In 38 flash pieces, each delightfully positioned on a single page, Jayne Martin offers up a biting and intimate showcase of the kinds of violence, grief, tenderness, and persistence a lifetime can contain. Every story is preceded by its own image complete with hearts broken or whole—a vital and artful distillation of events to come. Martin’s vignettes draw the reader into character and scene before telling the story of a new kind of injury or pain, often subverting expectations with a twist or sudden insight. Each is sharp and lingering, a bittersweet recounting of the deeply human. By the end of the collection we come to expect this wrench and pull and often these tiny stories beckon a second read. The book asks you to sit with and taste each piece—like a bowl of candies, every story has its own unique flavor which you must take the time to roll around your tongue before swallowing.
A former writer for television movies, Martin has an eye for image and symbolism and knows how to create a powerfully perceptible world within a limited frame. Cakes and casseroles evidence unspeakable grief and attempts at condolence, a lone shoe or slipper becomes a glimpse at escape or societal critique. Many of the stories are heartbreaking or bittersweet, each honest and raw. She writes of family, friendship, and romantic love as well as the ravenousness of men, the things we witness, and the ways we respond to grief. In “Travels with Ivan,” Martin takes us through a relationship and lifetime in three short paragraphs. As Margot carries Ivan’s ashes, Martin writes, “Together they had traveled the world making memories at every destination, and she had promised to return him to the places he had loved most.” Her cuts cover everything from the cumbersome accumulation of quotidian melancholies to the kinds of loss we must all inevitably face and the tragedies we hope we never encounter. Often, the violence is left at the edges of the story, only the aftermath exposed or hinted toward. Jayne Martin goes beyond showing; she asks the reader to reach in and feel each raw cut for herself.Tender Cuts changes shape, voice, and perspective as it makes its way through the growth and soft rot of a world not bereft of the fantastical. We see the mundane and the mystical—from ironed shirts and plastic crowns to Ouija boards and lobsters folding laundry—through stories centering mostly women. In “Morning Glory,” a mother feels suffocated by her child, her emotion manifesting in the world as a vine which “creeps over our mulberry bushes, strangles the sycamore and the spruce, swallowing everything in its path.”
In “Gone,” a woman recognizes both her partner’s infidelity and her connection to this new woman, realizing “She’d been her at one time before the years had made her, too, replaceable.” Martin lays bare the wounds of children and infants as well as women aging or losing their memories to time. The return of Julie Sue, one of the few named characters, reminds us what the collection is about. We start and end the collection with this beauty pageant queen, experiencing her fraught relationship with her mother in several vignettes and following her from childhood to her own children’s lives. Each vignette that features her echoes the title of the collection, some new kind of cut which moves Julie Sue through time. In “Final Cut,” Julie Sue’s daughter wounds herself on glass, saying “I taste the blood of my mother,” a rare physical injury awash in the emotional and psychological turmoils faced by the characters in the collection. Martin shows us how we move through time, from childhood to death, and the wounds we accumulate and inherit.
With the final image of the collection, a shattered heart piecing together, Jayne Martin reminds us of the shared scars which bind us to each other and the ways in which mended wounds can tear open again. She shows the beating flesh of each heart and the hands which wield the cutting knife. She asks us to witness as each character heals or fails to heal. Tender Cuts is for anyone who has not remained unscathed, for everyone who persists.
Jayne Martin is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions nominee, and a recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Work in New Flash Fiction Review, Spelk, Crack the Spine, Midwestern Gothic, Barren, MoonPark Review, Blink-Ink, and Bending Genres among others. She is also the author of Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry, a collection of humor essays. Her TV-movie writing credits include Big Spender for Animal Planet, and A Child Too Many, Cradle of Conspiracy, and Deceived by Trust for Lifetime. She lives in California, where she rides horses and drinks copious amounts of fine wines, though not at the same time.
Hayli May Cox is a PhD student at The University of Missouri and currently serves as an editor for Heavy Feather Review. Her fiction and creative nonfiction has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Paper Darts, DIAGRAM, Crab Fat Magazine, Sundog Lit, and others. In her free time Hayli paints, builds with Lego, walks her cat, and indulges in late night audiostrolls.