- Write Flash
James Thomas, Robert Shapard, and Christopher Merrill, eds.
W. W. Norton & Co.
288 Pages; Print, $15.95
Flash Fiction International, edited by James Thomas, Robert Shapard, and Christopher Merrill, who directs University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, is arguably the most ambitious offering of Norton’s Sudden and Flash fiction series. Thomas and Shapard had been steadily contributing to the conversation surrounding short short fiction for decades. Sudden Fiction: American Short Stories, edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas, came out thirty-two years ago. Two years later, when I was a sophomore in high school, I checked it out of the Houston Public Library. I don’t think I ever returned it; I didn’t want to let it go.
A lot has happened in thirty-two years; Shapard and Thomas continued to edit and collect anthologies of short short fictions over the years. The Internet happened. The online literary world came to be. Suddenly, flash fiction was everywhere, although we didn’t call it flash fiction right away. It was still sudden, short-shorts, micro fictions. The publishing world as I experienced it seemed more accessible; the world seemed smaller and larger, as it does in the best examples of flash fiction.
The Internet gave us a way of connecting and gobbling up our flash fictions, but print anthologies have a way of anchoring them, of reminding us that they are a form as weighty as any other. More and more anthologies, from smaller and larger presses, began to surface. In the United States, when dirty realism and minimalism were taking hold of graduate students’ imaginations, Shapard and Thomas had the vision to collect these stories and give us a name to call them. Three decades later, Merrill encouraged them to widen their vision, and the result is stunning. It’s something different in vision and breadth.
The book includes over two hundred pages of stories and a section on flash theory in the back. In their introduction, the editors turn to a favorite topic, the nature of flash fiction; they also discuss the task of gathering these stories. “We selected the best, not trying for the widest representation,” they write, while acknowledging the “best” is always to some degree subjective. They turned to a community of readers and writers, and this book has been years in the making. Any such undertaking is an invitation for scrutiny, for comparisons.
The flash fiction world was ripe for such a collection. The editors have collected eighty-six stories spanning the continents. The collection [End Page 29] includes well-known American writers such as Stuart Dybek, Ron Carlson, and Sherman Alexie, as well as American writers who are prolific in the genre, Meg Pokrass and Jensen Beach. Although the editors state they were not striving for the widest representation, writers from the Middle and Far East and Latin America are well represented. There are stories from Israel, Slovenia, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Syria, India, Taiwan, and Japan as well as writers from Ireland and England. There are seventeen stories from the United States; I couldn’t resist counting, and even calculating the percentage, which is almost twenty percent. In my count, I included authors associated with two countries: Randa Jarrar, who moved to the United States at thirteen, and Linh Dinh, who was born in Veitnam. My assumption is that the writers consider themselves writers of both countries. In a time when birth citizenship is even questioned, when nativist and vigilante anti-immigration groups seem to be on the rise, the choice to list both is worth noting.
Each heading begins not with the story’s title or author’s name, but with the country of origin, reminding us this is an international collective. I was reminded, in many ways, of how poetry and prose often surprises us, breaks us as readers out of our pre-conceived notions of what “type” of story any one culture or country is supposed to produce. Rubem Fonseca’s “Night Drive,” an unflinching, deadpan story of desultory violence, captures a wealthy Suburban landscape that could easily...