath the story is a thread of events that convey what it means to do something; make something; to follow ambition. And then fail.
The format of micro fiction is appropriate for the glimpses of life that Gardiner is interested in. So much of the arc is occupied by life – the things that happen when she’s busy making other plans – that big plans are barely discussed. We observe life as it really is; a bunch of stuff into which we project meaning, extract purpose, and through which we experience pain or joy.
Naturally, and most often, Gardiner’s memory lands upon the look, sight, smell, or gesture of a person, event, or emotion. She lets her vision sit in itself. She builds a totem to the ‘now’, which, of course, unfolds everything else in the interdependent universe. In Little Wonder, everything is related, not through explicit connection, but through nuanced, poetic schemes and call-backs.
The weight and depth of customers’, family, friends’ attitudes is offered through micro gestures. Gardiner doesn’t pretend to know what people and patrons of her coffee-shop are thinking, instead she carefully zooms in on a behavioral tick, a physical ‘tell’, and she lets the air around events do the rest.
Lyrical phrasing shows the authors’ deep and obvious affection for music. Here’s a young lady who knows, and appreciates her classics, but resides in and breathes through pop culture. The most vital force in many young adults’ life. There are some pranky-type passages that poke holes in the author’s self-seriousness, and also the habits of her community. One typical passage, which relies on several layers of intelligence, and the cultural hipness of her readership is:
BEFORE WE DESTROYED IT
Meg didn’t come in often, but when she did, Dub Side Of The Moon was the only album that she played.
Sentences are clipped, and there are fragmented passages all through the process. Some readers won’t enjoy this effect. Don’t worry about them, they’re not getting it. What better device to express the prism of memory than to express recollection through fragments? Yes, Kerouac ignored punctuation, and he did okay for himself in expressing, and inventing a new formless form in a similar realm of fictionalized memory. Much as we love king-of-the-beats, like many semi-autobiographers he thrust himself into things; he cold-called to sell his perspective. Gardiner does the opposite, she sits with a reflection and invites the reader to join in slow contemplation. There is no urgency or desire to use memory in a bullish assertion of self. She allows things to percolate. She punctuates a ton. It’s a smart meter. We’re not on the road, driving or selling dreams. We’re allowing the space to occupy us.
It’s exactly because of the fragments, and the gentle ricochets around the story, that Gardiner’s book is so full of surprise and reward. One moment we’re enjoying the focused affections of a die-hard muso, the next we’re opening our hearts, and holding our breaths at an image which somehow sums-up much more than it should:
“THE AWKWARD SEXUALITY OF PUBESCENT GIRLS
The bubblegum electro twee was playing so loud on Arial’s Discman that we could hear it from where we sat with her father in the shade. Barely fourteen, she lay in a bikini on a sun blanket, bend in her knee, elbow over her face, one eye peeking out to watch. She stared at my husband and dug around for eye contact. My uncomfortable, uncomfortable husband. He turned until the sun blinded her from him. I would have done the same if I were him. I didn’t, though. Not the target, I was able to watch.
I remember that feeling, that loneliness and pride and pent up everything nobody could possibly understand. That brand of new desire that is accepted in boys and deemed unreal in girls. The need to declare, I am here, I am ready, this is what you want of me, isn’t it?
It’s in her empathy for those suffering from elation and wonder at the height of a moment, that Kat Gardiner accomplishes most. In showing this affection, really, for all of humanity – even the dickheads that impede progress, or celebrate her shortcomings – she establishes a remarkable grace; she celebrates small acts of common decency. She makes herself the best kind of narrator. She let’s things be.
On the face of it, Little Wonder is about economics, and ambitions not measured well against financial resources. It’s about hopes not balanced well against the limits of a small town. It’s also about the affection between the narrator and her ever-loving husband. Some passages, especially those that relay the shared affection for food, are also some of the most tender portrayals of love. But it’s also about none of those things.
As the external world slowly smothers a dream, we watch the incremental burning of a fuse. However, through the heartbreaking sequence of events, which bring about the end of hope, we watch a larger success occur. A kind of wisdom is acquired that can only be gained through suffering; through going all in, and losing it all. The world enters Gardiner’s heart because she opens her heart. Yes, there’s sarcasm, but never bitterness. Yes, she’s a hipster, but she’s never really hip. Yes, she has anger, but she never really succumbs to rage.
In a time of sometimes personal confusion, political rage, and low-burning cultural combat, Little Wonder addresses all of those concerns. But this is a book that doesn’t weigh itself down with material reason, results, or conclusion; this is a story that focuses, instead, on the opportunity to be alive, and to fully occupy each moment.
Read our Kat Gardiner Interview.
HURRY – PREORDER/BUY – KAT GARDINER’S ‘LITTLE WONDER’
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHLOE SELLS