It isn’t until you read a particularly good collection of flash fiction (and, for your information, Dan Rhodes’ new book Marry Me is that very thing) that you realise (a) flash fiction is a deeply maligned form because lots and lots of people think it’s easy and (b) for every good collection of flash fiction there are perhaps 863 bad collections of flash fiction (the argument being that flash fictions are much like buses – ‘if you don’t like this one, there’ll be another along by the time you turn the page and maybe you’ll like that one instead’ so it doesn’t matter if this is average because the next one might be… oh, average as well). The fact is though that flash fictions should work hard, should in fact be diamonds compressed by time (and WORK) into beautiful and/or moving and/or hilarious and/or some fourth unknown unknown that blows your socks off and makes you realise how good a form it is (I refer you, once more, to Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn for the true North of the form).
If you’ve gradually been put off the form, then Dan Rhodes’ Marry Me is just the kind of book to suck you back in. What we have here is a book, very much in the vein of his previous (also excellent) flash outing, Anthropology – the only difference being where Anthropology largely centred on relationships, Marry Me (perhaps unsurprisingly) centres on wedlock. What we have here are almost 80 stories in which proposals are made, rejected and accepted, fiances change their minds, weddings occur (in which brides go back on their initial desire to not spend all that much money), marriages fail, lovers enter stage right, hearts are broken and for the most part useless men learn just how useless they are (in bed, with women, at life in general). The wit is dry (in a good way), punchlines are delivered with aplomb and you’ll find yourself reading, as I did, with a stupid grin on your face. If this is not enough to persuade you to part with your hard-earned and purchase a copy (as you should), here is an example from the book to whet your appetite:
Hoping to save our marriage, I wouldn’t agree to my wife’s request for a divorce. We ended up in front of a judge, who took one look at her and one look at me, and started laughing. ‘Do you seriously think I’m going to make her stay married to you?’
My now ex-wife gave me one of her I told you so looks, and as usual I had no choice but to concede that she had been right all along.
If you still require a gentle nudge in the direction of the bookshop, here is one more:
I begged my wife to stay. ‘Please,’ I said. ‘For the children’s sake.’
‘But we don’t have any children.’
‘I know. But I always hoped that one day…’
All told, it’s a highly enjoyable treasure trove that you’ll read twice in an afternoon before debating whether or not you could squeeze in a third read before tea. And if you go with the third read (perhaps sneaking in a coffee and a biscuit along the way), you won’t regret it for a second. Dan Rhodes is a past master at this kind of thing and any time spent soaking up his genius is time well spent.
Any Cop?: The perfect way to while away a wintry afternoon and the kind of book anyone considering a flash fiction collection themselves should study up on.