If any of you are die-hard flash fiction readers and/or writers (we suspect the Venn diagram there isn’t especially divergent), you’ll be familiar with the whole ‘is this a new form?’ debate; it’s not, of course, though it’s super-popular these days, thanks in part to the proliferation of journals, many of them online, that currently promote the form (quick to read; handy for screens, etc). Flash fiction’s been around for ages, and though we’re not going to get into apocryphal Hemingway genesis arguments, we are going to point you the way of series editor Tara L. Masih’s eye-opening foreword to this new flash anthology series. Masih reminds us that way back in the 1950s, Robert Oberfirst ran a print series called Anthology of Best Short-Short Stories; it started in ’52 and stopped eight years later, but while it ran, much like its more famous counterpart, Best American Short Stories, it plucked out the year’s most impressive published pieces of ‘short-short fiction’, including pieces by Faulkner, Kerouac, and (a favourite of ours) V.S. Pritchett. Masih wants her new series to revive that tradition. She’s refreshingly honest in the same foreword about the selection process – who did the reading, how stories were nominated and how the final selection of 55 was assembled (blind, if you’re interested) by her inaugural guest editor, Robert Olen Butler (A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain and more) – which, alongside the breadth of journals represented (mostly US-based but many of them small publications), makes it all seem intriguingly democratic.
So what’s it like? Well, it’s nicely eclectic in terms of both style and content, with works that range from plot-driven mini-dramas to those that are more image-rich and could as easily be classed as prose poetry, and it features writers from the famous (Bobbie Ann Mason) to the famous-in-the-genre (Michael Martone) to the up-and-coming (Danielle McLaughlin) and the new-to-us (Dan Moreau, Yennie Cheung). There was, as you’d expect, plenty we didn’t like, but about a fifth of the assembled works truly stood out to us, which is a pretty good ratio in a form that’s both tricky to define and, often, tricky to parse. So here’s a run-down of some of our highlights.
McLaughlin’s ‘Shaping Air’, about a seductive balloon animal artist, is simultaneously surreal, tense, and (almost) erotic. Ron Carlson’s ‘You Most Intercept The Blue Box Before It Gets To The City’ has the same absurdity and humour as a Donald Barthelme piece, alongside a melancholic nostalgia that both complements the mania of the rest of the piece and makes the story linger. Dan Moreau’s ‘Dead Gary’ is matter-of-fact, grotesque, hilarious and deeply sad – Gary, who’s dead, keeps on coming into work because he’s got nothing better to do – like Sean of the Dead meets Then We Came To The End, but massively compacted, and possibly our favourite of Butler’s selection. Valerie Vogrin’s ‘Before the Shot’ is ostensibly about the difficulties of being a crime photographer (the narrator’s husband has been assigned death-row shoot), and then it morphs into something altogether more complicated about truth and marriage. Seth Brady Tucker’s ‘Wimbledon’ takes a pair of bickering junkies, throws in a Nadal-Federer Wimbledon match and comes out with a story about competitive masturbation that is, we swear, a lot funnier and sadder than the summary might imply. Yennie Cheung’s ‘Something Overheard’ is an interesting look at the interactions (or lack thereof) between neighbours, and the boundaries you do, or don’t, maintain. David Mellerick Lynch’s ‘The Lunar Deep’ takes a moon-obsessed father who’s slowly losing his mind, and the son who ‘begins to hate him’, and ends up with a very funny, very poignant picture of familial disintegration. Blake Kimzey’s ‘The Boy and the Bear’ is a nice take on the fairy-tale transformation story – the sons in this family hit puberty, sprout fur, grow claws and are cast out, in a piece about acceptance and selfhood and rebellion. And, lastly, Ron Reikki’s ‘The Family Jewel’ starts a couple of drugged-up paramedics and a urine-soaked statue of the Buddha – these guys could do guest appearances for Fuckhead in Johnson’s Jesus’ Son.
Any Cop?: It’s a mixed bag, as are most anthologies, but it’ll definitely give you a good sense of what people are writing and publishing under the banner of flash fiction, or ‘small fiction’, and certainly give you a few names to watch out for in the coming years.