Book Review

Flash fiction fans have something to celebrate! From the editors of Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories, comes a broader, more diverse collection of micro-stories. For this new edition James Thomas and Robert Shapard teamed with Christopher Merrill, who directs University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, and a host of writers and translators, to bring us Flash Fiction International, Very Short Stories from Around the World.

A quick perusal of the table of contents reveals a significant number of Latin American writers from Mexico to Argentina, and points in between. The Middle and Far East are also well represented, including writers from Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Syria, India, Taiwan, Japan, and Vietnam. Even international compilations can sometimes favor the western aesthetic, so it is refreshing to find that western writers from the United States, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada (to name a few), while present in respectable numbers, do not dominate the pages. This is a well-dispersed representation of the world of flash fiction.

I have kept a copy of the first edition, Flash Fiction Forward, on my desk since it was released. It’s in that small pile of books I reach for most often, including Extreme Fiction and the latest edition of Best American Short Stories. It is the one I turn to when I want to experience the wonder and depth of story executed in its slimmest, most stripped down form, and it never disappoints me. I have come to treat these stories like chocolate truffles, to be consumed one at a time—examined and savored for their individual beauty, uniqueness, and surprise. So I was admittedly excited when the Flash Fiction International arrived, and also a bit nervous that my expectations would be too high. But the International edition has proven as absorbing and profound as its predecessor. Among my favorite selections, which are hard to narrow down because there are so many I could place in that category, is “Love” by Mexican author Edgar Omar Avilés and translated by Toshiya Kamei. It’s a story that spans a simple half-page of text; here it is in its entirety:

“I’m sure now, Mommy,” the girl said to her mother, breaking into tears. “God is really there, and he’s full of love!”

“Why are you so sure?”

“I’ve seen him and he spoke to me from heaven. It’s the most wonderful place in the world!” The girl answered so assuredly and fervently that all her mother could do was to stab her with the knife she was chopping an onion with.

The girl was so young, still without sin. Her life was so miserable, she begged for change on the streets. Surely, in no time she would start selling her body. Then the glorious heaven and her God full of love would no longer accept her.

For her part she would go to hell, the mother thought while driving the knife in for the tenth time.

As the editors note in their introduction, flash fiction—which goes by various names throughout the world, like kortprosa in Denmark, minificción in Switzerland, Spain, and Argentina, and mikro razkaz in Bulgaria—is a form that is neither rare, nor new. The internet may have popularized it recently, but among the stories in the collection is “The Young Widow” written by Petronius in Ancient Rome. Some historical context may be helpful to fully appreciate the weighty depth of the story, but it is not required to simply enjoy it. Another pre-internet story is “The Imperial Message” by Franz Kafka, reminding us that brevity of story is an art form unto itself, and one that has been practiced throughout the history of literature. But by and large this volume is a contemporary collection with many familiar and notable names like Native American writers Sherman Alexie and Natalie Diaz, Syrian writer Zakaria Tamer, Irish writer James Claffey, Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, Chinese writer Qiu Xiaolong, American writer Brian Doyle, and many, many more.

It is not enough to read these stories once, which is why it will take its place on my desk next to its predecessor. I look forward to savoring these little gems again and again, long into the future, one at a time, slowly and with deliberation.

About the Reviewer

Heather Sharfeddin is the author of four novels. Her work has earned starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal, has been honored with an Erick Hoffer award and at the New York and San Francisco Book Festivals, as well as the Pacific Northwest Book Sellers Association. Her first novel, Blackbelly, was named one of the top five novels of 2005 by the Portsmouth Harold. She holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is working on her PhD in Creative Writing. She currently teaches at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.