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Flash Fiction Review: Best Small Fictions 2016

41+Q+A-82SL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_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.

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