Reviews

The Best Small Fictions 2017
Edited by Tara L. Masih and Amy Hempel
Reviewed by Santino Prinzi

The third instalment of one of the most popular and esteemed series of flash fiction anthologies, The Best Small Fictions 2017 (Braddock Avenue Books, 2017), is an essential read for every flash fiction writer or reader. From Matthew Baker’s island of presidential doppelgangers to Harriot West’s ekphrastic haibun story about Van Gogh’s sunflowers, each of the pieces in this anthology proves that writers are not only continuing to produce high-quality flash fiction, but that the imagination and scope of flash fiction is far-reaching, whether writers choose to explore the uncharted or re-invent the wheel.

A wonderful aspect of this series is its author spotlight, which includes an interview with an author with either more than one story in the anthology or multiple nominations (and being nominated just the once is an achievement in itself!). This year’s spotlight author is Joy Williams, a renowned American writer. The two stories, taken from 99 Stories of God (Tin House Books, 2016) serve as a great opening to the anthology and as a taster of Williams’ engaging, stripped-back collection itself. ‘36’ tells the story of Penny and the house she and her husband lived in, a house that she despises and rents out after her husband’s death. The story is laced with wit, the language is stripped back to the bare essentials, and culminates in a final striking image that offers a spectacular opening to the anthology.
Read in Full

share by email

Fissures
by Grant Faulkner
Reviewed by KM Elkes

In his introduction to Fissures, A Collection of a Hundred 100-word Stories, the author Grant Faulkner explains that the book is a “bag full of shards”, each one capturing the small, telling moments of existence: “I’ve always thought life is more about what is unsaid than what is said. We live in odd gaps of silence, irremediable interstices that sometimes last forever.”

Fissures is certainly an apt title – many of the stories revolve around moments of separation and disconnection; the heartache of missed chances, sexual loneliness and the deep cracks that open between lovers, travellers or families.

It’s not an easy task to achieve this level of resonance and depth when much of the armoury deployed in narrative fiction – plot, characterisation, pacing, extended imagery, description etc. – is limited by the drabble form. But this brings another kind of freedom – to create stories, sometimes tilted towards the fantastical, that contain just enough narrative thrust to create movement and change.
Read in Full

share by email

Flash Fiction International
Very Short Stories from Around the World
Eds. James Thomas, Robert Shapard, Christopher Merrill
Reviewed by Santino Prinzi

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.
Read in Full

share by email

We the Animals
by Justin Torres
Reviewed by Stephanie Hutton

We the Animals is a novella-in-flash by Justin Torres. The stories add up to a brutal and believable insight into family life for three boys growing up in a troubled family in New York. Despite its short length at only 125 pages, it covers big topics including racism, consent, domestic violence and sexuality. The choice of form is interesting – what does the piece gain from being written as a series of flash fictions that could stand alone rather than as continuous prose?

The first story We Wanted More throws the reader into the children’s desperate situation of hunger. The language is poetic and raw – ‘we had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight.’ We are introduced to these fighting boys surviving in dire circumstances with a violent father. This first piece reads like a flash, it contains a whole world and ends on a line that stops you from turning the page.
Read in Full

share by email

Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine
by Diane Williams
Reviewed by Santino Prinzi

fine-fine-fine-fineFine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine (CB Editions [UK], 2016 / McSweeney’s Books [US], 2016) is the newest collection of short fiction from Diane Williams, the founder and editor of the literary annual NOON. Described by Lydia Davis as ‘one of the very few contemporary prose writers who seem to be doing something independent, energetic, heartfelt’, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine is a collection of challenging, but not impenetrable, flash fictions that examines their subjects with absolute precision.

‘The Skol’, possibly the shortest story in the collection, is about Mrs Clavey who is walking out to sea. It is the perfect example of a flash in which every single word is required, and each word contributes to the greater story being told, for example: ‘She didn’t intend to drink, but she did drink—more.’ This creates the impression that Williams’ language is stripped back, however, the almost minimalist style means that Williams creates imagery that is both concise and evocative without being superfluous. The fact Mrs Clavey didn’t intend to drink more, but continues to do so, reveals much to the reader about the nature of her situation without Williams needing to say more. When Mrs Clavey swallows a tiny amount of water, we’re told ‘It tasted like a cold, salted variety of her favorite payang cougou tea’, Williams demonstrates how the specific choice of words can provide a vivid image, as well as reveal more about the type of woman Mrs Clavey is.
Read in Full

share by email

The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down
by Meg Pokrass
Reviewed by Santino Prinzi

the dog looks happy upsidedownThe Dog Looks Happy Upside Down (Etruscan Press, 2016) is the most recent collection of flash fiction from Meg Pokrass. All readers and writers of flash fiction should have encountered her writing at some point because she is so widely published in online and print journals, as well as appearing in many anthologies, such as A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed: The 2016 National Flash Fiction Day Anthology and Flash Fiction International. Pokrass has judged many competitions too, as well as judging the new novella-in-flash award, which closes at the end of January 2017. After reading The Dog Looks Happy Upside Down it is no wonder that Pokrass is held in such high regard within the flash fiction community: her prose is masterful.
Read in Full

share by email

Dots and Other Flashes of Perception
Debut flash fiction collection by Santino Prinzi
Review by Jude Higgins

dots-and-other-flashes-of-perceptionForty 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.
Read in Full

share by email

The Best Small Fictions 2016
Eds. Tara L. Masih & Stuart Dybek
Reviewed by Santino Prinzi

The Best Small Fictions 2016The 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.
Read in Full

share by email

Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer
Edited by Robert Swartwood
Reviewed by Santino Prinzi

hint-fictionHint Fiction (W.W. Norton & Company, 2010) is, as the title suggests, an anthology of fiction where each story is 25 words or fewer. There are 125 stories to be found in this anthology, divided across three broad themes: life and death; love and hate; this and that, which entails any story that fails to fit into the first two categories. The anthology boasts a series of celebrated writers, such as Joyce Carol Oates, Gay Degani, Stuart Dybek, among others. Robert Shapard, the editor of numerous flash fiction anthologies who has provided his views on the reverse of this anthology, believes that “some of these stories suggest entire novels in just a few words,” and, as became clear on reading, these stories really are microcosms of universes that become apparent once the penny drops.
Read in Full

share by email

Songs Without Music by Tim Stevenson
Reviewed by Santino Prinzi

songs without musicSongs Without Music (Gumbo Press, 2016) is the third fiction collection from Tim Stevenson. He is a first prize winner of the National Flash Fiction Day Micro Competition, has had his fiction published widely in magazines, anthologies, and online, and is judging this year’s Bridport Flash Fiction Prize.

The collection is presented with the by-line “flash-fictions and curiosities”, which is an accurate and all-encompassing description for Songs Without Music; we have flash, haiku, centipieces, and other forms possibly eluding definition. Not only are there different forms of fiction but different genres too, making for a collection that invigorates the imagination and provides a varied, thought-provoking reading experience.
Read in Full

share by email