Flash Fiction Forward: it ain’t the length itself that bugs me, but there are some disturbing correlations…

Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories

by James Thomas (edt)Powells.com

I approached this critically acclaimed collection of flash fiction with as much honest impartiality as a true-born cynic such as myself can offer the medium. I had been disappointed by subpar stories that hid their mediocrity behind brevity and a clever turn, but it seemed foolish to cast negative aspirations on an entire genre because of that. But I may not have been entirely wrong.

I concede that there were some very good stories in the collection (Updike’s “Oliver’s Evolution and Bruce Holland Rogers’ “Three Soldiers” were exceptional -and Hollands’ piece even more so, as it was further broken down into three even shorter sections). But well over half of them fell completely flat. Another 25% were only good. If this is representative of the critical consensus of the best offerings the genre can produce, then I feel rather disappointed in both the writers of flash and in the editors and gatekeepers who are elevating this incarnation of the medium up into the realm of dedicated educational anthology.

I take some solace in my faith that this volume is merely bad curation, but I think there’s something more at play. I have read some wonderful fiction under 1000 words, but the best of it is often presented as good fiction that happens to be short, rather than relying on the surging popularity of the obsessively genre-ifying subcategory “Flash Fiction” (a construct that reeks of a marketing committee’s involvement at some point in the process if anything has ever reeked of anything else). I will continue to read fiction of all lengths, but my experience is conditioning me to be more cautious in my optimism when the phrase “flash” gets thrown around.

Recommendation: Skip it. Read Space Squid or Thrice if you enjoy a bit of discerning quality amongst your brevity.


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