For this debut anthology, award winning Editor Tara L. Masih couldn’t have selected a more qualified guest editor than Robert Olen Butler. He’s published sixteen novels and six volumes of short stories, one of which won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Some of the contributors, like Bobbie Ann Mason or Ron Carlson, may be familiar to fiction lovers. But don’t discount the other authors, all of whom have awards, literary magazine credits, or books to their names.
Plenty of moms and dads appear in these stories. Live ones are underrepresented, but dead ones and mean ones and those not in control of all their mental faculties frequent the pages. Jonathan Humphrey tell us “How to Disassemble Your Father’s Ghost (Winter)”: “First you must cut the apparitions of his ears. He will ask for you to skip them like stones across the wooden floor. He has always wanted to know this sound.”
While watching the mother in “By Heart,” by Dee Cohen, “[ . . . ] the girl tracks the small degrees of escalation—the anger tightening her mother’s back, twisting her mouth.” And talk about bad dads, James Claffey wins with “The Third Time My Father Tried to Kill Me.”
David Mellerick Lynch also writes about a dad in “The Lunar Deep”:
For a while he went on all fours, like a werewolf, and though I considered this appropriate I felt bad for my mother, who coughed raggedly, or cried in the bathroom, and I began to hate him, and it didn’t help that he started forgetting where to put the milk or find his hat or how to work the telescope or what my mother’s name was [ . . . ].Victorian author Lewis Carroll, best known for writing “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” and its sequel “Through the Looking-Glass,” and though apparently not a dad, appears a bit nutty in William Todd Seabrook’s tale “The Theatrical Production of Lewis Carroll.”
Looking for the unusual? Try “The Intended” by Dawn Raffel. She writes about Dr. Martin A. Couney, who invented the baby incubator and exhibited premature babies in incubators at fairs throughout the world. “Lungs unformed; the seen veins. And still they were breathing.” Another strange tale, a boy turns into a bear in Blake Kimzey’s “The Boy and the Bear.”
One of my favorite small fictions is a cute two-paragraph story, “Objects of Desire” by Adam O’Fallon Price, about a man who steals a macaw to give to his girlfriend.
Michael Martone has two stories in the collection: “Scale” and “WordCross.” Additionally, Martone is interviewed. Asked about his development of condensed poetic writing, he responds, “As an undergraduate student I was taking a poetry workshop where we would argue about line breaks. I was so frustrated that I went home and typed up my next poem (I used, back then, a typewriter, kids!) breaking the line when the bell dinged. The result was, well, prose.” Having this discussion of process included shines a new light on the writing.
Phong Nguyen, editor of Pleiades, is also interviewed, since all three of Pleiades’s nominations for The Best Small Fictions 2015 were accepted: Michael Martone’s “Scale,” J. Duncan Wiley’s “A Notice from the Office of Reclamation,” and “Wimbledon” by Seth Brady Tucker. Phong Nguyen says that successful flash fictions share one quality: “They all suggest a much larger context—a story that is far vaster than the words on the page.” Further, “[ . . . ] all flash fictions are experiments, and the experiment each one undertakes is different, but they all hold in common the ability to commit to the experiment and not be dragged down by the need to hew to traditional ideas of art and craft in making fiction.” And it’s up to the reader to decide if all the pieces in this anthology reflect Nguyen’s thoughts.
Treat yourself to some short semantic adventures in this inaugural issue of The Best Small Fictions 2015. It will be worth your while to spend a minute or 60 with some of the brightest concise writing available today.