cover image Flash Fiction International

Flash Fiction International

Edited by James Thomas, Robert Shapard, and Christopher Merrill. Norton, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-34607-7

Flash fiction—short, short stories only several hundred words in length—is celebrated as an international phenomenon in this exceptional anthology whose 83 selections span six continents. The book’s oldest story, Franz Kafka’s “An Imperial Message,” perfectly captures the sense of futility and desperation rampant in Kafka’s fiction—it’s a litany of the innumerable obstacles that prevent a herald from delivering the message whispered to him by his dying king. Some stories, such as Czeslaw Milosz’s “Esse,” whose narrator attempts imperfectly to describe the face of a woman he sees on a train, deploy their imagery like a prose poem. Some delicately encapsulate an intimate personal connection, as in Edward Mullany’s “Reunion,” in which a divorced husband and wife share a casual moment that neither of their new spouses would understand. Others, including Rubem Fonseca’s “Night Drive,” are structured with a perfectly engineered plot and a twist ending. The authors of several stories set in war-torn lands, among them Lin Dinh’s “Man Carrying Books” (Vietnam) and Shirani Rajapakse’s “Shattered” (Sri Lanka), use the brevity of the form strategically to suggest the vulnerability of their characters to sudden twists of fate. Natasza Goerke, in “Stories,” may as well be describing this entire collection when she writes, “The stories are short, but concise.... The final sentence is contained in the first.” An Appendix, “Flash Theory,” excerpts writings by many authors and critics on the craft and challenges of the short-short story. (Apr.)