‘Motion Sickness’ book review
By Joshua Grant, Senior Columnist
Ursula Pflug’s Motion Sickness is a flash novel about a young woman named Penelope. Each of its 55 chapters is told in exactly 500 words, on a single page, and faces a scratchboard drawing by S.K. Dyment. Though Pflug’s economical and often poetic writing help to tell the story, the scratchboards give the story its nocturnal ambience. This is appropriate.
Much of the action is at night, in after-hours bars and bedrooms. It’s set in a city somewhere in Canada (Toronto, probably), but that’s easy to forget. Everything seems dark and slightly sinister. Everything seems important. Penelope falls for Theo, a guy she meets while jamming at an after-hours club. Theo is less than forthcoming about his marital status. This leads Penelope to an ill-advised threesome with needy, psychotic Stan. Pregnant, scared, and confused, Penelope has to make some tough decisions. It’s not a new story, but it’s an emotional one, and perhaps others will connect with it more than I did.
A lot of writers limit themselves to common forms, to experiment only a little and within the confines of each. In Motion Sickness, Pflug picks an uncommon form, the flash novel, which demands writers condense writing to be tight and quick to tell a novel’s worth of story in about half the space, and juxtaposes the words with a striking graphic component. This, I think, makes Motion Sickness a triumph and a delight. It’s new, it feels different, and it reads at a dizzying pace.
I expect many readers will be charmed and carried away by Pflug’s hyper-condensed prosetry and Dyment’s shaky, surreal scratchboards. Let it happen. That’s a good way to enjoy this one.