Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World (W. W. Norton & Company, 2015) pulls together flash fiction by writers from all over the globe; UK, US, Mexico, Iraq, Israel, Peru, New Zealand, Germany, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Brazil, India, and Ancient Rome are but only a handful of countries represented in this anthology. For avid readers of flash, there are many recognisable names, but there are new faces too. The stories in this anthology have also been selected from across time, demonstrating how flash wasn’t a product of the Internet as many claim it to be (though, of course, the Internet has certainly helped it flourish, but that’s a different discussion). Out of all of the flash fiction anthologies in this series from Norton, Flash Fiction International really is as flavoursome and engaging as it intends to be.
The first story in this anthology is a homage to the story itself in the form of Etgar Keret’s ‘The Story, Victorious’. In a sense, it’s a story about the story itself: “This story is the best story in the book. More than that, this story is the best story in the world.” The story grows and breathes as it progresses, building its own reputation as the best story in the world because it seems to embody everything great literature needs: “It’s supercontemporary, and timelessly literary. Let History be the judge! And by the way, according to many fine folk, judgement’s been passed – and our story came up aces.” The end of the story itself is self-referential to its nature: “It will, simply, stop.” And it does, until ‘The Story, Victorious, II’ occurs: “But if one day, out of nostalgia, you suddenly want the story back, it will always be happy to oblige.” Is this not how our favourite stories exist for us? They stay with us, but they do not go anywhere; they are always waiting for our return, for us to read them again. Keret’s flash is an apt inclusion in this anthology as all of the stories inside this book are powerful, and you will return to this anthology to revisit them.
Kirsty Logan’s ‘The Light Eater’ is another highlight of the anthology. There is something magical about the way Logan constructs this story, and the opening lines demonstrate exactly what a writer can do with so few words:
“It began with the Christmas tree lights. They were candy-bright, mouth-size. She wanted to feel the lightness of them on her tongue, the spark on her taste buds. Without him life was so dark, and all the holiday debris only made it worse. She promised herself she wouldn’t bite down.”
The rest of Logan’s story continues in this manner, bringing the vivid images of the light eater to life. There is something magical, almost fairy-tale-like about these descriptions, such as the way “The power cable was slippery as liquorice” or how when a lightbulb blew “she went to change it but ended up sucking it like a gobstopper.” Stories like these make you want to read everything that author has ever written and is one of the joys I find reading flash anthologies.
‘The Baby’ by Maria Negroni is another mysterious story, this time of a mother trying to bathe her baby son who keeps disappearing and reappearing. “My baby is playing in the bath, delighted. I begin to wash his head and spend some time at this. Then he begins.” It is clear the baby does not enjoy having his hair washed because this is when the now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t game begins. Her “impatience only makes things worse” as he increases the speed of which he disappears and reappears, not even giving the mother time to protest. Though the mother catches her son’s “mischievous glance” and sees how much he is enjoying taunting her, she soon understands that this is only a game: “The baby just wants to play.”
A distinct feature of Flash Fiction International that separates it from other anthologies is its Flash Theory section. This section is crammed with aphorisms about flash fiction and its nature from a variety of different authors. If nothing else, this Flash Theory section is thought-provoking and stimulating; a refreshing and welcome addition to an anthology of this kind. The editors have provided a bibliography of the sources used in this section, so is useful for those who wish to find out more. For this feature and, most importantly, the stories themselves, Flash Fiction International is a must-have anthology for flash fans.