K.S. Dyal’s It Felt Like Everything is a novella-in-flash that does so many things that I love about the form. Writing about pain is difficult but writing about joy is sometimes nearly impossible. In his new craft book, Unlocking the Novella-in-Flash, Michael Loveday makes the point that the novella-in-flash writer can stop focusing on the narrative arc and instead explore the moments that contain so much of our lives much as Gwendolyn Brooks does in Maud Martha. Dyal is able to find joy and pain in these moments as she explores the lives of two young women who are coming of age in Buffalo, New York. Both are adolescents and having a hard time fitting in and understanding themselves. Both are exploring their understanding of sexuality, of course, and both feel awkward and out of place. That’s to be expected. They are teenagers, after all. There is nothing spectacular that happens in this book, but the writing is strong, which makes their lives fascinating. I doubt that the characters could have been written this well in any other form, and Dyal uses the flash episodes to draw out what is interesting and meaningful about the everyday.
So much of what constitutes what is interesting in the everyday lives of most people is lost to literature because it is difficult for longer forms of fiction to sustain the drama of normal life; however, there is great meaning in those shared moments of humanity. Dyal is able to bring readers back into the world of teenage life. For me, going through this, I remembered the difficulty I had just trying to figure out how to act in adult society when everyone around me seemed to be so clear on what they should do and how they should act. At one point, Marin is aware of her body as she just tries to fit in with other kids her age, “I was so aware of my movements. I was doing that thing where I tried to see myself how others were seeing me, my gestures and my posture, and it distracted me from what I was actually doing and saying” (41). This egoism of youth feels so real to me. It brought me back to my own narcissistic teenage angst.
Of course, the teenage years are not filled with pain alone; Dyal captures the joy and exploration of that time as well. The titular story is about a young woman understanding who she is, and that she is attracted to her best friend. “It felt like everything, how I loved Martina. My best friend, a girl” (23). Dyal brings us back to that place of self-discovery. It is magic at that age as we start to understand who we are and what we value. Here, we get a coming-of-age epiphany where Kate has the relief of understanding what had previously been confusing emotions. Now, she is sure of herself. In another story, Marin is worried about her mother. Her father has died years earlier, but her mother has been so invested in raising Marin that she has not pursued any relationships, for nearly a decade. Marin tries, clumsily, to set her up with a local construction worker, bringing the man into her house on the weak premise that she might want to hire him. What’s magic about the scene is the caring that the daughter invests in her mother. Teenagers are often depicted as being only selfish and only shallow. This is a person learning the skills of empathy and compassion, and Dyal handles the moment beautifully.
K.S. Dyal’s It Felt Like Everything is an exceptional book. She is someone who understands the form of the novella-in-flash and uses it properly. What she has done is captured the humanity of her characters so well, and she has shown us that this is something we all share. Dyal is a writer of compassion and sensitivity, and I hope that this is just the first of many books from her.
John Brantingham 20th January 2023