In the editor’s note, Katey Schultz points out that to her, the best flash fiction “mark[s] a moment in the story with such vivid texture, the reader has no choice but to feel it right between the eyes.” And that is a great description of all of the pieces included in this collection. In each one, you can pinpoint the exact moment where it twists, revealing a deeper meaning, a hidden truth, or a surprising plot change.
In Brendan Isaac Jones’s “Mitch,” the narrator is a young boy who, when his pet fish dies, preserves his friend in the freezer:
Each afternoon when I arrived home from school, I made a beeline for the kitchen and took Mitch out for a swim. I filled the bathtub and sailed him around in great swoops. SHWEEEOO! At a certain point, Mitch thawed and softened, and I was forced to return him to the freezer for a couple hours before he was ready to go again.
He keeps the fish for four years until his father makes him get rid of it. If you get past the image of a decayed, stinky fish, you’ll find the sweet innocence in needing to make something last, in needing to keep a companion. It ends perfectly (with that quick bit that hits you “right between the eyes”): “His life was measured not by heartbeats, but by how long he was able to swim in my hand.”
In Lesley Alicia Tye’s “Green,” written in second person, a father (“you”) is haunted by his mistake of squishing one of the frogs in the backyard. “The sound reverberated in your head, frog legs beating on your eardrums in an inconsistent rhythm that reminded you that everything you do is a failure. . . . But the frogs were not going anywhere.” The father decides to take matters into his own hands.
James Bernard Frost’s “Agate” shows how the mother of this family is distant and does not participate in the fun. Instead of appreciating the “gems” her boys collect for her on the beach, she points out that they are “Little plastic chips. . . . Phytoestrogens get released into the ocean. They kill life.” And they know she is distant: “She had these eyes, these dark downturned eyes. She looked like she was alone, like she wasn’t with us at all.” And this is perfectly demonstrated by the narration, which comes from a collective “we” of the boys (which includes the father), singling the mother out as the “other.”
Ester Bloom offers my favorite description in the whole book: “If ordinary people have the 36-crayon Crayola box of emotions, he only has the most basic eight-color set; more complicated blends of feeling are beyond his comprehension.” Another of my favorite descriptions comes from Rosie Forrest’s “Back When We Knew Him”: “As he told these stories (many about not giving a damn in this overwrought world), he swung a High Life by its neck, and when he took a drink, he swung the glass bottle high like a trumpet.”
Bite ends with, well, a bite. Tom Weller’s “Hercules Massis” shows the sheer strength of Hercules Massis’s teeth:
Hercules takes the bit in his mouth. The metal feels warm against his lips, tastes electric on his tongue. He takes a deep breath, stares down his challenge. An eight-foot length of rope, thick around as a baseball bat, connects the bit in his mouth to the train, one locomotive and two box cars.
. . . A man wearing a bowler hat fires a starter pistol. Pigeons burst into the air. Hercules Massis takes one east step backward. The rope goes taut. Silence.
But while this may seem at first just a story of brawn and of a “hero,” it turns into a love story, but not in the traditional sense: “Tomorrow morning the newspapers will proclaim, Hercules Massis, Man with the World’s Strongest Teeth. . . . But Hercules Massis will remember most clearly the sound that train made as it rolled down the track . . . calling to him, insistent, uninhibited, the way lovers do, and the way a bit in the mouth can feel just like a kiss.”
The editorial work is excellent, stringing together the pieces in a fluid and natural order. Tom Hazuka’s “That’s All You Have to Do,” about a brother and sister that go fishing, is followed by his second piece, “Daddy’s Here,” in which a father takes his son for a first fishing trip. This is followed by another story about a parent-child relationship. In Jenny Robertson’s “Cry Room,” we see the complicated relationship between mother and daughter when the daughter’s son cries in church. The next story is again between mother and daughter, but it focuses on how everything “was like this: enchanting, transient, out of reach the moment her hands held it.” “A Certain Slant of Light” is followed by “Fear of the Dark,” and so on.
I kept this book in my purse, pulling it out whenever I had a spare minute. Part of what makes anthologies so great to read is that you can feel like you have read something completely within a couple of minutes, yet there is still more. Each piece stands on its own, but it’s a delight to have them all work together in Bite.