IF MY BOOK: Shapeshifting, Michelle Ross

Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors compare their recently released books to weird things. This week Michelle Ross writes about her new story collection, Shapeshifting, out now from Stillhouse Press.

If Shapeshifting were a method of birth control, it would be that pill for men, the one that no pharmaceutical company will manufacture because it entails similar side effects to the pills marketed to women (i.e., weight gain, loss of sex drive), and nobody believes men feel there’s enough at stake for them in an unwanted pregnancy to tolerate that shit. 

If Shapeshifting were a baby shower gift, it would be a bottle of small batch whiskey in a shimmering black box, a gift that all the aunts and cousins at the shower blink at, a gift that will be at the forefront of the mother-in-law’s mind when she leaves a long voicemail message for the mother-to-be about how she is praying for her grandchild. 

If Shapeshifting were a birth announcement, it would be a lost sticky note with the words, “email baby pic to people,” and under that, “don’t forget to shower.” 

If Shapeshifting were a preschool show-and-tell object, it would be the mother’s heart. The child would say, “Look, see how when I press on it, it slows? And when I poke it with a pencil, it bleeds?” As the heart got passed around the circle, the children would delight in discovering new ways to test the mother’s heart. 

If Shapeshifting were a Mother’s Day gift, it would be the bitter disappointment of being left with the kids while her partner shops for five hours only to end up buying her some dumb shit she doesn’t want instead of giving her what she really wants: solitude. 

If Shapeshifting were a terrible thought, well, it would be a thousand terrible thoughts about bad things that could happen to her child, thoughts that not only worry the mother but that make her feel guilty because what does that say about her that she is so damn creative in imagining new ways for her child to be harmed? 

If Shapeshifting were a memento kept of a child’s early life, it would be a matchbox full of sharp, little teeth, one of which once pricked the mother’s finger. 

If Shapeshifting were a child’s birthday party balloon, it would be an empty mylar of the mother flattened against the wall alongside the empty mylars of superheroes and cartoon characters and video game characters, except, of course, the difference being that no child would ever choose to inflate her, not even (maybe especially) her own.

If Shapeshifting were a resentment about the mother’s own childhood, that resentment would be as thorny and sticky as a field of stick-a-burs. The mother is not a child, though. She will not whine all that much. She will suck it up and brush the stick-a-burs off, again and again and again. 

Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections, There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award and Finalist for the 2017 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Short Stories, Shapeshifting, winner of the Stillhouse Press Short Story Award (2021), and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (forthcoming in Spring 2022). Her fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, The Common, Epiphany, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, TriQuarterly, Witness, and other venues. Her fiction has been selected for Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and the Wigleaf Top 50, among other anthologies. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review and was a consulting editor for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology. A native of Texas, she received her B.A. from Emory University and her M.F.A and M.A. from Indiana University. She currently lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband and son. michellenross.com

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