Forty six stories are included in Santino Prinzi's debut collection of flash fictions published by The Nottingham Review. Many of the characters in this diverse and fascinating collection see life from the periphery, longing to connect with others and finding this hard or impossible.
Stories take place in cafes, parks, food and clothes stores, kitchens and parties and reveal the lives of (usually) young people in contemporary urban society. Prinzi's style is clean and precise – low on metaphor, simile and embellished language of any kind. This way of writing suits the subject matter and setting of the stories, which have no fluffy edges, although some are humorous and playful. Shelf Life is like that – a neatly crafted story following the path of a relationship all the way to its noir end as the protagonists wander around a bookshop morphing personalities as they select different genres of writing from the shelves.
The most inventive title in the collection has to be I Grew my New Boyfriend in a Petrie Dish. I like the ironic undertones in this story. “Mitosis is beautiful, and so is my Brad Pitt look-alike boyfriend. I can't wait.” The old boyfriend is boring and won't respond, but what about the narrator's need for perfection and control?
...And other flashes of perception, the second half of the title of the collection, is a good way of summarising the angle Prinzi takes in his stories. The characters often have flashes of perception about themselves. They reflect on their own situations or notice things about others and the world. Dots, the title story, shows Miles, a man at a party in a high-rise, who's watching Rosie, a woman he longs for. She's completely uninterested in him and has been for months. A small detail illustrates his desperation. “She held her coffee tight, and Miles wondered what it would be like to be that coffee.” Miles is interrupted by a know-it-all fat man who is watching him and looms closer to give him advice. “She made it clear she doesn't like you”. Miles turns away from the intruder to look through the window at the street far below, where the people seem like dots. “It was as if every dot had another dot with them. They all seemed to coalesce and he was standing up here alone. If his dot wasn't on the other side of the room as he always had believed, he wondered where his dot was hiding?” The story leaves interesting unanswered questions. Is Miles a stalker? Is the fat man protecting Rosie or Miles? Or is he just out for himself?
Like Old Times also leaves much unsaid and indicates the precarious emotional state of the protagonist, Clive. He used to be fat – nick-named "cakey Clive" back at school and now, newly thin, is standing outside a cake shop “Excitement and dread reverberate around his body, his feet become unstuck as he decides to go inside.” But Clive doesn't go in – he meets Jen, who he knew from university coming out and is confounded because she seems pleased to see him. There's a precarious unspoken edge in this story. Does she really like him? Will he have to go back to the shop and comfort himself with food later?
Hungry, another finely observed and empathic piece about food issues and control, is a story about a mother's struggle with over-eating. She's taken her sixteen year old son to a restaurant for a birthday treat and wants to eat normally and give him a good time. But it doesn't work out that way as the end paragraph shows.
"You can have the rest of mine if you want Mum, I'm full."
I knew he wasn't full. His eyes didn't have the content look of a full stomach. He knew I wasn't full, and we both knew I'd had enough food for one already. At the other end of the restaurant I could see the waitress talking to a waiter, laughing. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I didn't need to. I grabbed the food and ate until I heard nothing.
Different stories stood out each time I read through the collection. On Display is a favourite piece about sexual attraction. The protagonist is in a clothes shop, lusting after the shop assistant. I loved the way Prinzi showed the man's excruciating self-consciousness, his fantasies about the male shop assistant, the state of being hopeful, then disappointed – all in the space of a few minutes. It's both funny and poignant.
It's very satisfying to keep finding layers of meaning in the stories in this debut collection after reading them several times. I recommend you buy the book, enjoy and keep an eye open for Santino Prinzi's future work. He's going far.
Santino's launching his collection on 18th November at St James Wine Vaults Bath. Calum Kerr, Diane Simmons, and myself, are also reading at this free event. Come along to support him and buy his book.