Erin Pringle - These are disturbing stories. A lost child finds sanctuary inside a piano, infants are drowned and buried, a baby-sitter disappears, a mother is kidnapped, a sister washes compulsively, a child goes blind and a goat is sick






Erin Pringle, The Floating Order, Two Ravens Press, 2009.


www.erinpringle.com/





 "A collection of rather disturbing short stories. 'Enjoyed' really wouldn't be the right word. 
'Impressed' would be nearer the mark." Scott Pack

These are disturbing stories. A lost child finds sanctuary inside a piano, infants are drowned and buried, a baby-sitter disappears, a mother is kidnapped, a sister washes compulsively, a child goes blind and a goat is sick. This collection contains nineteen stories of childhood, which are full of dark, dangerous and deadly events that return to haunt you long after reading. There are no safe, saccharine fairy tale endings. This is contemporary Brothers Grimm for adults.


The Floating Order is a unique and innovative collection of stories. Erin Pringle's world is filled with the dreamlike, nightmarish narratives of children: children in danger, children at the mercy of their parents, children in all kinds of trouble. Children who continually rise, return, and haunt the pages. "Erin Pringle's stories are true wonders - a beautiful mix of intimate feeling, thick syntax, and dangerous language."  -Michael Kimball

 These stories capture the intensities of experiences, both fleeting insignificant moments in a life and momentous catastrophes. Many are told in the first person, either by a child narrator or a damaged or distressed adult. Losing, I Think is effectively a series of prose poems about a relationship between a mother and her baby's (mostly) absent father. In Looker, a father describes in painstaking detail what it felt like to be young and passionate, the night of a child’s conception.
"Believe me her body was a safe intersection without a blanket beneath the trees thatching above us. Her body a picture of yellow music. All was her hands rubbing my jeans her breath vanilla purest in the inch behind her ear.  Understand your mother was."      
One of the most chillingly terrifying stories is Why Jimmy in which a girl frees a boy from a rooftop accident. Equally sinister is Camp Zoom from Halfway There, in which lots of little girls get invited to a film camp in the middle of nowhere. Several months after reading I find that these stories have stuck in the sediment of my mind, only to bubble up to the surface when the silt is disturbed.  
The love of language, the way words sound and play together is integral to these stories. In The Floating Order, the narrator’s mother 'read books to me. She let me smell the pages.' That reverence for the sensations evoked by words comes across very strongly in all of the writing. But the style of the stories does vary widely between those which read as almost conventional plot-based tales to those which are more impressionistic, poetic sweeps, conveying their meaning and emotions by gradual accretion rather than in a strictly serial, chronological manner.  This gives a somewhat uneven texture to the collection, but conversely it provides a lot of variety as well.
 Some of the stories effectively recreate an experience from childhood by example. At the end of The Only Child, I know what has supposedly happened before my eyes but I cannot be entirely sure of the meaning of what I have just seen - like a child who observes adult behaviour but cannot effectively decode it. You can judge the extraordinary nature of this effect for yourself because the story is available online (see link below). Although there is a tiny change to the ending used in the book, which to my mind improves it and illustrates just how much difference a subtle shift of wording can make to a story.
 If The Floating Order sounds "difficult" and off-putting then I am truly sorry to suggest that but it would be foolish to imply the book is an "easy read" throughout. If you are looking for something light, airy and full of childish jollity, then this collection will disappoint. If, however, you are in the mood for a challenge and something tougher nerved then this book rewards the effort. 
In the title story, Erin Pringle writes "I save my babies in the morning. The sky very blue that morning. Like tiny hands smearing rivers down walls."  This is what words can do. They can be as very blue as the sky and, like tiny hands, smear rivers down walls. "I will say that words are babies, you must correct their sins or the evil takes over and they float away."  Only you can save the words in the morning. Smell the pages. Read them too.
Pauline Masurel

"It is no mean achievement to sustain such a story-like lyricism over the long haul of a book-length collection. This is a remarkable debut. A keeper that keeps keeping on.” ~ Michael Martone

 The wonder of The Floating Order [. . .] is that it is impossible to pigeonhole. At their heart the stories have a darkly fantastic edge, but this aspect is more often than not a component of the character's view of the outside world.John Kenny


A debut work that is explicitly identified as experimental--or in this case "unique and innovative," as the book's back cover has it--seems a useful opportunity to consider what "experimental" appears to signify to young writers aspiring to produce fiction worthy of that designation. Erin Pringle's story collection The Floating Order (Two Ravens Press) offers such an opportunity, and while I have some reservations about classifying it as experimental, I nevertheless found this book an impressive set of stories. It is certainly not an ordinary first work of "literary fiction" and for that reason alone commends itself to readers looking for more than the pallid and derivative exercises in convention most such fiction has to offer.
If an immediately observable characteristic of "experimental fiction" is an implicit questioning of the centrality of "story," with its attendant requirements of "exposition," "narrative arc," "backstory," etc., then The Floating Order initially meets this expectation. A few of the stories do ultimately include moments of action--even rather extreme action--but most of them either proceed in the absence of a chartable narrative line or in effect take place in a discursive zone in which the important events have already happened, the protagonist, frequently the narrator and frequently a child, continuing on while unavoidably returning to these events in a fragmentary and oblique way. The reader is asked to suspend final comprehension of the nature and the consequences of these events, but the gradual realization of their full import has a quietly powerful effect.
The collection's first, and title, story is a good example of this approach. Narrated by a woman who has, we ultimately determine, drowned her own children (a situation no doubt inspired by the Andrea Yates case), the "story" unfolds as a kind of spontaneous emanation of the narrator's disturbed mind, circling around the deed but not quite confronting it, freely shifting from past to present, often speaking of the dead children as if they were still alive. The story doesn't so much plumb the depths of the character's insanity as it spills that insanity onto the page through the narrator's free associations of memory--however dissociated--and detail. Ultimately the jumbled, distorted pieces of the story cohere into an affecting account of the narrator's troubles, and the impact is only heightened by the incremental way in which the horror of her experience is revealed.
"The Floating Order" also exemplifies the prevailng prose style of the stories in this book, a style that reflects a certain ingenuousness in the characters' perspective expressed in unadorned language:
I asked the policeman if he'd like some juice, as we were out of milk. He was polite. I explained that my babies are saved. He held my hand and opened the car door for me. Natalie sat in the passenger seat and played with the radio dials. I told her to stop it. The policeman asked who I was talking to. I wouldn't explain. My husband has such high hopes.
Many of the stories are narrated by a child, for whom this sort of low-affect discourse seems well-suited in its guilelessness, but it also has an almost hypnotic effect when applied to damaged adult characters like this one. The occasional shocks it delivers as revelatory images and bits of information punctuate the narrator's recitation effectively substitute for straightforward plot progression.
The author wisely chose to present what is perhaps the volume's best story first, but the next several stories are also quite good, reinforcing the themes and the narrative strategy introduced in "The Floating Order." "Cats and Dogs" relates the predicament of two abandoned children (the father is in prison), the nature of that predicament revealed in the same piecemeal fashion; in "Looker," a father struggles to convey to his daughter what her now dead mother was like as a young woman, although again we have to infer she is dead through indirect references ("Your mother shouldn't have smoked"); "Losing, I Think" fitfully unfolds a story of a mother raising a child without the assistance of a mostly elusive father; in "Sanctuary," a mover while transporting a piano from a church finds the corpse of a young girl inside it.
These stories establish an atmosphere of menace and foreboding that permeates the book and that the style and structure introduced in the first few stories evoke especially well. Children are portrayed as particularly vulnerable to the hazards of the adult world, and thus most of the stories in The Floating Order feature children, either as narrators or important characters, attempting to cope with the consequences of human weakness, or in some cases with what seems the random drift of existence. The second half of the book is not as effective as the first, featuring some stories that are a little too sensational ("Why Jimmy?"), too melodramatic ("Drift") or tug a little too much at the heartstrings ("And Yet"), but the best stories show a young writer seeking to reveal uncomfortable truths and challenge complacent reading habits.
However, I'm not sure "experimental" would be the appropriate term to use in characterizing Erin Pringle's fiction as represented in The Floating Order. Ultimately the stories work to create an overarching depiction of the lives of children in present-day America, and, the honesty of the depiction notwithstanding, this is a project all too familiar in first books (and sometimes later ones as well) by American writers. To the extent that the book does take risks in style and form, it does so, or so it seems to me, in order to first of all advance this project, the "content" elevated above formal experiment. I don't necessarily say this is a flaw in the book, although I do say that the effort to "capture" childhood in fiction has become rather hackneyed and that while The Floating Order surpasses most other efforts in this sub-genre of literary fiction, it tacks hard enough in the direction of "saying something" about childhood in America in purely sociological terms that I have to regard whatever is "experimental" in the book as secondary to this larger purpose of locating the stories within the sub-genre, however "dark" they may be.
In my opinion truly experimental or innovative or adventurous fiction attempts to expand the possibilities of fiction as a literary form and does so for the sake of the form itself, not to amplify social or cultural criticism or to intervene in philosophical debates (although these things might be an indirect effect, as is often enough the case in all worthwhile fiction). To question whether The Floating Order really signals that Erin Pringle will consistently produce such aesthetically challenging fiction, however, is not at all to diminish its achievement or deny its satisfactions.
- David Green
http://www.thereadingexperience.net/tre/erin-pringle.HTML

Austin Chronicle - "The Great Escape"
Dan Powell Fiction - "Short Story Challenge"
John Kenny - "Book Review: The Floating Order" (April 2012)

Size Matters: The Mini-Comic Blog - Review of "The Only Child" by Shawn Hoke
The Short Review - Review by Pauline Masurel
Southwestern American Literature (Fall 2009) - Review on The Floating Order by Margo Wilson, XXXV,1: 89
Texas Books in Review (Summer 2009) - Review by Rene LeBlanc, Vol XXIX, No 2
Women: A Cultural Review - "More Than Women and Cats" by John Regan, Volume 22, Issues 2-3, p 278-281



Erin Pringle, The Whole World at Once: Stories, Vandalia Press, 2017.                             


The Whole World at Once is a collection of intense stories about the experience of loss. A soldier returns home from multiple tours only to begin planting landmines in the field behind his house; kids chase a ghost story up country roads only to become one themselves; one girl copes with the anniversary of her sister’s disappearance during the agricultural fair, while another girl searches for understanding after seeing the picture of a small boy washed onto a beach. 
Dark, strange beauties, all of the stories in The Whole World at Once follow the lives of people grappling with what it means to live in a world with death.



“Erin Pringle’s stories leave you no choice. They sing so gorgeously, break your heart so perfectly, that you’re forced to revise your understanding of loss, luck, and love.” - Tom Noyes
  
“In these restless and relentless fictions, the unstoppable storyteller Erin Pringle is at it again. “It” being the most American of dramas—the endless conflict between mobility and stability.  In these patently patient, transparently transparent, overly understated stories, the characters constantly fidget and fret in low frequency worries all the while their vital signs are sighing and simmering. These are pristine and persistent visions of hobble-hearted people going nowhere fast.  Her writing, word after word, will stop you in your tracks, will ease you over the edgiest of edges. Don’t blink!
 —Michael Martone


STORIES 
How the Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble 


When the Frost Comes Crossborder 

The Missing Time Lake Effect 


The Lightning Tree

The Midwife Glint Literary Journal (June 2012)

The Boy Who Walks Across FieldsINTER 01

This Bomb My Heart  War, Literature and the Arts

Winter's Wooden Sparrows Lake Effect (Issue #16/Spring 2012)

STORIES IN THE FLOATING ORDER
Digging 
Lake Effect (Issue 10)
Drift pacificReview
Every Good Girl Does Fine Big Pulp (2008)
Losing, I Think Whistling Shade, Circle Magazine
Looker
Park
Snow*vigate (defunct)
Rabbits
INTER 01
Raw As Hands
Pagitica in Toronto 
(Contest Winner)
Sanctuary
(Issue 9)
Skeletons/My Fourth Birthday/Hell is Channel Three 
SUBLIT (defunct)
Stay 

The Floating Order


Barrelhouse online,
illustrated version by W.Craghead in Barrelhouse (print)


Wednesday Night Reflections, Edited Thursday
QAE 10


Why Jimmy 
second-place winner in AC fiction contest


UNCOLLECTED


Dogzplot
Fall '09 Issue


Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary
Red Mountain Review


The Goblin Train

Mabel and Ivy


Magnolia Lyric


Midwest in Memoriam


Moxie 
Bonfire 3: An International Conflaguration 
(defunct; review of the issue)


The Nortang Bears
SAND Journal (Issue 5, June 2012)

Big Pulp (2010)


Pygmalions 
Ugly Accent (defunct)


Big Pulp (2013)


Remember Ella

DogzPlot 


Skydivers
Emrys Journal, Volume 29 


iTunes, Nook, Lulu


Thirteen Ways of Looking at My Father
Quay 


Trolls

Girls With Insurance 

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