Flashes from the Past
by Al Kratz, NFFR Fiction Editor
It’s like finding a $20 bill in an old pair of jeans.
It’s like scrolling through your photos on Facebook, seeing yourself doing something you forgot you ever did.
It’s like going back home to the old neighborhood, simultaneously appreciating how different and similar everything looks.
The archive has brilliance.
You have to look at it.
There have been 16 issues at New Flash Fiction Review. The first was in the summer of 2014. Diving back into it, one of my favorites is In the Shape Of by Matthew Fogarty. In three quick paragraphs, Matthew manages to explore both the small and the universal. The natural world and the human world. Nothing is directly happening more than a description of the clouds, of the changing of seasons, of weather, and yet everything is happening. This flash does it all. It’s a definitive example of brilliance. Matthew is so good at giving human qualities to inhuman objects and in turn understanding them both in new ways.
“And I wonder if that’s how it happened, those months of the mountains of snow, which to the clouds must have looked awful familiar. Like they held the snow once but never thought of it in that way and then looking down at the great piles of it, like looking into a mirror, like they’d let pieces of themselves fall without realizing. That the snow rose so high it almost came back: it must have been heartbreaking. The way sometimes you fill up with tears, but you dam them. And the new-formed lake of it all erodes your insides, corrodes, rusts, until you can’t well it any longer.”
There’s really no limit to what this piece does and what I could say about it. It’s brilliant.
When reading the active submission queue, one of my favorite things is to come across stories that cover previously well covered, potentially cliché, scenarios and completely blow away these negative connotations. I imagine that was the reaction of the New Flash editors when they came across Pamela Painter’s Their Closet. This is a story about an imminent loss of a spouse that finds a small and completely honest yet unconventional human exchange. Who is going to get the closet? This unspoken exchange between wife and husband. Not only thinking about the closet, but the husband knowing the wife so well, he knows that’s what she’s thinking about in this big moment. He knows it’s the closet.
“It was the worst moment of her life, except the moment of his death. Stricken she turned to him, to his thin face against the white pillow, his tattered hair, and without considering for a second telling him the truth, she lied.”
Not only a great example of archival brilliance, but really a statement about the brilliance of flash fiction. A world this big compressed in a story this small. So good.
Second person point of view stories can be polarizing. You strongly like or dislike them. Or wait, that’s me. I either love them or I hate them. We read a lot of them in the queue and I have fun trying to find what makes them succeed or fail. Waxing or Waning by Sara Freligh is an example of second person brilliance. It accomplishes the intimacy required by the perspective without disorienting the reader, always bringing them to this collective you. The writer, the reader, all of us can be this you. It’s subtle, never forced. The perspective is mixed with equally toned imagery and flash that accomplishes a large amount in a small space. The writer’s construct disappearing as the reader gets immersed in the world.
“You are driving on the lake road toward Canada when an orange moon presents itself to you, plump and juicy as ripe fruit.
Suddenly you’re hungry. You roll down your window and pick the moon from its dark branch leaved with stars.”
I’ve never driven on a lake road toward Canada, but I could. I believe this. I’m right there. It’s brilliant.
These three stand together as a fine reading list for flash fiction studies. They are built on common key components: An authoritative voice that commands the story, immediately earns trust, and lives up to the promises they make. They bring a fresh new perspective, small or large, made up of truth and beauty. Compression. Nothing wasted. Everything brilliant.
Al Kratz is a fiction editor at New Flash Fiction Review, and writes reviews for Alternating Current. His flash fiction was awarded at the Bath Flash Fiction Award in the spring of 2016 and fall of 2017. His novella-in-flash was shortlisted at Bath in 2018. Recent work of his has been published by Hobart, Bending Genres, Reflex, and Bull.