Review: The Best Small Fictions 2016

This anthology is diverse in its styles and sensualities as each of these short fictions is breathtaking when small moments have larger meanings, and larger questions emerge from the words on the page. One thing this collection does very well is to represent the range of writing that can be entertained in this short form, such as experimental mash ups that can feature an entire narrative arc or character change in the fraction of space of a short story or novel. I find it difficult to choose a favorite story because each one is to be considered a mini-masterwork, poised not only to entertain, but also to potentially serve to instruct the apprentice in the art of creating excellent flash fiction.

Brevity is a trademark of the Best Small Fictions 2016, and there may be no better example than Toh Enjoe’s “A Thousand and One Tongues” at only 67 words. It is an excellent statement on the process of storytelling and the often compulsive nature of the craft itself. It would be a mistake to assume this is simply a collection of lyricism since the stories together make a great emotional rollercoaster. One of the most critical moments in any short story is the first sentence. In flash fiction, this is paramount. There is a feeling that the reader must not only be grabbed, but also held tightly throughout the experience.

The opening story, Rosie Forrest’s “Bless This Home,” is an example of how much can be achieved within a few pages. The teen narrator’s speech quickly establishes her in relation to her mother, her mother’s pretentious boyfriend, and the bearded tenant down the hill. “When something is forbidden, the four winds conspire like a pack of wolves,” she confides, setting up for the transgressive final paragraphs.

Not giving anything away is crucial to the enjoyment of small fictions. These stories often rely on the unexpected, or on building tension that the reader can feel, yet not fully understand. This is a delicate operation in little space; a writer can quickly find herself at the edge of a cliff. Mary-Jane Holmes’ “Trifle” is such an example. This is a story of a soldier’s homecoming from the Middle East that draws us to the edge with such subtlety that we hardly notice. It is gently balanced with measured prose and an insistent mundaneness that is more powerful than any forced drama.

The book is nicely structured, with biographical notes following each story so that the reader is spared the bother of flipping back and forth to an appendix. An informative foreword by series editor Tara L. Masih explains the history of the anthology and the nomination and selection process, while an amusing introduction from guest editor Stuart Dybek prepares us for what is to come. Furthermore, the anthology contains two concluding interviews, one with a featured press – Texture Press – and another with a featured author – Megan Giddings, both of which provide additional perspective on how this kind of art is made. There are so many voices here, taking us to so many different places that every reader might find favorites in The Best Small Fictions 2016.

***

Nesrin Nazlieva is a Psychology student at Erasmus University.  She decided to follow the example of her predecessors who, back in 1460, left the Karamanid beylik and immigrated to Bulgaria.  Instead of Bulgaria, however, she chose the Netherlands.  Her short story with a not so short title ‘The Story of a Wanderer Who Traveled the World in Search of His Hat’ earned her a second place in one of the most prestigious national literary contests in 2015.  When she is not glued to a book, she spends time working out in the garden, learning Spanish, and trying very hard not to be the worst player at Ludo.

Advertisements