There are a lot of so-called proponents of flash fiction who, in my book, don’t quite get flash fiction. Flash fiction isn’t or shouldn’t be just short nothing very much episodes or random interludes or spikey obtuse oddities. Flash fictions are just very short short stories – but all of the rules, demands and challenges of the short story form still apply. If you look at Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn – still a masterclass in writing flash fiction – or even Dave Eggers’ Short Shorts, you’ll hopefully see what I mean. Just because the stories are short doesn’t mean they have an easy ride. If anything they should work harder. They’re certainly not a depository for half-formed ideas that a writer can’t be bothered to work at or turn into longer more thought out pieces. Thankfully Nick Parker’s excellent collection The Exploding Boy and Other Tiny Tales is fit to rub shoulders with the likes of Brautigan. Fledgling flashers take note!
What you have here are forty or so stories, a great many of which are extremely good. The title story kicks things off:
We only call him the Exploding Boy now, of course; retrospectively. For most of last year he was known only as the Ticking Boy, which wasn’t nearly so dramatic and led mainly to teasing by us, I’m ashamed to say.
One of the best things about this story, and others in the collection, is that – as good as the start is, there is a story behind it every bit as good. Parker isn’t just a writer with the ability to craft an opening hook or a nice title – he also has a way with words and a healthy respect for the need for a good story. Take ‘The Field of Ladders’ as an example. This could be a case study from the field book of RD Laing. A husband and wife pay their seventh visit to the field of ladders and basically spend the entire time arguing (whenever his wife agrees with him, he changes his opinion) – but it is in the Magnus Mills-y naming of the differently shaped ladders that genius flares magnesium bright.
There are half page pieces that do run more like skewed observations – ‘The Technical Fault’, for example, informs us
Due to a technical fault, we had to cancel a number of things yesterday: the parade in your honour; the chat show; the witch hunt.
Others, like ‘The Chuckling Boxes’ which concerns an accident at the box-packing factory, unravel like wry jokes with softly buttered punchlines. But there’s more to Nick Parker even than this. ‘The Boy With Stones for Eyes’ could be an Edward Gorey offcut or an émigré from Tim Burton’s The Lonely Death of Oyster Boy. There are incongruous lists – such as ‘The Autobiography of Erik Satie (Abbreviated)’ which wouldn’t be out of place on the McSweeney’s website and shorts like ‘The Goat Tetherer Attempts to Make History’ which wouldn’t feel out of place in a Roberto Bolano collection (whoever keeps churning out all the Bolano stuff take note). There are also longer pieces, such as ‘Summer of the Pakflake’ which revolves around a peculiar British culinary obsession and is both hilarious and frighteningly plausible.
All told, The Exploding Boy and Other Tiny Tales is a lovely collection, highly recommended, well worth picking up a copy of. Parker has eschewed conventional publishing routes – which ninety nine times out of a hundred is the act of a madmen but in this case is probably as it should be.
Any Cop?: A tremendous collection of flash fiction which sets the flash bar extremely high and should hopefully deter a few flash fiction sorts from ever putting pen to paper again.
You can – and indeed should – pick up a copy of The Exploding boy over at http://www.theexplodingboy.com/