Edited by Mark Budman and Susan O’Neill
54 pages, Kindle
Vestal Review Press, 2015
Imagine Anna Karenina or Rumpelstiltskin living in our interconnected age of computers and social networks. Would the way they communicated with others have changed the outcome of their stories? Picture the younger and smarter sister of Icarus. Would she, a disregarded child, have been able to pull off what the hubris of her famous brother made impossible?
These questions and many more are posed (and often answered) in Condensed to Flash: World Classics, a fabulous collection of flash stories by well- and lesser-known authors. Classics such as The Ramayana, Pygmalion, and Metamorphosis are all revisited with an eye on contemporary themes.
As narrative creatures, we are shaped by the stories we tell and read. The fairy tales we devour in our youth may be our first encounter with a world we’re too young to enter for real. Even the classics we feast on as an adult can take us to places we wouldn’t dare to explore outside the safe boundaries of the page. In these stories young men and women are called to action, battle dark forces, kill monsters, oppose power, or struggle against their own limited consciousness. Once all shadows are dispelled, harmony arises and cosmic balance is restored. Or not. In that case we are probably reading a tragedy, in which heroes and heroines perish before they achieve their goals.
Classic tales with archetypal plots contribute to who we are and how we view the world. It’s important, I think, to not take them for granted and remain critical of how underlying structures and tropes affect us.
The witty stories in this collection, each five hundred words or less, do just that. The classics in these stories are never condensed in an obvious way. Instead, they are presented with clever variations that reopen them for debate. Some stories have alternative endings or previously untold epilogues. Others are told from the perspective of a side character or from a protagonist who has changed gender. In one, the heroine is being interviewed. In another, the reader changes into the hero. Each unexpected twist or extension deconstructs the original plot, leading to insights into both classic storytelling and the social and political issues of our time.
I loved immersing myself in this realm, in the familiar rendered strange.
A realm in which Vronski “paints a vase full of vaginas and doesn’t even try to pretend they’re exotic flowers.” (From: A – K = A + V by Megan Giddings)
A realm where Puss-in-Boots can say: “Put down the knife. No matter how many ways there are to skin a cat, if you skin me, you lose the best part of this cat.” (From: Grooming by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough)
A realm in which the real hero of one of the most classic Western tales is actually a dog: “Summoning all his will, Argos wags his tail. He is so crippled with age and malnutrition that one wag is all he can do. Odysseus sees the act, and sheds a tear. (From: The End of the Odyssey by Cian Cruise)
Condensed to Flash: World Classics is no cheat sheet for people too busy to read. Much more than summaries or retellings, the 23 stories in this anthology invite readers to re-examine the archetypes in their minds. From Aimee Bender’s interpretation of Cinderella to Holly Walrath’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, these stories are the classics reinvented, re-imagined, relived.