Guest editor Hempel
Series editor Tara L. Masih
Braddock Avenue Books (2017)
Best Small Fictions 2017 is a balancing act. Its 55 stories are everything a yearly flash anthology should be: current and timeless, varied and cohesive, short and shorter. As the third installment of the Best Small Fictions Series, the anthology pulls together some of the very best flash, micro, haibun and otherwise short fiction of the past year. Last year, I reviewed the BSF 2016. Fortunately, my worry about writing a fresh review was unfounded. The Best Small Fictions 2017 feels like an entirely new animal.
Best Small Fictions 2017 has great variety in length, but BSF 2016 contained many much shorter stories, with a few that were shorter even than the author’s bio. This year, there were fewer tiny stories. The shortest pieces were a single paragraph rather than a sentence or two. The result is an anthology that is sleeker than its predecessor, with less need for pausing between pieces (each story easily holds its own) and less treading of the line between prose and poetry.
Beyond length, what separates this year’s BSF from last year’s can be found in the title itself: 2017. Like an animal that has adapted to an urban life, many stories in Best Small Fiction 2017 feel truly of this moment. Some pieces zero in, like Alex Simand’s surreal yet too real “Election Cycle”, which turns the spectacle of politics into a literal circus. Matt Sailor’s “Sea Air” looks forward to a time when the seas have risen, and what the rise might mean to a family’s beach vacation. And, certainly by no coincidence, this year’s BSF is full of diversity, with characters and authors hailing from around the globe. While certainly these topics existed before, BSF 2017 pushes them further to the forefront.
At the same time, if BSF 2017 is an urban animal that has adapted to survive, it has entirely not lost its primal instinct. While many stories are clearly born of the past year of events, other stories in the collection are broader – more about humanity than political climate. There is Kathy Fish’s charming “Strong Tongue”, in which a woman’s unusually strong tongue begins with a slapstick dental appointment then fractures into a series of deeply human moments. Robert Scotellaro’s “What Remains” and Cole Meyer’s “Nightstands”, both brief but haunting contemplations on mortality. The many timeless stories keep the reader from being bogged down by the present, always reminding the reader of bigger and smaller things that happen despite any sense of impending doom.
What holds all the pieces together is the pieces weight: whether humorous, depressing or surreal, every piece feels like it matters. As guest editor Amy Hempel writes in the introduction, “There is no writing toward the story in a short-short; the author must begin with the story.” And indeed, every single story is undeniably bursting with story. Best Small Fictions 2017 confirms an expected revelation: that flash fiction is thriving. That it is so different from 2016 is an affirmation that Best Small Fiction is a solid anthology that will be well worth returning to each and every year.