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Flash Focus: Wouldn't You Like to Know About Pamela Painter's New Collection of Very Short Stories

Painter.jpgI recently finished reading Pamela Painter’s  Wouldn’t You Like to Know (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2010) and would agree with what Alice Hoffman calls this collection of very short stories:  “…a brilliant chronicle of the human condition, moving, complex, wholly original, and huge fun to read.” Below are some excerpts (that appear with the author’s permission) along with some commentary to give a sense of the wondrous world you’ll get to know in Painter’s newest collection of flash.

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This story begins the collection. I think “apostrophe” is the Greek name for this address to someone, the “you” of Painter’s piece. I love the way the narrator’s analysis of the handwriting reveals the narrator, and this certain listing of insights into letters ends with a hypothetical: “If I am still affected by your hand, I’ll come.” The narrator reminds us twice of the passage of time—“even after all these years” & “in spite of the way we parted years ago”—and thus her recognition of the handwriting belies that ending conditional statement, for yes, she’s affected in many ways. It is oddly still there. 


What particularly interests me as both a reader of lots of published and unpublished flash and a writer of the form is how Painter takes something I’ve seen before in different forms in very short fiction (a note in the mail/email) and gives it a freshness and originality that makes it glisten. Each story has that sense to me, of coming across something the tiniest bit familiar made new, like the red wheelbarrow of William Carlos Williams, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens….

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I learned to write flash fiction from Pamela Painter’s own fiction & her (with Anne Bernays) handbook What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, and I continue to see her influence in my own work, especially in that desire continually to surprise the reader word after word, sentence after sentence, scene after scene, story after story. Painter rarely (if ever) relies on gimmicks for the surprise or twist, but instead reveals humanity in expected places and continually presses us close, as Ron Carlson says, to the “emotional thrum of…fiction’s beating heart.”

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For further reading, check out FlashFiction.Net’s suggested readings of flash fiction and prose poetry collections, anthologies, and craft books, by clicking here.

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  • Re "Wouldn't you like to know?" Yes, I would like to know how Ms. Painter does itthe "Hail-Mary pass" caught a ther last second in ther hands of an arm chair lover, what to do with with pompous misogynisdts--of course spill wine over their head. Why can't I think of these tghings? Because I'm a student and Ms. Painter is a master. Steal this book.

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