The Best Small Fictions 2018
Guest Editor: Aimee Bender
Series Editor: Sherrie Flick
Braddock Avenue Books 2018
It was obvious right away: Guest Editor Aimee Bender had high standards and a keen eye when whittling the list of 100+ possible short shorts down to fifty-three (written by fifty-one different writers) to be included in The Best Small Fictions 2018. Writing a review for an anthology like this could go one of two ways. The quick and easy (but absolutely true): something for everyone! Or one could craft in-depth analyses praising the merits of each story; after all, these are the best of the best.
Neither approach is particularly helpful.
Is there another way to convey the scope of themes and varied means each BSF 2018 writer employs to capture the essence and splendor of the flash fiction form? A way to adequately suggest why you might want this book in your hands and on your shelf? Perhaps.
I was of two minds while reading BSF 2018: indulgent reader and nascent writer. I think both are apt filters to persuade you.
Cutting to the chase for non-writer readers: if you want a primer for the current state of the short short (1,000 words or fewer), read BSF 2018. It is a hunky slice of pizza with the works, each bite a different combination of flavors but obviously part of the whole delicious pie, something to be savored in bed or on the go. There are fresh voices and noteworthy forms that I promise you have not yet seen, especially if you are not a regular reader of online or print literary magazines where these stories usually appear first. Read one a week for a year and give yourself time to turn the small bite of story over in your mind. Or read a few in one sitting to let the form showcase its magic in a way that a collection by a single writer simply cannot. It is a great book to keep on a nightstand or in your commuter bag, used as a palate cleanser between longer reads or as a guide to discover new-to-you writers.
If you are a writer of any kind, this book is also a must read because it will only enhance and inspire your own work, particularly through models of stellar openings/endings and meticulous editing. You will see the power a mere forty-seven words can have (Christoph Keller) and how vastly different stories pushing 1,000 words can be. It is a tool for understanding how creative boundaries can always be pushed. How unique forms can elevate a story beyond itself (Kathy Fish, Ashley Hutson, Deb Olin Unferth, Melissa Lozada-Olivia, Hala Alyan, Gwen E. Kirby) and what excellent second person POV looks like (Angela Mitchell). Bender did not shy away from selecting short shorts that tap into deep emotion (Melissa Goode, Raul Palma), sex (Monet Patrice Thomas, Ruth LeFaive), or domestic life (Jan Stinchcomb, Denise Howard Long, Kate Keleher, Mary-Jane Holmes), and she gives women writers more than half of the literary stage to tell these stories (something this writer appreciated immensely). In addition to the aforementioned writers, several other stories stood out as particularly strong because of the incredible depth of character and movement of time (or stillness, in some cases) the writers deftly capture in so few words: “She Is a Battleground” (Nancy Au), “Acts of Love” (Justin Hermann), “Minuet” (Rumaan Alam), “Dead Man’s Things” (Reginald Gibbons), “The Truth About Alaskan Rivers” (Lori Sambol Brody), and “The Good Hours” (Desiree Cooper) all deliver the kind of story I know I will read many times.
Sherrie Flick and Aimee Bender have assembled a collection of flash fiction that flies with wings both personal and universal. The cohesiveness of the chosen stories feels very relevant and “now” when looked at in the whole, particularly with the inclusion of a few stories espousing a restrained but clearly political message and historically quieter characters emerging with a long-awaited force grounded in heartbreak and hope. Within these stories you will find yourself inasmuch as your extended family, neighbors and coworkers, and how we might find a way to move together during the bad and the glimmers of good.
Kristen M. Ploetz (@KristenPloetz) lives in Massachusetts. Her recent short fiction has been published (or is forthcoming) with Wigleaf, FIVE:2:ONE, jmww, Gravel, Hypertrophic Lit, Lost Balloon, Maudlin House, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a few projects, including a collection of short stories, and is an Associate Editor for Atlas + Alice. You can find her on the web at http://www.kristenploetz.com.