By: Felicity Landa
Things You Won’t Tell Your Therapist might appear at first glance as a simple collection of flash fiction, but the breadth of emotion that Colleen Kearney Rich has achieved in her stories is something to be admired. Writers often shy from flash as one of the more difficult formats to capture depth, but Rich runs full force into the form. Rich’s language is cut to the bones, but her details are visceral and real. She steers the reader through her characters’ anxieties, while reminding us of our own. The stories in Rich’s collection are fierce in their simplicity, stolen moments of seemingly quiet lives
Rich’s ability to capture the subtext of ordinary moments is what sets these stories apart, and what makes the collection so aptly named. Every subtle exchange reveals all of the things we can’t tell each other, out of fear or shame. “I can’t tell her about the asteroid and the little red-haired girl. I can’t say anything at all. I spend the rest of the class in the bathroom holding cold paper towels over my eyes,” the young narrator in “End of Days” confides, weighed down by her father’s obsession with the end of the world. The sorrow in these pieces lies in what the reader knows as truth: If we merely spoke our anxieties, we would begin to realize we aren’t so alone.
The main character in Rich’s titular story recounts things she won’t tell her therapist, until the reader uncovers the real reason why she can’t get past the death of a friend. Two siblings have a quiet conversation over their deceased father’s personal effects, and the air is heavy with the things they aren’t saying. A woman visits a psychic with one question, not wanting to believe how much the answer terrifies her. Some stories span only a handful of minutes, others are suspended in one mere moment, but in each Rich reveals the fragility of our thoughts, and the many reasons why we never voice them.
In the last, and most beautifully written, piece, “The Five of Cups,” a sleepless narrator sees ghosts and tries to understand her world now that breast cancer has overtaken her life.
“No one knows what to say to me. ‘You are looking well,’ most of them tell me with their fixed smiles in place. Their sad eyes betray them. Worse are the ones who wax philosophical. He never gives us more than we can bear, they whisper significantly, as though I should feel privileged. One of the few, the proud, the breastless.”
The narrator searches the shadows for the dead and avoids the stares of the living, trapped between worlds and not feeling quite whole in either. When she finally whispers aloud the fear that is keeping her awake, she sleeps for the first time in weeks. “It feels like home, like I’ve come back after being gone a very long time. Something inside of me quiets, a noise, no, a din that I didn’t recognize was there until it is gone.” It’s a fitting end to a beautiful string of stories that tell us what we can’t bring ourselves to believe. If we can only find the courage to speak, we might begin to heal.
Felicity Landa is an MFA candidate at UC Riverside Palm Desert. She serves as fiction editor for the online literary magazine Literary Mama and nonfiction editor for The Coachella Review. She lives on the Central Coast with her family.