Fractured West is a new, innovative journal for flash fiction. Although sponsored in part by a grant from Creative Scotland, it features writers from all over. Fractured West’s editor says, “We want readers to see things in a different way. For this, we need writers who write things in a different way,” and the intricate, precise prose found in this sleight journal, in a pocket-sized, compact format, proves that they have found writers who present different delight after different delight.
This issue of Fractured West is subtitled “the pull of distance,” and while that theme haunts the issue, it is interpreted in myriad ways and proves to be more of a loose connection than a strict theme. The editorial statement that opens the journal reads, “Issue 3 is made of bees and cookies and thunderclaps, bra straps and gastropods and fire.” That twee tone also afflicts many of the pieces in this issue, but because they are flash fictions, and thus short, the tone never quite sits around long enough to become too annoying, or too cloying.
There are just over 20 pieces of flash fiction in this issue, and it would be impossible to make wide generalizations about them, for, aside from all being short, they are quite varied. Many of them, however, do share a fondness for wordplay and a deep consciousness of word choice and use. Jonathan Mack’s “Big Help,” one of the earlier pieces in the journal, showcases this, telling a story about a woman who does not want any sort of help—not generic, “modest help,” like going out for coffee lending someone grocery money. Instead, she wants “big help . . . massive, major and gigantic help.”
“Jack,” by Phillip English, features the twisted sense of humor that flash fiction often delves into. Shortly after giving birth, a mother is handed her baby to hold. The mother thinks, “I close my eyes and explore the topology of his precious head with my fingers, gliding over the subtle bumps and ridges as I note the most prominent areas.” She imagines him becoming a soldier and thinks that is not fitting, and so she begins to “work the soft skull of [her] newborn like clay. Under the harsh hospital lights [she is] a sculptor, gently kneading [her] son’s future” into “the skull of a jack-of-all-trades.” The baby begins to cry, and is taken away from her; it seems that the baby is not harmed, as the mother cannot detect even the impression of her fingernails upon his skull, but the story shows the flights of fancy and hope that new mothers have for their children. This jumping between the real and unreal is pervasive in this issue.
The titles of the pieces also stand out, with one of my favorites being “Avoidance Behaviour” by Lam Pham. It’s a very strong, emotionally charged, but understated, fiction piece about a woman who hears a man tapping at her fire escape. She refuses to answer, instead pretending she is deaf and looking into purchasing blinds for her windows. She does, however, choose to answer a knock at her door and, not to give away the ending entirely, opens it to find two men from the police department.
Perhaps the most formally innovative piece in this issue is “Exhibit A,” by Kenny Mooney. “Exhibit A” is a list of library books and the dates they were borrowed, checked out by Clive Marchmont and obtained by Court Order now that the disappearance of his wife and children is being investigated. The books add up to suspicion—books on poisons and landscape gardening—but there are a few more innocuous books scattered in between to make an incomplete puzzle.
Overall, Fractured West, with its focus on short fiction, is a welcome new journal. The pieces veer from serious to kooky and are generally quite surprising and pleasing.