GOLD FISH CIRCLING ON A WREATH OF HAIR: A Hybrid Novel: linked stories, prose poetry, and jelly recipes embedded in an overarching narrative that is part thriller, part brain science, served southern style
In 2016, CALYX (29:2) published “The Jelly Women,” an oddball story featuring a lusciously strange setting (a jelly and used goods, found objects store in fictional Pavo County, Georgia, a destination spot on the state tourism map because of the store's notorious prize-winning jellies); an entrepreneurial grandmother; and a 13-year-old granddaughter, Emily, who’s seeking answers to life’s questions, most especially the whereabouts of her daddy.
...From the editors at CALYX: This is a wonderful, witchy story. The voice is delightful and very well developed...the narrative deepens our sense of each of the characters. The folk elements are done well, and the story is edgy enough that it won’t alienate the more urban audience...one woman changes the whole area and their economic outlook. Not many stories with that at the center. Like how it comments on storytelling. The narrator comments that it might/could be told a different way. How we tell/change stories to keep a community together, with the jelly moving the plot.
GOLD FISH CIRCLING ON A WREATH OF HAIR incorporates as back story "The Jelly Women" and seven other short stories about the Bishop Family. The novel's present day narrative starts with middle-aged Emily’s pre-op psychological exam and her participation in a surgical trial to study the effects of an implanted chip to stimulate the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, and Emily’s consequent discovery that the study’s principal investigator is her missing brother.
As the peripheral narrator of “The Jelly Women" and the central narrator of the other stories, Emily speaks from the distant past. As she listens to the stories her grandma tells, and to those the store regulars tell, she tries to better herself: “Right off, I asked Grandma Bish the hardest question, and she answered back, not saying, but saying she hadn’t seen my daddy since before I was born. And, since I hadn’t seen him myself for nearly that long, I gave up my asking. I was thirteen. I needed a fresh start.”
From the story, “How Un-Lucky Are the Dead,” the reader learns the significance of storytelling from the literary ghosts who inhabit the store, which is wallpapered with their book jackets: “When a book left the HERE WE HAVE IT, it left stripped down, shrouded in brown paper...book jackets stayed in memoriam, a term Aug Bone, who was county coroner, was fond to use. He preached that even the most unlikeable of characters was meant to be remembered.”
Through the full set of stories, with their flashes of quirky humor, we see Emily listening to, observing, studying, and imitating her grandmother, eventually becoming a masterful story teller herself. But, in the title story, “Gold Fish Circling on a Wreath of Hair” Emily confides: “Unlike the stories my grandmother blessed things and people with, my stories didn’t please. Where I sensed heat and pus, I pulled up and ripped off scabs. My stories seeped with regret.”
Alongside china tea cups and saucers and antique oddities, such as clay marbles and a wire toaster for holding a slice of bread arm’s length above a flame, like you were toasting a marshmallow, there were several cloisonné pieces: a key ring with a thumb-sized green and yellow fish that wiggled in linked sections, a pill box, a pair of earrings, and several bangle bracelets. All used. All with a story. It was the telling of a story that resulted in the sale. *** “Bangles…Take a look-see…” said the mother and nudged the girl toward the display. Instead, the girl, whose name was Briney, like salt water, pressed closer. She was skinny white with arms and legs that squeezed like tentacles. Finally, her mother gave her a thump and the girl opened her eyes from inside her mother’s ribs to twist around toward me. Her eyes were the color of amber. Her eyelids, pink and thick from what I guessed was crying, were droopy, sad, like a blood dog’s. *** I suppose I could have said something nice that day about those bangle bracelets and about how all the girls at my school wore them...
Emily speaks to her own heartbreaks in “Between the Rows” (Existere/34:2, York University, Toronto), “Sofa Collectors,” and “The Stormy Sorrows" (under different title, Passager/issue 49, University of Baltimore).
Eight stand alone stories demonstrating the nature of memory and the power of storytelling create the back story for the novel, GOLD FISH CIRCLING ON A WREATH OF HAIR, and support the stage for an even wilder ride awaiting the grown Emily inside the Atlanta Brain Science Institute.