Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A sliver of light

Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short StoriesFlash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories by James Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been binge-reading a lot of flash fiction lately, which is a pretty easy and wonderful thing to do anytime and anywhere. Riding the MTR, waiting for mom to finish her errands at the bank, sitting on the toilet ... you name it.

As the title of the anthology suggests, the stories in Flash Fiction Forward are each over in a flash, and the authors only have so many pages that they can use to surprise or move us.

Sometimes, the stories end too soon and expectations are not met. Most times, however, the pieces in this collection have shown me the magic of short form.

Many of the writers use the brevity of their stories to experiment with style: "Currents" is told backwards, "To Reduce Your Likelihood of Murder" is a list of of orders ("Do not go outside. Do not go outside, on dates, or to the store..."), "Test" is a four-part 'exam' that makes you rethink your life (with Extra Credit, "Fully explain the ways in which you are wrong").

A lot of the stories also use their endings to effectively reverse the impressions that we formed at the beginning, meaning that our initial assumptions still linger in our heads by the time a story is over (after all, each one is so short) and make us wonder about what on earth just happened. In "Accident," a car accident that could have gone terribly wrong turns into an opportunity for the protagonist to potentially make new friends and come to terms with his loneliness; in "The Handbag," a crime devolves into an unusual and low-key romance story. In "The Good Life," a woman who seemingly has it all going for her turns out to be stuck in a rather dark place.

Due to their brevity, the stories also have the space to capture single symbols very wholesomely and memorably. In "Parrot Talk," our protagonist - like the parrot she talks about - has also "adapted to a hostile environment" and flourishes in it. In "Toasters," the image of two slices of bread popping out simultaneously (plus the heat/suspense/force that comes with it) echoes the double domestic fights happening in the story.

Short and daring, some stories also just simply throw you something bizarre and let you absorb it for a spell. "My Date with Neanderthal Woman" transfixes you from start to finish in all its brilliant strangeness and unconventionality, the ending of "Crazy Glue" feels like a dream, and "The Orange" is about a fruit that ruled the world (until it was eaten).

The last piece in the collection is called "Death of the Short Story," but the imagination and gusto of the stories in this anthology prove that the short-short story is more alive than ever. Even the ending of that last piece, which reveals how everyone started making up "lies about the Story," demonstrates the immortality of fiction. As writers and readers, we are indeed always waiting for "a sliver of light" to "break loose from the oblong, suspended momentarily like a musical note on fire before streaking recklessly into the surrounding night," inspiring our writing and illuminating our lives with a literal flash of fiction.

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