- The Demand for Brevity
Nathan Leslie and Michelle Elvy, eds.
Rilla Askew, guest editor
432 Pages; Print, $29.95
Flash fiction is on the rise, and with it, the diversity of craft. In their fifth year, The Best Small Fictions 2019, edited by Nathan Leslie and Michelle Elvy and guest edited by Rilla Askew, presents 146 of the world’s best short shorts. Readers are introduced to the internationality of short fiction, the variety of form by writers from New Zealand to Brazil, the US to Tanzania. Six continents and twenty-six nations. And in this eclectic mix, theme and approach transcend global boundaries. After all, what are national borders to universal truths?
But why is the small fiction experiencing such a rapid growth in readership? Nathan Leslie claims that these small fictions “are, in a sense, liberated from the shackles of a full narrative” which, in turn, allows these stories to possess “a certain kind of ‘truth’ that short stories cannot.” Perhaps this truth is one of freedom, the inherent desire for justice and social liberation, as expounded upon by Elisa Luna-Ady, a Mexican American writer, author of “Niñas Del Fuego” (originally publishing in Paper Darts). One of ten spotlighted writers, Ady writes of missing young Mexican women and the protests that erupted from these horrors.
When I wonder why I fight, I remember each girl’s face: upturned to the sun like lost pennies, bodies sterilized then charred, each limb a blackened river. Hundreds of immigrant girls lifted from their beds with none but the moon as witness. I remember their names and I do not weep. I remind myself: There is no flesh my fingers will not find and tear.
Political and evocative, but always artful, The Best Small Fictions takes only what is truly the best. The anthology features household names such as Ann Beattie, Lydia Davis, and A. M. Homes. Yet most authors are emerging, thus the collection offers a fresh look into the genre of small fictions.
Literary veterans Nathan Leslie and Rilla Askew have hand-picked each piece to represent some facet of the human experience, the pieces of 1,000 words or less that, incredibly, manage to define beauty, to render truth. Nathan Leslie has published ten books of fiction including Three Men (year) and The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice (year). Like many writers of flash fiction, he is also a poet, having published Night Sweat (year), a collection of poetry. Michell Elvy, assistant editor, has previously served as co-editor of Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (2018) and associate editor for Flash Fiction International.
Each year, the guest editor rotates. Rilla Askew, 2019’s guest editor (2020 guest editor will be Kwame Dawes) has published four novels as well as Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place (year), a collection of creative nonfiction. She has appeared in Tin House and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, just to name a few.
“These small fictions,” writes Rilla Askew, “do what good fiction has always done: render the human heart in conflict with itself”, as quoted by Faulkner, “and most certainly the human heart in conflict with others.” Her goal throughout this collection is to render a perfect cacophony of voices and cultures, a trans-national ability to grab the reader even if their own everyday lives.
This universality is encompassed in Rachel Kadish’s “Letters Arrive from the Dead,” a work that originally appeared in Iowa Review. Death is an experience, perhaps regretfully, experienced by all. But what if the dead could communicate to the living? Not through the classics of haunting or Ouija boards, but through something so mundane as a letter, a postcard stating, “Wish you were here.” But what of the unopened letter, the unheeded dream in which the recipient ignores the calls from the dead?
Now and then a message is returned to sender, unopened. Only then, as the sender makes his way toward the door, clutching his receipt, do the dead pause in their bickering and part in silence...