150 words is barely a long enough word count for Victoria Beckham’s daily shopping list. It is not enough space to create a story. Especially not a story that manages to be witty, surprising, eloquent, haunting, upsetting, or completely bizarre. And 150 words is surely not enough to create any stories that manage to be many of these things at once. Surely. But this is what David Gaffney has attempted, not once, but seventy-three times, in his latest collection. More Sawn-Off Tales is the follow up to the much vaunted Sawn-Off Tales of 2006. Any fans of that collection will not be disappointed.
Gaffney gets inside the mind of the characters that fill this collection, telling us more about them in the two pages they exist within than many authors tell us in a whole novel. In ‘It Happens Inside’ we encounter Sheila, a somewhat warped radiologist with a penchant for thievery: just five small paragraphs later we know all about the sad fantasy she lives in. We go from mistrusting her to feeling genuine sympathy in as much time as it takes to click your fingers. ‘In Oasis Leisure Lounge’ we route for Howard and his touching love for his overweight wife. In ‘Effective Calming Measures’ we find ourselves amused and horrified by the actions of a man who has serious grievances with the council. Those are just a few of the highlights. There’s no room here to go into detail about the man whose penis is so big he needs a physical theatre company to bring him to climax, or the oddball who dumps eyes in the bottom of a river, or even Valerie, the woman who appears to organise her dead boyfriends into a twisted version of a teddy bears’ picnic.
The plots of these stories sound surprising, and that’s because they are. In fact, the best thing about this collection is that almost every story flips your emotions and expectation when you turn from its opening page to its closing. So many of them bring a wry smile to the lips, or force out a loud chuckle that will make your fellow commuters stare at you like you’re as warped as the characters in the book you’re reading. And as much as you might begin to expect surprises as you progress through the collection, it’s almost impossible to second guess what direction the author will take us in.
Any Cop?: Whether we call it micro, flash, or short short fiction, there is no denying that pulling off stories of this length is a rare and enviable talent. Gaffney writes them with a skill I haven’t seen elsewhere. Much of the best flash fiction will pick an emotion and batter it, doing all it can to bring a tear to the eye or a laugh to the throat. Gaffney wouldn’t be satisfied with that. He wants it all at the same time. And often in this collection, he gets exactly that.