Review: The Best Small Fictions 2015 (reviewed by Ashley Begley)


The Best Small Fictions 2015

Guest Edited by Robert Olen Butler

(Tara L. Masih, Series Editor)

160 pages

Queens Ferry Press, 2015


ISBN-13 978-1938466625




We cannot fool ourselves any longer. Although we plan and blueprint and outline our lives, we cannot hold the unknowable in our hands. The uncertainties of life surprise us, as The Best Small Fictions 2015 surprise us. This collection of small fictions, stories that, at most, span four pages, stand as a microcosm of every breath we take. Edited by Robert Olen Butler and Tara L. Masih, this collection exposes the human moments that matter: those snap decisions, those glimpses, those fleeting touches in which life, love and death happen.

These stories, these woven words, are simply beautiful as they guard “the ghosts and the echoes and the earth’s seeping wounds” (Wiley 5). Each author, writing from one of the many corners throughout the world, usher us from one doorstep to another until we see that we share the same rage to live. From a woman and a man trapped in a drug-induced loveless relationship masturbating to a tennis match in “Wimbledon” by Seth Brady Tucker, to a boy who runs away from his parents who locked him in the basement because he turned into a bear in “The Boy and the Bear” by Blake Kimzey, to an EMT who stares at a Buddha with piss in its eyes in “The Family Jewel” by Ron Riekki, we understand—from the mundane to the absurd, we understand and “we know this urge, know how strong and primal and erotically charged it is” (Wiley 3).

The sparse words, chosen frugally and carefully, that are used to craft these small fictions means that the rest is left to us—we must question and poke the story. We don’t know the beginning and we don’t know the end and these two facts are the only certainties afforded to us. Sometimes, we only get two sentences as with “Inland Sea” by Stuart Dybek:

Horizon, a clothesline strung between crab apples. The forgotten dress, that far away, bleached invisible by a succession of summer days until a thunderstorm drenches it blue again, as it is now, and despite the distance, the foam of raindrops at its hem sparkles just before the wind lifts it into a wave that breaks against the man framed in a farmhouse doorway. (18).

And we have to trust that this is enough, that this glimpse will lead us to movement. We have to trust, like the stolen blue-green-yellow parrot trusts that his “darting back and forth…diving then ascending on invisible spires of hot chimney air, in utter disbelief at its own good fortune” will lead to his freedom (Price 79).

Perhaps everything that I have been trying to say is already best said by Robert Olen Butler, so I leave the last words to him:

A small fiction is a lone wolf of a lie, sometimes hounding the truth across a field but oftentimes simply sitting on a hilltop to raise its face to the moon and howl…We listen to small fictions like night sounds from afar. They enter us briefly, in sweetness or sassiness, in hilarity or aching sadness, but they leave us imprinted with freshly experienced truth. Truth possible to know only through the clarifying lies of fiction…They are small but brimming with our shared human experience. (XIII-XIV).



Ashley Begley

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