As the Amazon blurb describes, “This second installment of The Best Small Fictions continues to celebrate the diversity and quality captured in fiction forms fewer than 1,000 words.” Edited by Tara Masih and Guest Edited by Stuart Dybek, BSF 2016 contains forty-five small fictions, all of which should please both those new & old to small fictions. As someone who has read perhaps 10,000+ small fictions during my time as journal reader, editor, and small fiction fan, I’m amazed that I can still be amazed, over and over, story after story, from beginning to end. I’m struck by the authority these writers have over language, to make the perfect, unexpected choice throughout. And I’m also thrilled by the endlessly complex, off-kilter situations these writers throw the reader into time and time again. So, as you might expect, I’m highly recommending this collection. It’s really quite remarkable.
James Kennedy’s “World’s Worst Clown” is a great example of the immediately engaging situations readers will find themselves in throughout the collection. In this small fiction, a doctor runs into a clown who has just bombed in his attempt to entertain a terminally ill child:
“I feel awful,” [the clown] said.
“Imagine how the kid feels” If people didn’t understand my humor, then they didn’t understand me.
“I made a total fool of myself,” he said.
He yanked his nose off his face and struggled to get his enormous shoes out of his calico pants. He was anxious to shed his clown skin, but try as he might, he just couldn’t untangle himself from the whole sordid mess. In the pale moonlight, his lean figure cast a tremulous shadow across the cracked sidewalk.
Other examples of such wondrous stories abound. For example, in Robert Scotellaro’s “Bug Porn,” a man “curls over a microscope…watching cells divide,” while his wife enters the picture “wearing a lacy red bra over her blouse.” The uber-talented Megan Giddings—who has two stories here and five overall nominations—begins “Good-Bye Piano” with this line: “We smashed the piano with a sledgehammer out on the front yard. It wasn’t that we hated it or wanted to teach it a lesson.” In “The Story, Victorious,” Etgar Keret announces “This story is the best story in the book. More than that, this story is the best story in the world.”
The compelling mix of humor, pathos, and insight especially caught my interest. For example, Rosie Forrest’s “Bless This Home” introduces us to a neighbor to whom the young narrator isn’t supposed to talk, but of course he knocks on the door, asking her (of all things) if she has any extra gasoline:
I doubt it, I said.
There was a space then, in the conversation, and I made no motion to fill it.
But you haven’t even looked, he said.
My doubt is significant.
Here’s another example of humor that is found in unexpected places. From Kathy Fish’s “A Room with Many Small Beds”:
Johnny Mathis is singing “It’s a Marshmallow World and the record’s skipping on marshmallow, marshmallow, marshmallow.
At their ends, these stories pray, roar, walk out, ring, hold on, go back to sleep, listen, tell, touch, talk, think, sink, hobo south, get swallowed, ask, show, discover, murmur, beckon, imagine, gaze up, bang out, hope, reach, throw, nod, dwindle, climb, grin, float into the darkness, hang on, drive off, defog, drape, rinse away, flick, blink out, grow, call, cry, reply, face the dawning light—and stop.