Flash Friday Review: “Symbology” by Betsy M. Narvaez, published in The Brooklyn Rail

Many years ago in a short story workshop, one of the teachers, while discussing dreams in stories, said something to the effect of: “Share a dream, lose a reader.” Meaning, dreams, like in real life, are never as interesting to anyone else other than the dreamer herself. No one gives a shit about your extended slumber-time adventures with your third-grade pen pal on a balance beam overlooking some strange and muddy river.

But take a look at “Symbology” by Betsy M. Narvaez which opens with the line: “My mother began sharing her nightmares with me the same year I unfurled and grew taller than anyone had anticipated…”

So maybe nightmares are more compelling than dreams. Maybe when the nightmares and dreams are connected to the transition between childhood and adulthood, the meaning is more pronounced, more urgent. I’d say Betsy M. Narvaez proves that dreams/nightmares are indeed compelling, and I would argue further that her use of these dream/nightmares proves to hold deft insights into the characters of the story.

“Symbology” is a flash fiction piece where each stanza or section acts as a stepping stone toward the final realization which brings one of the mother’s nightmares (almost) to realization. The nightmare involves a hospital, her death. And I don’t think it’s a spoiler to announce that the mother doesn’t die. That would be too spot on and meaningless to the story. Instead, what we get are these tender moments that unfurl. The narrator, after what she’s heard about the nature and importance of dreams, by the end of this story, wants to share with her mother something “that might convince her that dreams hold messages richer than warnings.” That life is more about life and less about death. And since the certainty of that notion should render us free in some way (yes, we all die), we need not preoccupy ourselves with something so predictable, but instead bask in the gorgeous unpredictability of being alive.

Check out Betsy M. Narvaez’s story here.

Betsy M. Narváez is an Ecuadorian-American writer and translator. A native New Yorker, she was born and raised in the Bronx and now resides in Washington Heights. She earned an MFA from Rutgers Newark and a B.A. in English and American studies from Wesleyan University. 

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