Review by Matt Larrimore
Whether you call it Flash Creative Non-Fiction or Micro Non-Fiction, Micrograms, by Nicole Walker is a book that bends lines, escapes boxes, and helps to bolster the burgeoning literary genre as a serious and robust form deserving study. This, the author’s third book overall and second book of non-fiction, is not simply a collection of micro essays. The parts come together and work as a whole to allow the reader to peer deeply into the topics, examine the minute details that hold the book’s mircoverse together.
From the very first essay “Microbarriers,” Walker’s narrator sets the tone for the book. The essay begins taking about the human organism and quickly affirms the interconnections of all life on our planet by showing the similarities between humans and the largest living animals Blue Whales, using the commonality that is the expansive wonder of the digestive gut. The piece juxtaposes a microscoping look into the bacteria necessary to live with the enormity of the ecosystem that is the digestive system. The work not only exposes our relationship to other living creatures but then takes the idea and shows how we are “infected” with and by each other. This move allows a humorous and sad narrative shift that makes connections to the narrator’s “bad” boyfriend from early high school. This interweaving of ideas provides striking and illuminating; the contrast lends the reader a unique insight that proves compelling. The technique of tying together multiple threads into a single essay continues throughout the book.
However these are not just interconnected-insightful-dense mini-essays, the prose itself differentiates the work. Strategic manipulation of sound and rhythm as well as creation of precise images, sets the prose apart as Walker’s narrator demonstrates the author’s poetic mastery of the language. Excellent examples abound; near the end of “Microscopium” reader will find one
… At 10 to the minus ten. We enter a vast inner space. The carbon nucleus. So large and so small. The domain of universal modules. A single proton fills our screen, fuels our scene.
Note that the section is comprised of short suggestive, almost bullet point, phrases that help to emphasize a staccato rhythm. The beginning of this end section begins with the four alveolar stops of the T sound giving the reader notice that this section of prose demands their attention. This is quickly followed by four (also voiceless alveolar) sibilant S sounds. The section ends with a rhyming echo that puts an appropriate flourish on this idea that unites the essay. The author’s deft manipulation of the language exhibits her expertise and skill; the hand of an experienced poet is at work. It is a display, though not garish, that neatly separates this author from many of her peers.
While the book coheres as a whole, there is a series of essays that create an informal section of their own. With her numbered “Microbortion” poems, Walker’s narrator makes a statement on the subject of child bearing and abortion. The reader may have wanted Walker to take the time to more carefully title these essays, though anyone who knows the author understands her causal relationship with titles. And not every reader will agree with the represented point of view on this politically charged topic, but we can all appreciate the bravery in making such statements and the skill with which they have been wrought.
The ideas and philosophy presented in the book will not be unfamiliar for most but the way they are offered will nicely reach many readers. Walker has a knack for finding just a few words that create a reflective idea, which can allow the reader to experience a new point of view on the subject just as the essay is ending. This makes for a reading experience that is marked by intermittent periods of reflection for which readers will be grateful. If you are a follower of Non-Fiction or even just a fan of the Flash / Micro form, “Micrograms” is a book well worth adding to your collection.
By Nicole Walker
New Michigan Press