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Pipette: Debut Novel from Flash Fiction Writer Kim Chinquee
A review of
Kim Chinquee's Pipette
Methodical as a lab procedure, rhythmic and soothing as the frequently mentioned chords of Max Richter’s piano—Kim Chinquee’s quickly moving debut novel Pipette (Ravenna Press, 2022) will engross you in a world so familiar, that you will soon forget it’s not your own life spilling out on the pages. The sparsity of Chinquee’s language is a delicacy; the relationships horrifically honest. Pipette takes simple procedures of life during the pandemic and breaks them down into complex, but familiar, human notions. The first novel of an acclaimed and prolific flash fiction writer—a career that has earned her three Pushcart Prizes and the Henfield prize—Chinquee puts her expertise into new form in Pipette. A short novel composed of “flashed” sections, each short “chapter” is wonderfully concise but never lacks for detail of expression. Chinquee’s characters, moreover, are brimming with life: charming and empathetic against the adversity of sickness and isolation.
Regret, broken love, and the struggle for fulfillment plague the otherwise mundane comings-and goings of a 50-something year old teacher and lab worker (a fiction deeply inspired, one might surmise, by the author’s own experiences as a creative writing professor and trained lab technician). When dangerous love becomes a repeating pattern of misery, however, Pipette asks how long you can remain complicit in the perils of your own life, before you take control of it again? As her protagonist reflects in the chapter called “Tax Season”:
“The morning of her death, he left for work, leaving her in the recliner. It was tax season and they were accountants. After his day at work, he came home, and my aunt was still in that same chair, same position. He asked if she wanted something to eat. Figured she was sleeping. He fixed himself some dinner, warming up the chicken in the microwave. Turned on the TV. After a while, he got up to put his dishes in the sink. Then, on his way back to his chair, he touched her hand. It was cold. She was sitting upright with her head down. My uncle slept with me. He took me to the bedroom. Where my aunt slept with him for years.
Was I complicit. (42)”
Through struggles of remembrance, acceptance, and adversity, Pipette’s protagonist becomes the heroine of her own life. She breaks from routine to find new forms of happiness as the comforts of her old life, love, home, and society, change around her. Chinquee shows her readers in a time of isolation and global fear what it takes to build a life back together again—but with a stronger foundation—into something worth remembering.
As a novel, Pipette asks as many questions as it answers. For instance: Is there ever such thing as owning too many dogs? Should you ever date men named Don even if they seem like fun? Why does your extended family make it difficult to get furniture from passed relatives?
Pipette is a harmlessly short read and it will leave the taste of poppies and dread on your tongue for days, as you leave behind the overwhelmingly raw, if a bit indulgently introspective reality of a local Buffalo writer. In Chinquee’s fiction, reality unfolds with the drip of a pipette upon its individually read, or collectively comprehensible, chapters. For dog lovers, explorers, readers, and those with exquisite taste in classical music, Pipette is a necessary read.
About the local author:
Kim Chinquee's fiction has appeared in over a hundred journals and anthologies including The Nation, Ploughshares, Storyquarterly, Indiana Review, Noon, Denver Quarterly, Conjunctions, Mississippi Review, New Orleans Review, Fiction, Willow Springs, and others. She is the recipient of three Pushcart Prizes and a Henfield Prize. Her collections OH BABY, PISTOL, VEER, SHOT GIRLS, WETSUIT, SNOWDOG and her novel PIPETTE were published by Ravenna Press; her collection of prose poems, PRETTY, was published by White Pine Press. She is an associate professor of English and creative writing at SUNY-Buffalo State, Senior Editor of New World Writing and Chief Editor of ELJ (Elm Leaves Journal). (Kim Chinquee, Goodreads)
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