In this winner of the Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest, judged by Rigoberto González, flash fiction pieces immerse readers in their subjects' complex experiences with desire, selfhood, and omnipresent danger while highlighting the unreality within the real.
...Nicole Rivas' beautiful book... is all about violations, devastating in their ordinariness. To read this book is to be cut by it ... Rivas’ stories are compact, tender, and razor-sharp. They combine the fairytale dread of Carmen Maria Machado with the dream-scape disorientation of Kelly Link ... Dagger’s striking prose is especially suited to the stories narrated by teenagers. These stories are so recognizable and honest, perfectly capturing the feeling of being a young girl in a world that both scorns and fetishes you. Every detail works ... Rivas’ collection is beautiful and necessary, heartbreaking and healing ... In this world, we need more books like A Bright and Pleading Dagger.
While what women’s lives depend on can readily be seen as an underlying theme, one might argue that Rivas’s tense, clipped pieces don’t so much place a finger on pressure points, as they do create the impression of a battle-scarred warrior, pointing out each of her wounds with a dispassionate finger, sharing her 'war' experiences with other, equally-scarred veterans of life as a woman today ... this sharp, chest-tightening collection draws on what are, sadly, familiar and heart-breakingly common experiences for many women. Rivas shares those in the tight, gristly, almost detached prose of a warrior pointing to each scar as proof of having survived that particular battle. Those who would avert their eyes from those scars, who would prefer to remain oblivious to the battles fought and the pain experienced, probably will not find what they’re looking for in this steely little book. For others, it’s a chance to find a bit of solidarity, and perhaps a bit of enlightenment, too.
Twelve stories in all, each one with a female protagonist, the author packs the collection with rich language and powerful themes — and yet there’s a gentle subtleness that carries the reader through. Poignant in places, sad in some ways, and even frightening in others — from the woman who is dating her gynecologist to the girl haunted by a night that changed everything, this collection is both profound and unnerving. If you want a shining example of how much story can be packed into a tiny space, this is it.