"Flash Fiction International"

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 Very Short Stories from Around the World

Edited by James Thomas, Robert Shapard, Christopher Merrill

Flash Fiction International contains 86 stories in 182 pages, an average of about 2¼ pages per story, and for me, that average feels a little high. This remarkable collection also has a section called “Flash Theory,” from which I will quote Lia Purpura:

Why are miniature things so compelling? …
The miniature is mysterious ….
Miniatures encourage attention ….
Miniatures are intimate ….
Time, in miniature form, like a gas compressed, gets hotter.”

These thoughts help describe the appeal of these extremely short, “sudden” pieces of fiction. They are invariably jolting: they condense character, emotion, confusion, wonder, and disappointment in a few short paragraphs, and as varied as the effects are, one can always say, “Oh! That took me in a strange direction.” As short as they are, it’s impossible to get a feel for where the next piece will pick you up and subsequently drop you off. It happens so fast and so frequently that one becomes more and more impressed, bemused … happy is the only word that’s accurate. I adore the moment of finishing a work of fiction, when all the thoughts provoked by it assemble and mix and reverberate with and against each other. The stories in this lively and lovely collection generate this aesthetic frisson over and over again. They’re very dependable that way; it’s an excess of joy and wonder.

Here’s a quote from Chen Yizhi from the same “Theory” section:

“The flame of complete combustion has a blue tinge. It is a beautiful color; it is a ferocious color. A piece of writing is powerful if its words are “completely combusted.”

This concept of gas heated, compressed, and combusted captures the character of these snippets perfectly. In a few short paragraphs, as I said, characters are introduced, they interact and conclusions, either open-ended, or final and abrupt, or simply ambiguous, are reached, and the point and the pace and the tone vary from page to page, literally. There are pieces here by Sherman Alexie, Naguib Mahfouz, Czesław Miłosz, Franz Kafka, Petronius, Shirani Rajapakse, Ron Carlson, and let’s see, 81 other authors who are unknown to me.

What a tonic! As much as I love and admire full-length fiction, these little marvels have had such a salutary effect on me. I highly recommend them for you, too. Take and enjoy. The doses might be small but they are always bracing!

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