Most folks who see a Toulouse-Lautrec poster of 19th Century Parisian women doing the can-can have one of two reactions: (i) Oh, how wonderfully vivid! or (ii) What’s the big deal about Toulouse-Lautrec again? If you skip over (i) and (ii) and instead immediately sit down to create a story of heartbreak, loss, and betrayal starring a Parisian dancer, that’s a sign you’re a terrific writer.
More people are now aware that Rachel Swirsky is a terrific writer thanks to her well-deserved Hugo nomination for “Eros, Philia, Agape,” but I fear not many realize just how terrific she is. Case in point, I rarely get much out of flash fiction, and I would never expect to get anything out of a non-fantastic flash piece about someone bummed over losing a girlfriend. But in “Tipping the Velvet,” Swirsky takes that mundane set-up and in less than a thousand words brings a Parisian dancing girl in love with a fellow dancer memorably to life:
The music shifts and we set our hands on each other’s shoulders, taking turns leading each other across the planks. Skirts whoosh and rustle, rimmed with lace and red. Men swoon at the sight of our white ankles, but I want more than flesh from you. I want the spice of your breath and the tension of your fingertips and the flint in your ruthless eyes.The more of Rachel Swirsky's work I read, the more I want to read.