The Best Small Fictions 2016 (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2016) is the second instalment in this series of anthologies that pull together the very best in small fiction. To say this is no easy task is an understatement, one with which I can only begin to empathise. Tara L. Masih, series editor, highlights in her foreword to the anthology: “out of thousands of published small fictions, my staff and consulting editors and I narrowed down the field to 100”, to which the guest editor, Stuart Dybek, whittled this selection down to 45 stories. This feat is admirable in itself, but truly rewarding for readers of this anthology.
An additional feature to this anthology are interviews offering a spotlight on a particular author and on a particular press, magazine, or journal. Both Megan Giddings, (formerly an Executive Editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, now co-fiction editor at The Offing mag and a recipient of the Kathy Fish Fellowship) and Texture Press, received five nominations and have two small fictions featured in this anthology. Not only is this an incredible achievement for both Giddings and Texture Press, but, and most importantly, when you read these pieces you see how their places are more than well-deserved.
‘Reunion’ by Megan Giddings, originally published in PANK, is touching and poignant. It tells the story of Jana and her partner, referred to as Inmate 144416. The people in Jana’s life are giving her advice about how she needs to behave around Inmate 144416 after his release. The fact that she ignores them, revealing everything she has done during his imprisonment – the visits, letters and conversations, demonstrates how onlookers, no matter how close or distant they are to those experiencing a situation, always have something to say, some advice to impart. Interference – which is exactly why Inmate 144416 is named such; his incarceration has resulted to a loss in his identity, and Jana knows he needs to make the transition from Inmate 144416 to David. The story becomes one about change and hope for Jana, and how she can only do so much and ‘hopes it’s enough’. Giddings proves there is no limitation to the amount an author can pack into short fiction.
Paul Lisicky, who was recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, demonstrates in ‘Modernism’ how flash does not have to restrict itself to conventional narrative structures. ‘Modernism’ was selected from the anthology Shale: Extreme Fiction for Extreme Conditions (Texture Press, 2015), and presents three separate tiny tales, creating a triptych of microcosms about creation and destruction, with ‘Teardown’ being particularly striking.
There are so many fictions in this anthology of such high calibre that this reviewer could select any to discuss. Each piece pushes the boundary of what short fiction can do, but it is Amir Adam’s ‘The Physics of Satellites’ that particularly resonates with this reviewer. I’d dare to say it is one of the most powerful flashes I’ve read. The most wonderful aspect of this story is the opening paragraph, which describes how satellites are ‘perpetually falling toward earth’ instead of floating, and how this then prompts the narrator to think about his auntie Maria. This association brings out the beauty of this story, how the events in Maria’s life show how she, like a satellite, is in perpetual freefall, but she never actually crashes. Adam’s voice is direct, making the piece punchy, with lines such as ‘Moreno is a good doctor. He is also a prick’ that demonstrate the precision and control Adams has over his prose. I can (and have) read this piece again, and again, and again, and it never tires, never fails to amaze. This is how masterful flash should read.
Masih rightfully notes that their list of noted short fictions is not exhaustive – there are so many journals, presses, and magazines publishing small fiction. But what this anthology does offer readers is a strong representative scope of the variety of different fiction out there today. There is also a lot that writers of flash fiction can learn about the form by picking up this anthology; the beauty of an anthology such as this, pulling together the best of the form, is that you will always encounter something new, something different, something that pushes the boundaries of flash further than before. If this anthology proves nothing else, it is that small fiction in all its forms continues to go from strength to strength, as does the series itself. I hope both will continue to do so.