Queer. Abrupt. Sketches. Nicole Haldoupis' Tiny Ruins
Our latest review is of Nicole Haldoupis's Tiny Ruins, available now from Radiant Press.
This 88-page novella is told through brief flash fiction pieces that all centre on Alana, first as a child, and then as she grows through adolescence and into young adulthood beside her sister, Janie and their friend, Sara. As the girls enter teenagehood, Alana begins to fantasise about a sexual and romantic relationship with Sara. She recognises her feelings, as she has had similar desires for boys, and yet Alana is still uncertain about her own bisexuality. The book offers a nuanced take on internalised bi-phobia: “Alana walked Sara home and all the way there she thought about asking if she wanted to hang out after but got nervous because she didn’t want to be another creepy guy for her except a girl this time” (35). This brings together Alana’s fear of becoming predatory (a common stereotype of bisexuality) and her limited knowledge of dating (if all the boys are creepy, then she has no example to follow for asking out a girl). The tension caused by Alana’s uncertainty remains throughout the book, but shifts as she grows and discovers more about her queerness.
The scenes that comprise Tiny Ruins are primarily no longer than one page, and so the reader is dropped into a scene, pulled out, and then launched into another in quick succession. Abruptly encountering scenes builds momentum as the reader is propelled forward. This style forges a bond between the book’s form and content—Alana feels her world shifting rapidly around friendships and romantic interests, and this is mirrored in the rapid delivery of each scene. While the abruptness of the style provides a compelling forward force, that same style presents a challenge in delving into the stakes and consequences of the larger narrative.
Temporally, Tiny Ruins advances linearly, which at times provides context to previous scenes as the story advances. However, this is not always the case, and certain scenes or storylines feel truncated, like brief sketches. For example, the scene titled “Janie’s Cat” early in the book features Sara calling Janie and Alana to say she saw Janie’s cat dead on the street. In another context, this could have seemed ominous—the scene hints at a strained friendship—so perhaps Sara hurt the cat, but as both appear many more times later in the book, that would be unlikely. The remaining possibilities, if Sara did not harm the cat and the cat is alive, are that Sara could have been playing a cruel joke or she did see a dead cat on the street that she mistook as Janie’s cat. Those explanations are at odds with each other—one coming from a place of hurt or malice, the other from compassion. Like all young people figuring themselves out, Sara later exhibits all those characteristics as the young women’s friendships change over time, so the reader never knows the purpose of the phone call about the dead cat.
At times, these sketches work well together to form a realised whole—such as the various snippets of Alana and Janie’s childhood relationship. But at other times, the plotlines feel thin and would have benefitted from more context or further development.
Overall, Alana is a compelling character and her journey of self-discovery is an important representation for an often invisible queerness. She doesn’t have all the answers and her story does not tie-up neatly, but that makes sense, as Tiny Ruins feels like a beginning for Alana, the rest of the story open for all possibilities.